Shorten Re-affirms Labor’s Commitment to the Full Gonski

Tuesday April 1, 2014

Following questions raised about its commitment to the Gonski funding for the two final years of the six year transition period, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has clarified Labor’s position. At a doorstop interview in Perth yesterday, Shorten gave an unequivocal commitment to the full Gonski funding:

JOURNALIST: You have committed and you still will commit to the next election for those years five and six?
SHORTEN: Yes.
JOURNALIST: That will cost I think about $7 billion additional is that you’re prepared for that?
SHORTEN: We budgeted for this when we were in Government and furthermore, what does it cost Australia if we short change our kids?

Save Our Schools welcomes this clarification by the Leader of the Opposition. Unfortunately, mixed messages had come from the Opposition that raised concerns for organisations and people campaigning for the full Gonski to give a better deal for disadvantaged students.

The planned $7 billion Federal funding increase for the two final years of Labor’s National Plan for School Improvement would complete the biggest increase in school funding in living memory – over $10 billion from 2013-14 to 2018-19. If the state governments who signed up to the plan stay on board, the overall funding increase will be of the order of $14 billion.

It would deliver large increases to under-resourced schools and to disadvantaged students. About $8 billion in Federal funding would go to government schools which enrol the vast majority of low SES, Indigenous, disability and remote area students.

The funding increase offers the best prospect of ensuring that all children complete Year 12 or its equivalent and reducing the large achievement gaps between rich and poor that Australia has ever seen. It will help boost workplace skills, improve productivity and reduce health, crime and welfare expenditure.

Labor’s clarification puts the microscope back on the Budget. In May, we will find out whether the Coalition Government intends to continue dismembering the Gonski plan. The forward estimates of the May Budget will reveal the funding planned for 2017-18, the fifth year of the Gonski funding plan.

The Coalition has so far refused to fund the final two years. It has also refused to hold state governments to their agreements with the previous Labor Government to increase funding for schools; it has refused to place conditions on the funding increase it provided to the governments that did not sign up to Gonski; and it has refused to require governments to implement a needs-based funding model. All it has done is to guarantee more funding increases for private schools, including Australia’s wealthiest.

The issue at stake in the Budget is whether the Coalition will continue its tradition of giving priority to funding privilege in education over reducing inequity and disadvantage. The prospects are not good as the Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, believes that Australia does not have an equity problem: “I don’t believe there is an equity problem in Australia”. The evidence from international and national test results is overwhelming that Australia does have a major equity problem and doing something about it is at the heart of the Gonski funding plan.

Trevor Cobbold

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