Gonski Documents Expunged from the Public Record

The Coalition Government has removed all documents from the Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling from the website of the Federal Department of Education and also removed all documents relating to the Better Schools funding plan introduced by the Labor Government. It is extraordinary that the Gonski report and other documents relating to the most significant review of school funding in Australia in the last 40 years have been expunged from the public record.

It remains to be seen whether the documents are to be expunged forever as the Education Department says that the removal is part of the change of machinery of government and re-design of its website. This claim seems disingenuous because it is possible to re-design a website without removing documents. Indeed, documents relating to other school education programs from the period of the Labor Government remain on the website, including information and documents relating to school autonomy, Teach for Australia, the National School Chaplaincy program, and many others.

Furthermore, other departments have kept reports commissioned by the former government on their websites during the change over. Documents about the carbon tax and the minerals resource tax remain on the Treasury and Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism websites.

The removal of the documents seems to be more an indication of just how much the Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, is opposed to a new funding model based on the Gonksi recommendations. The Coalition never accepted the Gonski model. It was always wedded to the iniquitous SES model introduced by the Howard Government which delivered much larger funding increases for private schools than for government schools.

Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne insisted the current funding system incorporating the SES model was “not broken” despite the Gonski report finding that it lacked coherence, transparency, consistency, balance, integrity and fairness. That is about as ‘broken’ as you can get.

The Federal election forced the Coalition’s hand on Gonski. The Coalition announced that it was on a “unity ticket” with Labor on school funding. But, the unity ticket was strictly limited. The Coalition promised only to support the $2.8 billion funding increase over the next four years but not Labor’s planned funding increase of $9.8 billion over six years.

It also said that it would dismantle the “central command and control” features of the plan which referred to the conditions attached to Federal funding for state and territory governments. This has effectively sabotaged the implementation of Labor’s Better Schools plan based on the Gonski recommendations. It means that state and territory governments will not be required to allocate their own or Federal funding to schools according to a Gonski-type framework or to increase their own school funding.

And guess who will be most affected by this sabotage? It will be government schools and their disadvantaged students of course because the large part of government school funds comes from state and territory governments.

There is no guarantee that disadvantaged government schools and students will get any significant increase in funding over the next four years. State/territory governments could continue to distribute increases in Federal funding as they do now, with little priority for disadvantaged students as documented by the Gonski review, and to use the increases to reduce their own funding.

The sabotage of the implementation of a Gonski funding model is complemented by the removal of all documents relating to the Review of Funding for Schooling from the government website. It seems designed to remove access to information that could be used to support public advocacy of the implementation of the Gonski model.

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