New Opportunity for Bi-Partisan Support for Gonski Funding

The election of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister is an auspicious occasion for education funding. It offers the opportunity to redress the sabotage of the Gonski funding plan by Abbott Government. It offers a last chance for bi-partisan support for Gonski. The opportunity should be seized by the new Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten should heed the call by the National Reform Summit last month for bi-partisan political support to strengthen Australia’s education system as part of a range of economic and social reforms to improve economic growth. It strongly endorsed key features of the Gonski plan.

The Summit statement made the economic case for Gonski. It complements the equity case long made by many education and community groups. For once, social equity and economics are at one. This is an opportunity that should not be missed by our national leaders.

The joint statement by national business, worker and welfare groups represented at the Summit called on governments to “ensure that all schools are operating at a resources standard that meets the needs of all students on the principle of needs-based funding”. These are fundamental features of the Gonski plan.

The statement is a very significant development in the campaign to improve education funding because it was endorsed by a range of powerful national organisations. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the ACTU, National Seniors Australia, the Council on the Ageing, the Australian Council of Social Service and the Australian Youth Affairs Council all signed on to the statement.

The statement sends a strong message to governments that improving education outcomes, especially for disadvantaged groups, is fundamental to improving Australia’s economic performance. The national organisations all committed to working together to ensure all schools have the resources to meet the needs of all students.

The statement recognises that high quality education is essential for a strong economy and a fair society. It said that ensuring sufficient funding in education is a necessary part of a comprehensive program of economic and social reform to sustain economic growth. It said that action is needed to secure a world-standard education system to improve workforce skills and participation and lift productivity growth.

The Summit pointed to declining literacy and numeracy results as a factor in Australia’s low economic growth. It also noted low workforce participation rates for a number of disadvantaged groups, including young people, people with a disability, mature age and discouraged workers, some migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

It endorsed improved access to quality early childhood education, adequate funding of schools in particularly in disadvantaged communities, youth services and effective school-to-work transition programs as essential to removing barriers to workforce participation and improving knowledge and skills of the workforce.

Australia is paying a high price for low education achievement by disadvantaged students, not only in terms of social inequity and injustice in education but in terms of other social and economic consequences. The costs of low school achievement and completion rates include higher unemployment, lower lifetime earnings, low productivity, less taxation revenue, higher health care and crime costs, and higher welfare expenditure.

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten have a once in a generation opportunity to turn this around. They have the opportunity to fulfil the egalitarian vision of most Australians for greater equity in education and at the same time increase economic prosperity. They should seize the moment.

Trevor Cobbold

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