Australian Greens Additional Comments
The Australian Greens are pleased to endorse the majority
report and recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on School Funding.
The Australian Greens supported the Australian Education Act
2013. We did so in the knowledge that, while the Act did not implement the full
range of recommendations from the Gonski review of school funding, it would
begin to provide the framework for a better education for every Australian
However, the Australian Greens remain highly critical of the
manner in which the previous government approached the negotiations with state
and territory governments and the lack of transparency and accountability in
Despite these criticisms, the Greens acknowledge that the
previous government was overseeing a transition towards a more equitable school
The Australian Greens utterly condemn the current
government’s disregard for a genuine needs-based funding model and the lack of
transparency in relation to their expenditure on schools. As is clear from the
data examined in this report, the Coalition’s deep cuts to education, including
abandoning the planned fifth and sixth years of funding, will mean hundreds of
schools across the country will never reach the Schooling Resource Standard
envisaged in the Gonski review. In other words, thousands of Australian
children will miss out on the best education this country can provide, often
solely because of their family circumstances.
The Australian Greens believe that education is the
foundation of democracy and a well-resourced, public education system is vital
for a healthy and fair society. We believe it is the right of all Australian
children to have access to high-quality and affordable education. The public education
system is the only guarantee of this right, being open to every child
irrespective of the wealth or background of their family, and it is under
serious threat from the policies of the Abbott Government.
Federal negotiation process
Many of the submissions to the Select Committee expressed
frustration at the process of negotiation conducted by the previous government
– including the delay between the release of the Gonski panel’s report and the
Gillard Government response, and the lack of transparency around the
negotiations that ensued.
Dr Ken Boston, former head of the NSW Education Department
and member of the Gonski review panel, was particularly critical of what he
called ‘the 20 lost months’ between the panel’s report and the 2013 election:
There was ample time during that period, in my view, for
Gonski to have been implemented satisfactorily with the support of the states.
... The basic reason we do not have Gonski today is not because we elected the
Abbott government but because the previous government failed in the politics of
The Australian Greens equally lament the 14-month gap
between the release of the panel’s report and the Gillard Government response,
which meant negotiations with state governments and school sectors were conducted
in the heat of an election campaign. This gap allowed the unravelling of the
initial general consensus that met the release of the Gonski report, in which
most significant stakeholders acknowledged its authority and the compelling
case it made for a larger investment in education in Australia, and a more
equitable funding system.
It is our view the previous government delayed action on the
recommendations of the Gonski review panel to ensure education would be a key
election battleground. The support of the Parliament was there to legislate for
the panel’s recommendations well ahead of this period, yet the previous
government was willing to risk the education of Australian children to boost
their own electoral chances.
The Gillard Government created a number of false deadlines
for signatory states, including the COAG meeting of April 19, 2013 and the end
of the 2012-13 financial year. In the end, negotiations continued right up
until the September 2013 election. Dr Boston’s submission to the Committee said
this highly politicised context created:
...a scramble to secure an agreement to deals in which the
fundamental Gonski principles became a secondary consideration. The result is
thoroughly unsatisfactory: agreements with some states and not with others, and
– amongst participating states – different agreements and indexation
This was evident in a second and higher offer being made to
Western Australia, with an extra $620 million on the table.
The South Australian Government also was offered a further $90 million.
This followed reports South Australia would receive approximately half as much
Federal money on a per-student basis as NSW, Queensland and Tasmania, with
accusations the Federal Government was ‘using Gonski funding to boost its election
prospects in the eastern states’.
The signatory states and territories all negotiated
differing implementation arrangements with the Commonwealth government. For
example, the final agreement between South Australia and the Commonwealth
reflects an arrangement whereby an even larger percentage of funding was to be
delivered in the fifth and sixth years than had been agreed with other states.
Mr Martin Hanscamp, Executive Officer of the Australian
Association of Christian Schools, also critiqued ‘the messiness, opaqueness and
inconsistency that had emerged from state-federal negotiations with different
jurisdictions receiving different deals’.
It is the view of the Australian Greens that the Gillard
Government’s decision not to establish a National Schools Resourcing Body, as
recommended by the Gonski review, to conduct these negotiations with states and
schooling sectors is largely to blame for these failures.
The National Schools Resourcing Body (NSRB) was integral to
the effective implementation of the recommendations of the Gonski Review. Such a body, independent of governments and the various
sectors and interest that characterise education debates in Australia, could
have provided the governance necessary to ensure school funding was provided in
a way that maximised its educational impact and minimised self-interest,
including political and sectoral interests.
The Australian Greens strongly
regret that the Australian Education Act 2013 did not provide for this body.
Dr Boston told the Committee that the failure to establish
the NSRB was a major mistake:
You refer to the national schools resourcing body. Looking
back over the Gonski period, one reflects on what went wrong. The failure of
the national schools resourcing body to be established was a major mistake;
and, with the government going off into unilateral discussions behind closed
doors with state governments and then the unseemly last few months we had with
the Labor government when Gonski was being hawked around the country with very
little appreciation of its basic principles, I think that was all very bad.
The Australian Greens agree with Dr Boston’s further
evidence to the committee that the decision to negotiate individually in a
political environment eroded the consensus that had been built through the
Gonski panel’s extensive consultation with state governments, schooling
sectors, community groups and others.
In conjunction with the recommendations in the majority
report urging the Government to progress a six year transition to a nationally
consistent Schooling Resource Standard and work with non-participating states
and territories, the Australian Greens strongly believe a NRSB should be part
of this framework to prevent school funding from continuing to be a political
football kicked around by the two old parties.
The Australian Greens recommend the Commonwealth
Government establish a National Schools Resourcing Body, as envisaged in the
Gonski Review of School Funding, to administer current funding arrangements, rebuild
shared ownership of the Gonski reforms and manage future school funding
Australian Education Act 2013 implementation
As noted by many submitters to the Committee and
acknowledged in the majority report, the Australian Education Act 2013
introduced by the previous government did not incorporate the full scope of
recommendations made by the Gonski Review.
While the previous government independently chose not to
adopt certain recommendations, other principles were eroded during the negotiation
process. The Australian Association of Christian Schools noted ‘political
tweaking’ had led the delivery of a ‘complex, confusing and therefore less
The Australian Greens note three key areas where poor
implementation jeopardised the overall success of school funding reforms –
transparency, funding distribution over the six years and the ‘no school will
lose a dollar’ dictum.
Firstly, a number of submissions criticised the lack of
transparency under the current Act, which created uncertainty for schools and
the broader community.
The Australian Greens were equally disappointed in the lack
of transparency and accountability measures in the Australian Education Act
2013, and sought to move substantive amendments in this area. We wanted to
include yearly reporting obligations providing for transparency in how public
funds are distributed within a particular schooling system, to be included in
the regulations and the legislation itself.
Under these reporting requirements schools would have to
report their resources – their assets, income, fees and other interests of a
beneficial nature – as an essential element of transparency and accountability
in the context of needs-based funding. We wished to embed this in legislation
because we knew there was a high risk of these transparency measures being
overturned by a future Coalition government.
Our amendments would have also mitigated against Federal
funding being dissipated within bureaucracies before reaching the schools where
it is most sorely needed.
Secondly, there was a great degree of criticism of the
previous government’s decision to backload two-thirds of the total funding
package into the fifth and sixth years.
The Australian Greens believe this decision to put the
majority of funding outside the forward estimates (and beyond two Federal
elections) was a cynical exercise which damaged the perceived legitimacy of the
previous government’s commitment.
Mr Ross Fox, Executive Director of the National Catholic
Education Commission, told the Committee the NCEC had immediately advised
schools not to count on the final two years of funding.
The Independent Education Union of Australia also expressed a similar
The Australian Greens consistently argued for a shorter
transition period, arguing revenue could be found from a strengthened mining
tax, and other revenue reforms, to deliver the full quantum of funding within
four years. The Greens believe that a society’s budget reflects its values and
adequate investment in education benefits its citizens and the economy.
Finally, the requirement that no school would lose a dollar
significantly increased the cost of the reforms and undermined equity
As Dr Boston told the Committee:
To start off by saying that there would be no loss of a
dollar to any school and then for the current government presumably to take the
same view is initially to build into any solution a higher cost than is
absolutely necessary. We could continue state aid to all church schools, we
could continue to provide government funding to all schools, but, by
redistributing it in some way, we could go much further towards addressing the
real educational issues of this country in our low performing private schools,
catholic systemic schools and public schools than we are able to with the
With neither the previous or current government willing to
raise the revenue necessary to bring all Australian schools up to standard, a
genuine approach to equality of opportunity in all Australian schools will need
to take a braver approach.
As said by Mr Peter Garrigan, President of the Australian
Council of State School Organisations, ‘If funding for education is to be
reduced, it should be given not to those who need it the least, but to those
who need it the most’.
School funding under the Abbott Government
The Australian Greens strongly believe the Gillard
Government must bear some of the responsibility for the fact this
once-in-a-generation chance to fix huge inequality across Australian schools
may be lost because of its failures in negotiation and implementation.
However, the Australian Greens acknowledge the previous
government’s many achievements in beginning the transition to a genuine
needs-based, nationwide school funding system. As a result of their work, some
of the fundamental structures of Gonski are in place.
We also note the destabilising influence of the previous
Opposition on this issue, who sought to discourage state Liberal governments
from signing up to Gillard Government’s offers and undermine consensus built
with school sectors and other stakeholders.
The numerous conflicting positions expressed by the previous
Shadow Education Minister also created confusion in the community. In
opposition, Mr Pyne called the reforms ‘un-implementable’
and a ‘Conski’
before his infamous “unity ticket” declaration. Mr Pyne initially said the
Gonski report was a ‘failed report’
but later wrote to State Governments saying it was ‘a road map’ to ‘improved
student education outcomes’.
Many more such inconsistencies could be listed.
Furthermore, Mr Pyne consistently denied the findings of the
Gonski report that there was inequality in Australian schooling system.
For the many reasons so comprehensively detailed in the
majority report, the Australian Greens condemn the Coalition’s continued
unwillingness to genuinely embrace the need for significant additional
investment in education in Australia, and to approach the principled
recommendations of the Gonski review panel with any degree of fair-mindedness,
foresight or commitment.
The principles of the Gonski review are strong, sound and
fair. Ministers in the Abbott Government regularly refer to ‘cleaning up
Labor’s mess’. If they have any intention of following through on this
rhetoric, they will do so by perusing a nationally consistent needs-based
funding model and implementing the recommendations of the Gonski review panel.
It is an indictment on our claim to be a country of the
“fair go” that in 21st century Australia wealth and social position
is a greater determinant of educational opportunity and outcomes than talent
and hard work, and that this is more the case in Australia than in some other
As expressed by AEU Federal President Angelo Gavrielatos –
needs-based funding is a simple equation:
Either people can put their hands up and say, 'Yes, we
believe that all children should be able to attend schools that have resources
that are needed for them to be given the opportunity to succeed,' or they do
not. Either it is about all kids or it is about some kids. That will define the
kind of society we are going to be.
As found by the Gonski review panel and reiterated by Dr
Boston, the huge disparity in measures like reading and mathematical skills
between the most and least privileged students are ‘the direct result of a
sector-based, needs-blind funding’ model.
Failure to deliver a the full funding amount will entrench
privilege in education; it will leave so many schools – particularly government
schools – below the schooling resource standard (that is, the level of funding
which the Gonski review established is required to provide students with a high
quality education) and with no clear means of ever reaching that level of
Hundreds of submissions received by the Committee came from
schools all across the country – detailing how they would use the extra money
to help disadvantaged students in their school, from hiring specialist literacy
and numeracy teachers to programs to improve student wellbeing. The Australian
Greens strongly encourage Minister for Education Christopher Pyne to read these
submissions closely to understand what the Coalition’s cuts will mean for
Ultimately, the Coalition’s decision to repudiate the fifth
and sixth years of the Gonski school funding reforms will disadvantage every
one of Australia’s 3.6 million students. In so doing, the Coalition has
abandoned every child, every parent, every teacher and every school, but none
more so than those in greatest need.
Maintaining the current inequality in education should not
be an option. As stated by the St Vincent de Paul National Council, ‘the
current level of inequality in education resources is a recipe for entrenching
social exclusion and perpetuating privilege. The social and economic costs of
exclusion will always be higher than a proper and equitable investment in
As such, the Australian Greens are pleased to endorse the
majority report and recommendations of the committee, and commit to continued
advocacy for a more equitable funding arrangement to ensure every Australian
child has the opportunity to reach their potential.
Senator Penny Wright (Deputy Chair)
Australian Greens Senator for South Australia
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