1 January 2010





The media are prepared to question the expenditure of money spent on public school halls through the Rudd stimulus package (Sydney Morning Herald editorial 31.12.2009) and the Education Union and Save our Schools Canberra are quite rightly concerned that the Rudd government is embracing the ‘market’ ideology in education. As Trevor Cobbold from SOS writes in Dissent Summer 2009/10 p. 14

As far as education policy is concerned, the Rudd Government has given John Howard and David Kemp another term in office. It is completing Kemp’s vision to subject education to the rule of market forces. This is the real revolution in Labor’s education policy…

The Prime Minister’s ultimate market discipline is to subject schools to a form of bankruptcy proceeding. He says that schools that fail to improve will be subject to ‘tough action’, including firing principals and senior staff and closing schools. This is something that Kemp could only dream of…

and at p. 19


Publication of tables of school results represents a critical sage in the introduction of a market in education in Australia. It could well tip the balance against the public system by misrepresenting its performance and giving succour to politicians and others who want to shift people out of the public system and reduce the taxpayer commitment to public education.

Until now, public education has managed to hold its own as federal and state governments have chipped away remorselessly at its democratic task for over a decade now. Its resilience in the face of a multi-pronged attack is due in no small part of the overall quality of teaching in government schools, the commitment of most families to their local school and to the egalitarian values of most Australians.

Trevor Cobbold is correct to ring alarm bells for public education, but he is mistaken if he thinks that the undermining of public education commenced only a decade ago. He is a well qualified economist and provides the economic interpretation of deep-seated problems of inequity in Australian education. He presents research that indicates that if the Rudd/Gillard social inclusion and disadvantaged rhetoric were to mean anything the level of funding required for low-income students is 20-30 times which the Government has on offer. This, he believes is why the Government has shifted the goalposts.

Cobbold’s economic interpretation is fine as far as it goes. It also has the advantage of appearing to deal with ‘neutral’ figures rather than confront the cancer in the body politic, the religious bureaucracies grown fat on taxpayer funding.

The dangers to public education did not commence with Howard’s market fundamentalism of the 1990s. There was never any Whitlamesque ‘golden age’ that left religious sectarianism behind for a ‘Needs’ policy.

The Needs policy was always a sham, a way for the camel to enter the tent and eventually run away with the tent. The Schools Commission was always a method for quietening the public school opponents of State Aid to religious schools within the pressure groups by including them within the ‘joke’. When Van Davy reacted against the obvious inequities in federal funding in 1984, the Schools Commission’s days were numbered.

The religious school lobby is now so powerful that the government no longer even feels the need to offer public school representatives a place on relevant boards or even consult them.

The way forward is to call Gillard’s accountability rhetoric for what it is.

There should be no testing in public schools or publication of any league tables unless and until she performs her obligation to taxpayers and publishes tables indicating the full funding resources available to the private schools which are in receipt of $26.2 billion in the next four years in direct funding from the federal Treasury alone. The Sydney Morning Herald Dec 26-27  in an Article by Heath Gilmore entitled ‘New Light on Where Money Goes’ indicates that even private school parents asked to pay fees in excess of $20,000 per annum, an amount considerably more than that expended on a public school child are merely passive recipient of a commodity. However, we are told that under new federal requirements, private and public school will be forced to open their books and reveal funding figures in 2010. But don’t hold your breath. These figures will not be published alongside the results of Gillard’s school performance data. They will certainly not be data on the quality of the Gillard performance.

Private school funding figures should all include:

1.                 Direct per capita funding from the federal government for each school

2.                 Direct per capita funding from State governments for each school

3.                 Direct capital funding from federal government for each school

4.                 Subsidisation of interest payments for each school

5.                 Endowments for each school

6.                 Income from fees for each school

7.                 Amounts provided for the running of central bureaucracies and lobby groups

8.                 Taxation expenditures in the form of

i.                   Federal Taxation exemptions for GST, income tax, fringe benefits tax, capital gains tax.

ii.                 State Taxation exemptions for stamp duty, land tax and payroll tax

iii.              Local Council Taxation exemptions for rates

iv.              Etc.

The provision of these figures represents a basic Ministerial responsibility. Yet to date no such data is readily available to the public. Church hierarchies are very secretive about their total equity in real estate and the share market. In the Catholic Church this rests with the Archbishop sole. The Sydney Anglican diocese’s losses on the share market surfaced in late 2009 but the capital and income available to other religious groups remains a closed book.

Yet citizen taxpayers and Australian electors cannot make informed decisions about the public/private debate unless and until these figures are made available.

Yet Gillard is jibbing, shying away, unable to provide these figures. Her answer is to say that the public/private debate is sterile.

The simple reason is because she cannot fulfil her basic ministerial responsibilities and provide the figures. This is because the church school hierarchy has her bluffed politically, reducing her to motherhood statements like

We want every school to be a great school

See ‘Gillard Silent on Effect of New Private School Funding’ in The Catholic News of August 25, 2009 at

Public school supporters in Australia attempting to promote Finland’s public education system as a model for Australia are met with the argument that Finland has a relatively homogenous population and therefore faces an easier education task than Australia.

This is really code for saying that Finland does not suffer entanglement between religion and the state as this has developed in Australia since 1969. Correct facts, figures, statistics, economic arguments and concerns about disadvantage will not win out until Gillard and the church school hierarchy are forced into the open for what they are: an irresponsible Minister in thrall to a cancer in the democratic body politic.



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