2 January 2010





In 1997,  the then federal Minister for Education in the Howard Government, David Kemp,  like Ministers in the Keating, Hawke, Fraser and Whitlam governments before him, Attempted to wave a magic wand, attempting to make the private/public divide, the undemocratic, destructive division of children by class, creed and culture, - disappear. Like many before and since, he is attempting to define ‘public’ as ‘publicly funded’ and private as public and vice versa. As DOGS have pointed out in their definition of public education and in many Press Releases, the twain shall never meet. Kemp said:

What I see in the future is an Australian education system where distinctions between government and non-government schools will become outdated and increasingly irrelevant. All schools are publicly funded in some way and are all accountable to parents and the community for the investment in schooling made by taxpayers.(                                          )

Gillard has seized the wand from Kemp, waving away the differences in a thinly veiled attempt to impose a market ideology on Australian education. In 2008 she said:

We have an historic opportunity to overcome this public-private divide…The debate we need to be having is not a sterile debate about public versus private.(

DOGS have news for Gillard: The public private divide is alive and well:  

Three Letters to the Sydney Morning Herald:

The following three letters to the Editor were published by the Sydney Morning Herald, the first, from a private school supporter on December 31, 2009, and the replies from public school supporters on January 1, 2010.

The first, from Eleanor Dawson of Pymble on the upper North Shore of Sydney claims that “Excellence thrives at private schools’. In answer to a writer called Jo Mansergh who noted that the point of ever increasing private school fees is to keep the wealthiest schools out of the reach of ordinary families, she wrote:

My association with one Wahroonga school dates from childhood in 1936. My engineer father had been out of work in the Depression, but sacrifice and endeavour made it possible. I am an old girl, a former staff member’s daughter, a parent and a supporter of practical science there.

I marvel at what I find: academic and sporting excellence, an ethos of service to the community far beyond its walls and the opening of facilities to the public, including the award each year of full boarding scholarships to country indigenous students and to other families experiencing hardship.

 And so we had the peddling of education as a charity, given with huge dollops of noblesse oblige, rather than education as a right for every Australian child.

Kemp and Gillard might accept this, but public school supporters do not.

The following two letters appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on New Years Day under the Heading: Excellence Knows No Boundaries at School.

The first was from Bob Dengate of Bathurst:

Recently I presented awards to the local rural primary school that my children had attended, on behalf of Charles Sturt University.

Like Eleanor Dawson, (“Excellence thrives at private schools”, Letters December 31) I marvelled at academic, sporting, creative and cultural excellence, at leadership and service, at innovative programs and at the dedication of the parent body to comprehensive public education.

However, most ‘marvellous’ of all was that a proud Wiradjuri spirit permeated the entire ceremony, obviating any need for ‘full boarding scholarships for country indigenous students’ to elite north shore private schools.

The next letter was from Sharon McGuinness from Thirroul:

Eleanor Dawson has given us an interesting reason for the existence of private schools: they simply cannot cater for all students, so concentrate on those who can afford to attend. 

While you may ‘marvel’ at what you find at a private school, I will argue that you will find outstanding achievements at public schools.

Among its often quiet achievements, our local high school has six 2009 HSC students’ major works invited for inclusion in the annual Art Express exhibition for 2010. It has a state-level debating team, prize-winning authors, award-winning filmmakers (running the only dedicated filmmaking course for years 8 to 10 in Illawarra high schools), many state-level sportsmen and women and even holds a Guinness world record.

The only thing not offered is a handful of scholarships. But wait…It doesn’t need to offer these.

Like all public schools, the door is open to all – regardless of wealth of family association. Can you imagine what could be achieved if it received the same level of funding as Eleanor Dawson’s private school in Wahroonga?

The Sydney Morning Herald should be congratulated fro printing these last two letters. Victorians do not enjoy the same editorial coverage of the private/public debate in The Age.

These letters make nonsense of the wand waving of the Kemps and Gillards of this world. Ordinary citizens – and voters know the difference between private and public. Stark realities do not disappear because those in the corridors of power find them uncomfortable. 

Public schools are public in purpose, outcome, access, ownership, control, funding, accountability and provision. The private sector has only one of these indicia – it enjoys ever growing billions of dollars of public funding, with few if any strings attached.  They represent an outdated ideology of privilege and exclusion which underpins an authoritarian plutocracy. They and their political supporters peddle a market ideology, reducing education to a commodity. Yet this is the ideology has brought the nations in the western world to the brink of financial collapse.




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