January 29 2011


The AEU and 1700 submissions from the Public Schools for our Future Campaign to the Government’s funding review have persuaded David Gonski to embrace the rhetoric of ‘equity’. The AEU and the NSW Teachers Federation and Trevor Cobbold from the Save Our Schools group are to be congratulated for forcing the panel to confront the gross inequities and misleading statistics promoted by lobbyists for the private sector.

However, this does not mean that he has rejected the rhetoric of ‘choice and diversity’ or the market ideology of the sectarian sector. And, whatever the political spin, the objectives of the public and private systems are diametrically opposed.

The sectarian sector, by its exclusive nature can never deliver equitable outcomes. Only a public system  available to all children can deliver this.

 Nevertheless, the speech delivered by Mr Gonski at the AEU Federal Conference is of particular interest, if only because of its rhetoric. Consider the following report on the AEU website at

Mr Gonski said ..

“This review provides a genuine opportunity to look at funding arrangements for schooling that are currently in place and see how well they support all students to reach their education potential,” he explained.

“Our aim is to provide advice to the Australian government on a funding system for schools that is transparent, fair, equitable and financially sustainable.

“We understand this is a complex task, but without underestimating the challenges, each member of the panel is excited about the possibilities this review can allow.”

Mr Gonski emphasised the ongoing importance of  a strong public school system and said the review was examining the reasons behind the shift in enrolments from public to private schools and the impact of that shift.

He said many submissions by AEU members had painted a compelling picture of the current environments in which teachers and students learn and work.

In outlining the key areas of  work being undertaken, Mr Gonski said the review was particularly focused on breaking the link between social and economic disadvantage and poor education outcomes.

“For the purpose of review, the panel believes that the focus on equity should be ensuring that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possession,” Mr Gonski said. 

“I should add that the current PM [Prime Minister] put it very nicely recently when she said that demography should not equal destiny.

“We’ve heard from many people and observed educational disadvantage being increasingly concentrated in certain systems and in certain schools.

“As you all know probably better than me, disadvantage is often determined by Indigenous status, non-English speaking backgrounds (including refugees and migrants), disability, geographical remoteness, and low socioeconomic status. And it’s usually multiplied in most contexts.

“The charge for our panel will be to consider funding arrangements that will be able to address this current disadvantage.”

The expert panel conducting the review issued an emerging issues paper in December which is open for public comment until the end of March.

The AEU has welcomed the commitment to set out in the discussion paper to equity in education and the willingness of the review panel to consider alternatives to the flawed SES funding model, currently used to distribute Commonwealth funding to private schools.

In reply to Mr Gonski, AEU Federal President Angelo Gavrielatos told the conference the union strongly supported the expert panel’s definition of equity as ensuring differences in educational outcomes were not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possession.

 The current glaring inequities in Australian education in which two thirds  of the nation’s children attending public schools are short changed in favour of those attending sectarian institutions indicate a failure of the ‘Needs’ policies of the last forty years. Gonski should remember that since 1964 taxpayer subsidization of the sectarian sector which commenced because the Catholic Church was short-changing about 15% of Australian children, has failed. The unholy Catholic-Protestant alliance forged when the Treasury millions poured forth meant that wealthy schools have always benefitted before any crumbs could trickle down to the poor.

Taxpayer funding has failed to address ‘Need’ in the sectarian sector. It has only encouraged the establishment of more ‘needy’sectarian schools. We still, periodically, hear about poor parents slaving to pay fees in the private sector..

But worse, much worse, taxpayer subsidization of the private sector  has led to a downgrading and under-funding of the public sector, the sector which caters for the vast majority of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, children who have no choice apart from that offered by the public system. Australia is quickly becoming a divided society, dividing its children not only on the basis of wealth, income, power and possession. It is dividing them on the basis of religion. We are duplicating expensive school infrastructure to please a sectarian minority. The Menzies government decisions of 1964 have led us back to 1844 when it was discovered that the outcome of the ‘denominational’system was to leave the majority at risk in favour of the minority.

The current situation was and is predictable.

In 1973 DOGS wrote and made oral submissions to the Karmel Committee pointing out that the only system which can address disadvantage and educate a citizenry for a democratic state is a public system. Such a system must be public in purpose, outcome, access, ownership, control, accountability, and provision. It can only do educate the citizenry and provide the cement for a heterogeneous society, if it enjoys sole public funding. Our nineteenth century forefathers worked this out in the second half of that century. Our politicians took our country back in time and revisited the mistakes of an eighteenth century class ridden, church dominated Europe. They succeeded in doing this in the second half of the twentieth century while European countries like Finland, Norway, Sweden and Germany were strengthening their public systems. 

For the last forty years our politicians have poured public money into the coffers of sectarian institutions which select children on the basis of ability to pay and the religious belief of their parents. Their lobbyists have used funds to promote their system to insecure middle class parents. They have also undermined the schools and centralised structures of the public system. At the same time that they have centralised their bureaucracies and lobbying in the national capital.

How can such a sectarian system of education with objectives that select and exclude children do anything else but create disadvantage?

It is not enough for David Gonski to mouth the correct rhetoric to the AEU Conference. He and his panel need to learn from the mistakes of Karmel in 1973 and address the real issues. Australia cannot afford to publicly fund a sectarian system which creates division and disadvantage among our children.









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