Responding to Gonski: The Commonwealth must take a lead in cleaning up its toxic waste

In an article in the SMH today, Steve Bartos[1] takes a swipe at all of us impatient to get commitment to implementing the education reform recommendations of the Gonski Review of School funding saying that:

One of the striking features of the immediate coverage was the number of people who demanded action by the Commonwealth. Some of those who were loudest in calling for rapid implementation – including education unions and various schools spokespeople – ought to know better.

 Schools are not a Commonwealth responsibility under the Australian constitution. Commonwealth involvement in schools is relatively recent, and for most our history it did not exist. The Commonwealth started to take a role – in a much smaller way than at present – when the Whitlam Labor government decided to provide a form of financial aid to some non-government schools. For two-thirds of Australia’s history, public schools were run and funded by states and territories and private schools funded by parents, churches or other private bodies.

However, it is not as simple as this, because, as we all know, this problem has come about because of the deliberate and significant funding policies of the Commonwealth, particularly during the Howard years, and the impact this has had on the education landscape in Australia.  Bartos acknowledges the toxic nature of federal takeovers but seems to believe that they can just walk away from the toxic waste they have created. The fact that ‘they’ were different makes no difference to this principle.  if it did Rudd’s apology would not have made sense.

The extensive expansion in non-government schools and their high levels of Government support from the Commonwealth has created a problem of such significance that the only possible, politically-workable, solutions demand a huge injection of new funds into the system.

It is entirely proper that the education community looks to the Commonwealth Government, the initiators of this review, to exercise strong and timely leadership on this matter. This could be demonstrated by clearing the COAG agenda to fast track Commonwealth/State discussions on this matter, or by setting up an extraordinary meeting of COAG at an earlier date. And it should also mean not taking an inflexible approach as to where the additional funds should come from.

[1] Steve Bartos, Federal takeovers are toxic, not a tonic, SMH, 6 March, 2012



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