It’s almost certain that a re-elected Howard government will use the financial clout of the Commonwealth to further cut public school funding unless staff, are forced onto Australian Workplace Agreements. [AWAs] The scrapping of collective agreements could result in an immediate increase to class sizes, the scrapping of limits placed on Duties Other Than Teaching [DOTT] and job insecurity for teachers.
Despite the fact that only 34% of students attend Non-Government Schools, consecutive Howard governments have been consistent in their attacks on public education. Federal funding heavily biased towards Non-Government Schools has resulted in the proportion of students attending government schools dropping to 66.8%, down from 70.7% in 1996 when the Howard government first came to office.
Julie Bishop’s call for private investors to fill resource shortfalls in schools because it was beyond the capacity of any one government to properly resource schools is an admission that her government, with a $13 billion surplus, chooses not to properly resource public schools.
Bishop is not alone in calling for private capital to fund education, with Victorian ALP Premier John Brumby flagging the idea that schools could no longer exist relying solely on Government funding and that private/public partnerships may be the way of the future. What this would mean in practice is the development of a two-tiered education system as private stakeholders would only invest in areas where they would be assured to make profits.
Currently Australia’s overall investment in education is 5.8% of GDP, making it the 18th ranked of 29 OECD countries. Quite correctly Kevin Rudd points out that education spending is a critical measure of human capital investment, though the ALP is wrong to view education as simply an issue of economics.
Shadow Minister for Education Steven Smith says “those days, education is a front and centre economic issue. Education is about retaining our future prosperity, about ensuring our future international competitiveness. The most important thing that we can do, in terms of retaining our future prosperity and enhancing our future productivity, is to invest in the education, skills and training of our people and our workforce”.
Education is a right, not a luxury. Essentially Howard, Bishop, Rudd and Smith all talk about an ‘education revolution’ that intrinsically links learning to the needs of big business. The Socialist Party views education as a ticket for students, teachers and parents to participate in their communities. That’s why we campaign for free education and have played a role in saving Richmond Secondary College and St. Andrew’s Kindergarten in Victoria.
By Andrew Calleja