In July, the government passed the Australian Education Act 2017 through the Senate. Dubbed Gonksi 2.0, and dressed up as ‘needs-based’ funding for schools, the Liberals are hailing it as one of their greatest education ‘reforms’. In reality, it is a counter reform that will cut $17 billion from public education over time.
The original Australian Education Act of 2013 (now known as Gonski 1.0) was pushed through by the Gillard Labor government. As The Socialist pointed out at the time, the Gonski measures were essentially a thinly veiled cover under which more public funding was handed over to already wealthy private schools.
The model was designed to further entrench a user-pays system where ordinary people are forced to pay ever higher fees, despite the fact that they already pay for education via their taxes.
Genuine needs-based funding would mean that not a single student would have to sit in an overcrowded classroom with an under resourced teacher. It would mean not a single dollar being handed over to elite private schools. It would mean a fully funded education system accessible to all those who wish to attend a secular public school.
Instead, the public education system is crumbling. It is becoming more and more common for parents to send their children to private, religious schools even if they don’t identify as being religious.
This is largely because private schools are seen as being better resourced, having smaller class sizes, and more opportunities for extracurricular activities. There is no doubt that the policy of using public money to fund private schools has contributed to this shift.
Gonski 2.0 is a continuation of this approach. The model only allocates 41.6% of federal education funding towards public schools. 58.4% goes to private schools.
In 2013, Labor, the Greens and the Australian Education Union (AEU) all supported Gonski and the Liberals were opposed. Now, four years on, Labor, the Greens and the AEU oppose the measures and they are supported by the Liberals despite the fact that the Gonski model hasn’t fundamentally changed.
If you’re confused by this display of political acrobatics, don’t be, it’s nothing more than rank opportunism on behalf of all the mainstream parties.
The Liberals opposed Gonski 1.0 as it was seen as Labor’s pet project. Today they are pushing Gonski 2.0 in an attempt to wedge Labor and present themselves as the party of ‘reform’. They have taken the Gonski model, ratcheted it up, and are now using Labor’s own misleading language to present this transfer of wealth as something good.
Labor pretend that they support public education but the reality is that they did the heavy lifting by implementing the Gonski model and now the Liberals are simply making the most of it.
The AEU’s position is similarly two-faced. As cheerleaders for Labor, they wholeheartedly supported Gonski 1.0 but now that the policy is being taken to its logical conclusion they say that they oppose it.
There is no doubt that Gonski 2.0 is even more blatant in its funding for private schools and attacks on teachers’ conditions than in its first manifestation, but rather than tail ending Labor, the AEU should have fought against the measures from the beginning, demanding increased taxes on big business to pay for a fully funded public education system. That they supported Gonski 1.0 has only undermined their ability to effectively campaign against it now.
This whole confused process highlights the need for the AEU to be politically independent from the pro-capitalist Labor Party. The interests of those who both work and study in public education would be best served by a trade union movement that outright opposes a user-pays system. The idea of public money going to private enterprises needs to be opposed in all its guises.
The public education system could be transformed immediately if taxpayer funds were directed solely towards funding government schools. The system could be revolutionised if we started taxing big business at higher rates and prioritised free, good quality education as a basic right rather than just another commodity.
By Meredith Jacka