Former Greens leader Bob Brown accused Lee Rhiannon of “perfidious behaviour”, as the defiant Greens senator fought back against united condemnation from her parliamentary colleagues.
The other nine parliamentary Greens, including eight senators and lower house member Adam Bandt, have written to the party’s national council complaining about Rhiannon who, when the Greens were negotiating with the government on the schools bill, authorised a leaflet urging people to lobby senators to block the legislation.
Brown, a long-time critic of Rhiannon, repeated his previous description of her as “the Greens’ version of Tony Abbott”, and his call for the NSW Greens to replace her at the election with someone more popular and constructive.
He said that while he did not disagree with the Greens ultimately voting against the legislation – because Education Minister Simon Birmingham had done a special deal with the Catholics – the Greens in their negotiations had obtained $A5 billion in extra money.
Education was not Rhiannon’s portfolio – and for her to advocate against the Greens leader Richard Di Natale and its education spokesperson, Sarah Hanson-Young, was “untenable”, Brown said.
The Greens letter said: “We were astounded that senator Rhiannon was engaged with [the leaflet] production and distribution without informing party room at a time when we were under enormous pressure from all sides as we considered our position on the bill”.
It said the leaflet had the potential to damage the negotiations that Di Natale and Hanson-Young were having with the government about billions in extra funding for underfunded public schools.
The Greens’ parliamentary partyroom will consider Rhiannon’s action.
Despite prolonged negotiations with the Greens, the government finally concluded a deal with ten of the other crossbench senators to pass the bill. But the Greens had done much of the heavy lifting to obtain a series of amendments. This included the additional money, which takes the planned total extra federal government spending on Australian schools to $23.5 billion over a decade.
In a statement on Sunday Rhiannon said she rejected allegations she had derailed negotiations and breached “faith of the party and partyroom”.
“I am proud the Greens partyroom decided to vote against the Turnbull government’s school funding legislation. It’s clear that public schools would have been better off under the existing Commonweath-state agreements than they will be under the Turnbull package.”
She said that at all times her actions on education had been faithful to the party’s policy and process, and her work had not impacted on the negotiations.
She defended the leaflets she authorised, saying they were “a good initiative of Greens local groups.
“They highlighted the negative impact the Turnbull funding plan would have on their local public schools.
“Producing such materials are a regular feature of Greens campaigns. These leaflets urged people to lobby all senators to oppose the bill.
“I was proud to stand with branches of the Australian Education Union, particularly as the Turnbull school funding plan favoured private schools,” she said.
Birmingham’s original package, the so-called Gonski 2.0, makes key improvements to the existing national school funding framework established by the Gillard government in the 2013 Education Act (explained further in our Senate Inquiry submission).
First, Commonwealth funding of schools increases, and is also more consistent across all states and sectors.
Commonwealth funding to government schools will rise from an average of 17% of their needs in 2017 to 20% by 2023, and funding to non-government schools will rise from an average of 77% to 80%.
Second, Gonski 2.0 removes some of the special deals so that underfunded schools will get the Commonwealth share of their target funding within six years – much sooner than under the 2013 Act. Many overfunded schools will have their funding growth rates slowed, and a small number of the most overfunded schools will have their funding cut over the next ten years. This is an important break from the former Labor government’s promise, embedded in the 2013 Act, that “no school will lose a dollar”.
Third, it makes several changes to the funding formula. One big change is a revised parental “capacity to contribute” measure, which removes the “system weighted average” approach for non-government systemic schools. The Catholics hate this change, because it overturns a generous funding arrangement that enabled them to keep primary school fees low regardless of how wealthy the parents are.
Fourth, Gonski 2.0 reduces the indexation rate for school funding in line with low wages growth. It will remain at 3.56% a year until 2020, but from 2021 a new and lower floating indexation rate will apply, based on wage price index and CPI. (A minimum floor of 3%, added at the urging of stakeholders, is problematic but far from a deal-breaker.)
Lastly, Gonski 2.0 creates a stronger link between Commonwealth funding and agreed national initiatives to improve student performance.
Underfunded schools will get much-needed extra money more quickly – over six years rather than ten. This change means an extra $4.9 billion will be provided on top of the $18.6 billion in the May Budget.
A 12-month “transition package” of $50 million will be provided to systemic schools, whether Catholic or independent, and there will be an (overdue) review of the parental “capacity to contribute” measure.
State government funding appears to be subject to a “clawback” mechanism, similar to what we proposed in our Senate inquiry submission. This is designed to ensure state governments step up. It is not clear exactly how it will work, but if a state fails to provide at least 75% of the target funding to government schools, or 15% of the target for non-government schools, the federal government will withhold some funding to that state.
A new body will be established to conduct independent reviews of the school funding formula and ensure transparency on the distribution of funds.
What this means for schools
Schools will now have more certainty on how they will be funded – at least from the Commonwealth.
The concept of needs-based funding now has across-the-board support, even if there are differences on the details and how much money each party is promising. Importantly, Commonwealth funding to disadvantaged schools will now be delivered a lot faster.
Attention will now turn to the states, given that they provide most of the funding for government schools, which educate the bulk of Australia’s disadvantaged students. Further questions will continue to be raised about the impact on students with disabilities.
Winners and losers
The only way to determine which schools are “winners” and which are “losers” is by looking at what would have happened if the Senate had voted down Gonski 2.0. So,
here’s the “scoreboard” under Gonski 2.0 compared to the 2013 Education Act.
Government schools are (mostly) winners
Government schools in all states, and in the ACT, will get more Commonwealth funding.
Based on the new six-year timeframe for underfunded schools, our latest modelling suggests government schools in NSW will get between $200 million and $300 million more federal funding over the next four years. For Victoria, the boost is between $300 million and $400 million. Both Queensland and South Australia appear to get between $100 and $200 million extra. The boosts for government schools in Tasmania and the ACT are smaller in dollar terms, but still substantial per student.
The biggest winners are state schools in Western Australia, which will get about $500 million more over four years, and at least $2 billion more over a decade.
Government schools in the Northern Territory will lose compared to their current level of Commonwealth funding, which is higher than other jurisdictions – but a transition package has been provided.
Catholic schools will lose
Catholic schools are right to say they will be worse off than under the 2013 Act. Their federal funding is projected to be $3.1 billion lower over the next ten years.
This loss arises mainly from the interaction of two changes to the capacity to pay measure. First, the removal of the generous “system weighted average” in the capacity to pay measure, which treated all Catholic schools as average rather than basing their funding on each school’s parent body. Second, from a change to the curve used to calculate parents’ capacity to contribute in primary schools, because the previous curve had limited how much parents were expected to contribute in even quite advantaged primary schools.
The loss is biggest for ACT Catholic schools, which will see virtually no funding growth for a decade.
A core complaint from the Catholic leadership is that the socioeconomic status (SES) score disadvantages Catholic schools. Accordingly, one of the first jobs of the new National Schools Resourcing Board will be to review the SES scores. The final impact on Catholic schools will depend on the findings of that review.
In the meantime, a one-off transition package of around $50 million over the next year will be delivered to help “vulnerable” Catholic and independent schools adjust to the new arrangements.
Independent schools have mixed outcomes
The impact on independent schools is mixed. Those serving low socioeconomic communities are winners. A handful of (mostly wealthy) private schools will have their overly generous funding arrangements whittled back.
The Senate has done its job today
It is worth celebrating a day where the Australian system of democracy did its job well.
With a better model of school funding approved, policymakers can shift their focus to the harder job of finding ways to lift the performance of Australian students.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham deserves credit for Gonski 2.0: he originated the plan and stared down the scaremongers. The 11th-hour amendments improve the package, and there are no special deals of the type that have infected every previous funding settlement for decades.
In light of the opposition from Labor, the fate of Gonski 2.0 came down to the supportive cross-benchers: The Nick Xenophon Team, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, Derryn Hinch, Lucy Gichuhi, and Jacqui Lambie. The Greens, having done good work to secure the key amendments, succumbed at the last to the pressure of the Australian Education Union.
Paul Keating once memorably dismissed the Senate as unrepresentative swill. If that epithet was ever fair, it is not fair today. Because early today, the Senate cross-benchers stood up for Australia’s children and passed a package that, while it may not be perfect, might just help us move on from Australia’s oldest, deepest and most poisonous debate – how to fund our schools.
Malcolm Turnbull is on the brink of a major policy victory after the government mustered ten of the 12 non-Green crossbenchers behind its Gonski 2.0 policy.
The outcome of a week of intense negotiation by Education Minister Simon Birmingham means, barring mishap, the government is set to end this parliamentary sitting on a strong note, at least in policy terms. The Coalition remains in a bad place in the polls.
The new model for schools funding will be much closer to the original needs-based one recommended by the Gonski review, the implementation of which was compromised by a plethora of special deals.
In electoral terms, Turnbull hopes the schools policy will at least partly offset Labor’s usual strong advantage in education. But the fight over schools will still be on, because Labor will be promising a big extra boost to funding.
To get its legislation through, the government has shortened the time frame for delivering funding targets from ten to six years; boosted by $A4.9 billion to $23.5 billion the amount of additional money that will be spent over a decade (including $1.4 billion over the next four years); agreed to establish an independent body to oversee the funding; and endorsed a tight arrangement to prevent states lowering their share of school funding.
In a gesture to a deeply agitated Catholic sector, the government will provide transitional money for it next year, while a review is undertaken of the basis for calculating how much parents should be expected to contribute. Some money will also be available for schools that are part of systems in the independent sector.
This is being couched as transition money so that all systems will come under the new model from the 2018 start. The transition money will amount to $46 million, $38 million for the Catholics.
But the Catholics, who benefited from the previous special arrangements, remain angry. The future political implications of this are yet to be seen.
On Wednesday night National Catholic Education Commission executive director Christian Zahra said that commission representatives had just met with Birmingham who “set out the minor changes” he proposed in response to the Catholics’ “very serious concerns”. But the commission’s position hadn’t changed: the bill “still poses an unacceptable risk to the 1,737 Catholic schools across the country” and should be defeated.
The outcome has left the Greens caught badly short, exposed as under the thumb of the powerful teachers union, the Australian Education Union (AEU).
The government negotiated simultaneously with the Greens and the other crossbenchers. But the Greens were split, unable to finalise a deal even though they did most of the heavy lifting in extracting some major changes and additions to the government’s original $18.6 billion plan.
The result is they’re in the worst of positions. They are unable to claim victory in delivering the more needs-based system. But they have raised the ire of some of their supporters for attempting to reach agreement with the government.
As soon as it knew it had the numbers with the other crossbenchers, the government – unsurprisingly – brought on the second reading vote on the legislation in the Senate.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he was disappointed the government had stitched up the deal with the other crossbenchers. The Greens had still been negotiating when the second reading vote was called. “We thought those talks were progressing really well when out of the blue, the bells rang,” he told reporters.
He said the Greens were proud that what they did through their negotiations “was to raise the bar”. But they could not support the “special deal” for the Catholic sector, and had wanted more money for disabled children.
The government is relying on getting the votes of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team, Jacqui Lambie, Derryn Hinch, and Lucy Gichuhi.
Labor has trenchantly opposed the government’s package, saying the $18.6 billion is $22 billion short of what schools would have received under the ALP’s policy.
The opposition’s schools spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, says a Labor government would keep the parts of the package that “are practical, like an independent schooling resource body”. It would also retain the cuts to elite private schools.
But Labor has not spelled out how a Shorten government would alter the new model it would inherit and fund more generously.
It says Gonski 2.0 is flawed because it entrenches a skew in federal funding towards non-government schools (traditionally funded by the federal government, which is only the minor funder, compared to the states, of government schools). But that doesn’t deal with the issue of how a Labor government would handle the Catholics.
Labor has taken advantage of the Catholic rebellion. The Catholic sector, having lost the old special deals, would be anxious to extract some new ones from an ALP government that had extra dollars to put around.
So, will Labor give the Catholics any undertakings that in power it would rectify the wrongs it alleges the government will do to the Catholic system? If it won’t, what will be the response of the Catholics?
If, after the dust settles from the Turnbull government making the tough changes, Labor broadly accepts the new model as a basis for its own planned funding, it will have a sound policy position but questions to answer about disingenuous claims we have heard from it in this debate.
The government is set to save A$2.8 billion over the five years from 2016-17 by reforming the higher education system. This includes a 2.5% efficiency dividend on the Commonwealth Grant Scheme in 2018 and 2019, and a 1.82% annual increase in student contributions to the High Education Loan Program from January 1, 2018 (a 7.5% increase over the forward estimates).
The minimum income to start repaying HELP debt will be lowered to $42,000. The repayment rate will increase with income, from 1% at the minimum threshold to 10% at A$119,882, the maximum threshold.
The government will save $181.2 million over the forward estimates by limiting eligibility for VET student loans to certain courses.
Funding for schools will increase by $18.6 billion over the next decade.
Louise Watson, Professor of Education at the University of Canberra:
By retaining the architecture of the Gonski model and promising funding increases above inflation for the next three years, Malcolm Turnbull has taken Coalition schools funding policy back to the sensible centre.
To dispel any doubts about the government’s commitment to bipartisanship, David Gonski has been reappointed to advise on fine-tuning the system dubbed Gonski 2.0.
The government will give $125 million over five years to private school representative bodies in the states and territories to support “the implementation of the government’s reform agenda”.
Commonwealth capital grants for private schools will increase by 28% to an estimated $182.5 million per year in 2021.
Students considered disadvantaged will attract additional funding. A “location loading” will increase funding over the decade to schools in regional and remote areas by 5% per student per year, compared to the national average of 4.1%.
Funding for Indigenous education and for schools in the Northern Territory will also increase. Pre-school funding will increase by $429.4 million in 2018. New funding rates for students with disability are anticipated in 2018.
The government’s stated aim, in promising an additional $18.6 billion in schools funding over the next decade, is to bring federal funding for government schools to 20% of the SRS and federal funding for private schools to 80% of the SRS by 2027.
The SRS – to which federal recurrent funding is linked – will be increased at a fixed rate of 3.56% per year between 2018 and 2020. Thereafter, the SRS will be adjusted in line with a floating indexation rate that reflects “real changes in costs”. So from 2021, federal schools funding will be influenced by what costs are included in the SRS index and how much they change.
University fees and cuts
Gwilym Croucher, Senior Lecturer in the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne:
The government has confirmed the package of changes it announced a week ago with significant cuts. Students in particular will pay more, a lot more.
Student contributions will increase by 1.8% each year between 2018 and 2021 for a total 7.5% increase. This means they will pay 46%, instead of 42%, of the cost of their degree on average.
So, for a four-year course, this is an increase in total student fees of between $2,000 and $3,600. The government claims the maximum any student will pay is $50,000 for a four-year course, and $75,000 for a six-year medical course.
Apart from yearly indexation, this fee rise is only one of a few major increases since the ALP reintroduced fees in the late 1980s and will be smaller than the last time.
While few students will welcome the increase, the evidence from previous fee hikes in Australia is that it will not deter many people from study.
However, when combined with the lower HELP thresholds for repayment and higher repayment rates, the changes may make studying less attractive than in the past, and potentially prohibitive for some students.
Universities too will suffer a direct cut of $384.2 million over two years. This will come in the form of an “efficiency dividend” to the Commonwealth Grant Scheme of 2.5% in 2018 and another 2.5% in 2019.
While no university will go broke from the efficiency dividend, it forms part of a series of cuts. Combined with the changes to how grants are indexed, there is little doubt universities will receive less per student in subsidies in the future, and will have to do more with less.
The package averts the worst cuts from the previous minister’s attempts to deregulate higher education, but offers little in the way of a long-term vision to students or universities.
HELP student loans
Bruce Chapman, Professor of Economics at the Australian National University:
Budgets are always contextual and reactions to them will always be relative to alternatives.
The natural comparison of the 2016/17 changes to HECS-HELP is still the extraordinary 2014/15 budget plans of the previous education minister, in which there were to be initial outlay cuts of around 20%, the introduction of a real rate of interest on HELP debts, and the introduction of the facility for universities to charge any fee they chose. If that was a man or woman-eating crocodile, then this budget is a pussy cat.
For HECS-HELP, there is to be an increase in charges introduced over a three-year period, maxing out to 7.5%. This is not a big deal and will not affect student or graduate debt; in effect it will add about a year to how long people have to repay.
More significantly, the first income threshold of payment is to be reduced from the current level of about $55,000 a year to a new and much lower level of $42,000 a year.
But, importantly, the rate of collection of the debt will be cut as well, from 4% to 1% of income. This will mean that the effect on the majority of debtors will be small.
Most affected will be current part-time workers, and the increased obligation essentially means a faster rate of repayment, and not a major impost.
Changes to VET
Kira Clarke, Lecturer in Education Policy at the University of Melbourne:
Treasurer Scott Morrison framed his announcement of a new fund for skilling Australians by saying “skilled migration must be on our own terms”.
Appealing to public animosity towards a perceived reliance on skilled migration, the treasurer announced a levy on employers of foreign workers employed under a new temporary skill shortage visa.
Employers will be charged between $1,200 and $1,800 per worker employed under this visa scheme. It is anticipated this levy will contribute to $1.2 billion within the Skilling Australians Fund.
States and territories will be able to access the fund for the explicit purpose of supporting up to 300,000 apprenticeship, traineeship and higher-level skilled workers.
The treasurer’s language in announcing this new pot of money appeared to put the onus on states and territories to stimulate apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities.
This decline is part of a long-term trend, and is compounded by the impact of the gig economy and the reluctance of employers and young workers to enter into four-year training relationships.
Part of a suite of announcements aimed at “Backing regional communities”, the budget also includes $24 million for Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships.
The budget papers indicate that scholarships will be available for up to 1,200 students, to support skills development and educational attainment.
While it is unclear whether $15.2 million allocated to establish eight regional study hubs in rural and remote areas will include enhanced access to VET, any increased access to VET programs for regional learners could be a positive step in addressing youth unemployment and lower educational attainment in regional areas.
The Turnbull government is seeking to seize the political initiative on schools, with a substantial funding injection and the appointment of David Gonski – who delivered the 2011 landmark schools report – to chair a “Gonski 2.0” review on how to improve the results of Australian students.
A day after announcing university students will pay more for their education, Turnbull unveiled an extra A$18.6 billion in funding to Australian schools over the next decade, including more than $2.2 billion in this budget for the first four years.
Turnbull said that, under the government’s plan, “every school will receive Commonwealth funding on a genuine needs basis”.
At a joint news conference with Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham, Gonski – who is a personal friend of Turnbull’s – said he was very pleased the government accepted the fundamental recommendations of the 2011 report, particularly the needs basis. The proposed injection of money was “substantial”, he said.
Turnbull and Birmingham said the plan would ensure all schools and states moved to an equal Commonwealth share of the Gonski-recommended Schooling Resource Standard in a decade. The federal government would meet a 20% share of the standard for government schools, up from 17% this year, and 80% for non-government schools (currently 77%).
Birmingham said 24 non-government schools stood to lose money (there would be some transition money for a couple of these schools with a large number of students with special needs). They are among some 353 presently over-funded schools which will be worse-off under the plan than they would otherwise have been. Australia has more than 9,000 schools in total across the government, Catholic and independent sectors.
Pete Goss, the school education program director at the Grattan Institute, said: “We still need to understand all the details but the overall shape of the package is very encouraging.
“The minister has set a clear 10-year goal of getting every school funded consistently by the Commonwealth. The additional funding will help ease that transition.
“Some schools that have been on a great wicket for a long time will lose out – and so they should. This is a gutsy call and it is the right call.”
Goss said he understood there had been “an internal debate” in the government to arrive at this plan.
The announcement is a substantial turnaround for the government, which had previously planned more modest funding, and refused to embrace the final two years of Gonski.
But Turnbull was in full Gonski mode on Tuesday: “This reform will finally deliver on David Gonski’s vision, six years ago, after his landmark review of Australian school education,” he said.
Turnbull is trying to take some of the shine off Labor’s political advantage on education which, with health, was at the heart of its 2016 election campaign. Next week’s budget will attempt to neutralise some of the Coalition’s problems on health, which saw Labor run its “Mediscare” at the election.
Birmingham said that over the next four years there would be growth in Commonwealth funding of some 4.2% per student across Australia – “importantly, most of it geared into the government sector where need is greater and the gap to close in terms of Commonwealth share is larger”.
He said the government would legislate the decade-long program, and impose conditions to ensure states did not lower their funding. “We will be expecting states to at least maintain their real funding,” he said. “This is about real extra money to help Australian schools and students.”
What Turnbull dubbed the “Gonski 2.0” review will recommend on “the most effective teaching and learning strategies to reverse declining results, and seek to raise the performance of schools and students”.
It will advise on how the extra Commonwealth funding “should be used by Australian schools to improve student achievement and school performance”, Turnbull and Birmingham said in a statement.
Another member of the original Gonski panel, Ken Boston, will also be on the review, which will report to Turnbull in December.
The government says its new arrangements will replace the patchwork of agreements left by Labor.
But Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said this was “a smoke and mirrors, pea and thimble effort to hide the fact that instead of cutting $30 billion from schools over the decade, this government will cut $22 billion from schools over the decade”.
“The big picture here is that in the 2014 budget, Tony Abbott promised a $30 billion cut to our schools and in the 2017 budget, Malcolm Turnbull wants a big pat on the back for changing that cut to a $22 billion cut,” she said.
“A week out from the federal budget this is taking out the trash,” she said. “They want clear air on budget night.”
The Gonski reforms for education in Australia continue to cause problems for the ALP, with several states and territories refusing to sign up. The links below are to articles covering stories on some of the states that refuse to sign up.