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School reform in a climate of political instability

By John Benn - posted Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The cause celebre that has characterised the continuing immolation of the Gillard government will undoubtedly influence government decision making involving school funding.

The government’s failure to adequately prepare and subsequently comprehensively present its proposed changed media laws, plus the withdrawal of changes to the anti-discrimination act, plus target cuts as the NBN roll-out pace falters have fractured the government’s legislative legitimacy.

Notwithstanding these policy humiliations the government faces a deeper underlining issue, namely, the Prime Minister’s leadership fragility under the weight of continuing, election losing polling for her and the government.


Regardless of the government’s re-election chances the instability that now daily racks the parliamentary party has flow-on consequences for yet to be confirmed legislation involving school funding and education changes emanating from the Gonski review.

The ALP has long been regarded by voters as the party most attuned with and best receptive to improving schools and education overall. This strong electoral mandate will have inevitably suffered as the government struggles to gain voter traction and secure funding consensus with the states/territories.

With the May budget looming - and party leadership instability continuing - serious doubt exists that the Minister for School Education can secure agreement to implement a comprehensive new funding proposal.

In attempting to regain the government’s initiative Minister Garrett stated that solid progress on funding reform was being made with the states/territories. He advised that as many as 12 funding options were being considered as if the multiplicity of alternatives provided conviction that the federal government was indeed progressing towards an agreement.

If so many proposals are being considered the possibility of securing state/territory agreement seems even more remote especially as the May 7 budget countdown will require a raft of financial assessments noting the unceasing escalation in the nation’s national deficit. In addition the states will be reluctant to add hundreds of millions of dollars to their own education commitments noting their own tight fiscal circumstances.

The government has been widely and justifiably criticised for its inability to present cogent fiscal details to back its rhetoric on school improvement. Uncertainty over school funding closely aligns with other stuttering legislative initiatives such as the disability allowance program and a national dental scheme.


Such worthwhile programs will remain merely grandiose ideals if the federal government cannot sustain their progressive financing over the long term. In light of the current political and fiscal uncertainty what outcomes can education expect regarding the present funding imbroglio?

i)Mr Garrett will cobble together ‘an agreement to agree’ with state and territory representatives. While many components of the Gonski review are commendable they will require additional consultation between governments to determine the ultimate funding structure across sectors.

Political outcome: The federal government will be perceived to have achieved funding agreement while progressing towards a fully comprehensive program, surely a political win.

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About the Author

John Benn has more than 25-year's administrative experience in fund raising, communications and marketing in the non-government school sector. He blogs on education matters affecting schools on He holds post graduate degrees in communication from The University of Technology Sydney.

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