Federal Minister on notice

Gonski campaign boosted by growing public support

Gary Zadkovich
Acting President

Support for the Gonski schools funding campaign greatly contributed to pushing the Turnbull Liberal/National government to the brink of defeat in the federal election on July 2.

Teachers, principals, parents, and community supporters across NSW and the nation are to be commended for raising schools funding to one of the most prominent voter issues in the election.

The depth and breadth of the Gonski campaign were evident everywhere. In the targeted seats where full time Gonski electorate coordinators worked intensively in local communities, the upswing in support was outstanding. Gonski supporters worked tirelessly at pre-polling booths and on election day, spreading the message and winning votes.

Sustained campaigning over several years made a huge positive impact. Polling showed awareness of Gonski funding arrangements increased nationally from 45 per cent in August 2015 to 84 per cent in April 2016 in six targeted NSW seats.

This polling was confirmed in the election results in NSW, where the pro-Gonski Labor Party won 24 seats to the Coalition’s 23. The national swing against the Coalition was 3.5 per cent. In NSW, it was 5 per cent.

The Federal Coalition retains government by a majority of one in the House of Representatives and holds only 30 out of 76 seats in the Senate. By the measure of these results alone, any claim by the Turnbull government to have a mandate for abandoning the Gonski needs-based funding model would defy political reality and jeopardise its tenuous hold on office.

By his statement in The Australian (August 4), however, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham attempts to do just that. Through the misuse of NAPLAN test results and inaccurate funding figures, the Minister sought to repudiate the importance of Gonski funding by saying “… Labor’s legacy and ongoing policy of spraying billions of dollars of extra cash at the education system and praying some of it will make a difference can now be thrown into the proverbial policy bin”.

Such cant comes from a Minister who represents a Coalition that in the past has repeatedly “sprayed” two-thirds of multi-billion dollar federal education budgets over consecutive quadrennial funding cycles to private schools that enrol one-third of the nation’s children. This was done through a discredited funding system that diverted billions of dollars away from the public schools whose students most needed additional
support.

So the gauntlet was thrown by a Minister on behalf of a federal government that is newly re-elected yet teetering on the brink. How gratifying then to observe it being picked up by his NSW Coalition counterpart, Education Minister Adrian Piccoli.

In rebutting Birmingham’s tactic of misusing NAPLAN results to argue increased schools funding is not improving student results, the Sydney Morning Herald (August 4) reported the NSW Minister’s response as follows:

“I don’t draw the same conclusion,” Mr Piccoli said. “It is naïve to think that within two years at 9 per cent (additional funding) you’re going to see the results straight away … It’s wrong to say Gonski hasn’t worked. The measure of Gonski funding will be in probably four or five years’ time as to its effectiveness.” NSW Premier Mike Baird backed up his Minister’s stand when he confirmed to Federation Senior Officers at a meeting on August 3 that he and his government would continue to press the Federal Coalition to honour the six-year NSW Gonski agreement.

Minister Birmingham and the Turnbull government can be assured of this: Federation will apply all available resources to the next phase of the Gonski campaign and continue to fight with the utmost commitment and determination until the needs-based model is fully funded and firmly established for the benefit of Australian children and the nation for generations to come.

Click here for PDF of this story.

Read more:

Link to Annual Conference decisions, including the Gonski campaign
President writes: Standing at the heart of Australian democracy
Contribute to a study analysing union strategies