Pyne still trying to get his higher education changes through....at a price.
At least four crossbench senators opposed to the Abbott government’s stalled higher education package have refused, or been unable to attend, meetings with the consultant who is being paid $150,000 to talk to them and to universities on behalf of the higher education minister, Christopher Pyne.
Guardian Australia revealed this month the Abbott government is spending $150,000 outsourcing its negotiations with crossbench senators and the university sector over the higher education changes that have been blocked twice by the upper house.
The consultant is Robert Griew, who was until recently an associate secretary in the federal Department of Education and Training with responsibility for higher education policy and is now a principal of the Nous Group, a firm that has won a federal government contract to assess “stakeholder views” on higher education.
But most of crossbench senators the government needs to persuade to get its changes through the Senate are refusing to meet Griew or are sending staff members to meet him on their behalf.
A spokesman for the Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie said Griew had contacted the politician by email requesting a meeting.
“We wrote back and enclosed the senator’s most recent speech on higher education and told him to get back if he had any questions. He never got back,” the spokesman said. Lambie has labelled the consultation a “waste of money”.
A spokeswoman for the Queensland senator Glenn Lazarus said he had publicly stated the consultation was a huge waste of taxpayers’ money and that he saw no point in meeting Griew.
An adviser to the Victorian senator Ricky Muir said a staff member had met Griew for a “general chat” because “we didn’t think it was necessary for Ricky to meet with him”.
The Victorian senator John Madigan said: “I am yet to meet with Mr Griew and, frankly, I don’t see the purpose in further negotiations given the position previously adopted by my crossbench colleagues, the ALP and the Greens.”
The South Australian independent Nick Xenophon said he hadn’t met Griew either but said: “I’d be happy to meet with him some time and have a robust discussion.”
The Palmer United party senator Dio Wang had held an introductory meeting with the consultant, according to a spokesman.
The Liberal Democratic senator, David Leyonhjelm, who already backed the higher education changes, said he had spoken to Griew on the phone because he had been overseas at the time of the consultations. He said Griew had held similar conversations with him when still a public servant.
“I met him when he was still employed by the department because he seemed to be working with the minister’s office on the higher ed reforms at that time, he’s quite expert on it all,” Leyonhjelm said.
“He came to my office and we chatted about it. Later, when he’d left the department Pyne called me and told me he’d ask Griew to talk to the crossbench, but when he tried to organise a meeting I was overseas so we had a lengthy phone conversation.”
The department’s contract with Nous Group was worth $150,000 and was to run from 13 July to 5 August, according to the AusTender website, but the government said Griew would be engaged until early September.
Griew, a long-serving and respected public servant, told the senators he had been commissioned to undertake consultation and the product would be “a description of views canvassed: concerns, priorities and possible ways forward in the thinking of everyone I talk to”.
Gonski funding in NSW
Sydney public schools will benefit from a $224 million New South Wales Government initiative that aims to improve the quality of teaching.
The program, dubbed Quality Teaching, Successful Students, was launched by the state’s Education Minister Adrian Piccoli and forms part of the funding promised to schools this year as a result of the NSW Gonski schools funding agreement.
It is currently being rolled-out across NSW and will enable more than 1,000 of the best teachers to mentor and coach other teachers.
Piccoli said the program will improve the skills of teachers and, in turn, improve learning opportunities for students.
“Experienced teachers have knowledge and skills that are even more valuable when they are shared with their colleagues,” he said.
The package enables selected teachers to:
Observe colleagues in their classrooms and demonstrate effective teaching strategies;
Monitor student performance data across the school to ensure teachers are focused on areas of need; and,
Collaborate with colleagues within their school and in other schools.
NSW Teachers Federation Deputy President Gary Zadkovich highlighted the importance of additional support being provided to primary schools.
“For many years the NSW Teachers Federation has been campaigning to achieve increased release time for executive teachers in primary schools so they have the opportunity to mentor and support teaching colleagues in enhancing teaching practice,” he told Education Matters magazine. “This is a welcome additional resource for primary schools and we believe it will greatly assist in further strengthening teaching and learning practice.
“This program will provide important support for teachers to engage in professional development, professional learning, to enhance teaching practice and improve student outcomes.
“It’s really important that teachers are provided with the time to work collegially in their workplace to enhance teaching practice. More time for teachers to collaborate, to share ideas, to support one another, to program cooperatively and develop more effective teaching and learning approaches is good for students and will overall enhance the quality of public education.
“This is also a very important example of the benefits of the Gonski schools funding system – $224 million of additional Gonski funding is going to greatly benefit public schools right across the state and this is yet another example of the importance of all governments around Australia committing to fully funding the Gonski model.”