Thursday, 17 November 2016

Gonski allies

An unlikely alliance has been forged, with Victorian and NSW Education Ministers from opposite sides of politics banding together to fight Turnbull government changes to school funding.

In a sign of the simmering tensions between the states and federal government on school funding, Victorian Labor Education Minister James Merlino and his NSW Coalition counterpart Adrian Piccoli held a joint press conference in Melbourne on Friday to warn the Turnbull government against abandoning the final two years of the Gonski school funding deal.

They said the decision would hurt two million students across the two biggest Australian states.

"We are putting party politics aside and we are putting our two million students in NSW and Victoria first," Mr Merlino said.

"We know needs-based funding makes a difference."

The Victorian government estimates its students will lose almost $1 billion a year under the federal government's plans and NSW predicts a funding cut of $400 million 

"This is not an argument over politics, it is an argument over policy and an argument over what is in the best interests of children," Mr Piccoli said.

It comes as state and territory education ministers prepare to meet again next month to thrash out a new four-year school funding model to replace the former Labor government's Gonski agreements.

While the NSW government has committed to funding the entire six-year Gonski agreement, Victoria has refused to say whether it will commit to the final two years.

But Mr Piccoli said "he knew" the Victorian government would fund the full agreement, although Mr Merlino remained tight-lipped on his plans.

"In NSW we have put our money towards our six years of Gonski and I know Victoria will do the same," he said.

Mr Piccoli's visit to Melbourne came a day after he sparked an uproar in NSW parliament by miming the shooting of Labor MPs. Earlier in the week he stood down as deputy leader of the NSW Nationals in the wake of poor by-election results in the previously safe Nationals seat of Orange.

He defended his actions in parliament and said he was making a point about Labor's preference deal with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. "That's the sounds you would have heard at Point Arthur," he said.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the meeting was "nothing more than a distraction by two ministers who are under fire. 

He said there would be no cuts to education funding, and the Turnbull government was committed to fixing inequities and inconsistencies in funding.

"The Turnbull government will be working to ensure that funding is distributed fairly and according to need so that schools currently delivering valuable programs can continue to do so," he said.

The Victorian and NSW ministers were taken on a tour of Footscray North Primary School and shown how it had used $200,000 of needs-based funding to lift its performance, including in the NAPLAN.

Principal Davide Lombardi said this money had been used on intervention programs and to employ a leading teacher who coached other teachers.

"This funding is making a huge difference, and our school is proof of that," he said.

The meeting was welcomed by the Australian Education Union, who have also been calling on the federal government to fund the full Gonski agreement.

"It is a great sign for our students that the education ministers from the two biggest states have come together and made a bi-partisan stand that these cuts are not acceptable," the union's federal president Correna Haythorpe said.

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