In the 2013 election campaign, Tony Abbott announced that a Coalition government would match Labor’s education funding package – the Gonski reforms – dollar for dollar for the next four years, and that no school would be worse off. He described himself on a “unity ticket” with Labor. In government, the Coalition announced it would only honour the Gonski package for one year. Only a week later, Abbott backflipped again, announcing that the existing Gonski agreements with NSW, Victoria and Tasmania would be honoured. Since 2013, the Coalition has been in discussion with the states about a new funding agreement due to start in 2018.
During the 2016 election campaign, education funding was a key point of difference, with Labor promising to fully fund the Gonski reforms.
Next week, education minister Simon Birmingham meets with his state counterparts to continue negotiations. He is putting no new money on the table besides indexation.
Birmingham’s problem is that many of the state governments prefer the Gonski funding, with the strongest Gonski support coming from the Liberal/National Baird government in NSW.
Last week Birmingham said he was “embarrassed for Australia” that maths and science results have fallen behind developing countries like Kazakhstan and Slovenia in international rankings. No doubt the states will remind him of that comment in coming days.
University fee deregulation and funding
The Coalition announced full university fee deregulation and other changes to university funding in its 2014 budget. In August that year, the Coalition introduced legislation to achieve this budget initiative, with Christopher Pyne telling the parliament that deregulation is “the only way to set our universities free to ensure they can deliver what they need. It is the only way to ensure Australia is not left behind.”
In the 2016 budget, the Coalition dumped their deregulation plan, citing community concerns, but remained committed to cutting $2bn from higher education and overhauling the university sector.
The government has delayed changes to university funding until 1 January 2018. Just a few weeks ago, Birmingham announced a three-member panel to advise the government on what its new policy should be.