by Scott Prasser, Online Opinion: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=15298
Another self-imposed Commonwealth
government deadline passes, further extensions are granted, headlines
appear suggesting the remaining states are about to strike a deal, yet
still the Commonwealth has failed to get all states and territories on
board with the no-longer-Gonski, Better Schools new school funding
Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory
are still not buying - or more accurately, are not yet agreeing to be
bought with promises of extra dollars that have enticed other
governments to succumb.
And as for the non-government sector, their
agreement is not at issue, given the rushed Australian Education Act
2013 binds them to the new arrangements anyway - all the newly appointed
Education Minister, Bill Shorten negotiated was a public statement of
Mr Shorten tells us he “will continue meaningful negotiations with remaining states.” Indeed, that’s the problem.
The whole Gonski Review process began in April 2010 as a public
inquiry with “eminent Australians with a range of expertise and
capacity” to undertake a “thorough and wide ranging” review that would
be “informed by data and evidence,” carried out in a “inclusive way ...
without fear” to provide well researched and viable recommendations for
future school funding that would be “transparent, fair, financially
sustainable and effective in promoting excellent educational outcomes.”
Professor Gary Banks of ANZSOG recently stated that “well targeted
and properly conducted public inquiries provide a useful mechanism for
penetrating complexity and countering asymmetric political pressures on
government, ” and are needed “given the loss of policy analytic
capability within the public service ... (and) the erosion of procedural
Establishing the Gonski Review as a public inquiry also fitted with
Kevin Rudd’s 2008 proclamation his government would be driven by
“robust, evidence based policymaking processes,” and “facts, not fads.”
Alas, however, the Gonski Review fell short of a good public inquiry.
It failed to address many key issues in Australian schooling, to debunk
funding myths, clarify the facts and to produce coherent implementable
Far from providing an evidence base for policymakers on
measures to improve education performance for various groups of students
in various contexts, the report’s overwhelming focus was on money -
Even then, it neglected important parts of the funding
equation, like the realities of Australia’s Constitution and
Hence the messiness that has characterised the Commonwealth’s
subsequent handling of the policy process.
Genuine debate has been lost
in pseudo consultation - headlines at a thousand paces, you show me your
figures I’ll show you mine, endless photo shoots at schools, a
union-backed propaganda campaign and taxpayer funded media advertising.
Such tactics undermine open and informed policy discussion in Australia,
so needed to restore the trust and legitimacy essential in a
only has good public communication fallen victim to the process, so too
have the revitalised COAG arrangements that Rudd hoped would remove
duplication in regulation and service delivery and end the argy bargy of
typical federal negotiations.
Instead, deals have been reached by
take-it-or-leave-it ultimatums, threats, incomplete and distorted data
and incentive funding.
Worst of all, there is now no policy process.
Policy based on open
public inquiry, expertise and independent analysis has degenerated into
policy by negotiation, of the worst kind - bilateral and backroom deals,
special arrangements for certain groups, misinformation and a education
package that fails tests of transparency, fairness, financial
sustainability and effectiveness in promoting excellent educational
The negotiation process is more like the bargaining in a
Kasbah bazaar where sealing the ‘deal’ and scoring a ‘win’ is more
important than the actual product sought.
And the Commonwealth’s priority has not been about ensuring “every
Australian school is a great school and every Australian child receives a
world-class education,” as Mr Shorten suggests, but rather, on the eve
of federal election, on how a political party in office since November
2007 finally gets one core policy promise actually implemented.
Meanwhile the federal Opposition has been missing in action,
unwilling or unable to articulate a clear policy framework except the
trite statement that “no school will be worse off” - the very cause of
the current funding distortions. It has not provided a real policy
The only glimmer of hope is if the Coalition wins
government, there may be another independent review of funding - a
second chance to use expertise and evidence to drive policy.
So endeth the Gonski review. It was born in the early optimism of the
first Rudd Government. It sought to inject informed debate into a
sensitive policy area, to make a difference to education performance.
was sinking in the Gillard Government’s mismanagement. It is now
swamped by the political exigencies of the second Rudd Labor government.