When re-appointed education and training minister Simon Birmingham accepted office, he included this promise in his acceptance release.
“We are committed to ensuring the delivery of reforms in school education that lift outcomes for all Australian students, ensure the record funding we will continue to deliver into our schools is distributed according to need, increases the overall excellence of our educational outcomes and addresses those areas where student performance can be further improved.”
At that time, it was unclear how many of the recommendations laid out in the Gonski report would be implemented to achieve this needs based funds distribution.
Ahead of talks with state ministers, the federal minister for education Simon Birmingham spoke to ABC AM. He flagged an unfavourable outcome from his analysis of the Gonski model’s success thus far, and expressed an intention to disband deals through legislative change.
Susan Close, South Australian education minister dubbed the communication “discourteous”, and questioned the minister’s decision to speak to the press before discussions with ministers.
Regarding the planned talks, the minister’s expectation was that the federal education minister would tell states: “You’re not going to get the money that we know you need”.
In his report titled, The Precarious State of Schools Funding in Australia following the 2016 Federal Election, Jim McMorrow wrote that “the Budget confirmed that the coalition government has abandoned the national goal of enabling all schools to reach the recurrent resource standards recommended by the Gonski Review and set out in the Australian Education Act”.
Mr McMorrow also claimed that “even the Budget’s headline announcement of $1.2 billion extra for schools, is disingenuous.”
The report goes on to clarify that this $1.2 billion has actually been allocated over four years from 2017-18 to 2020-21.
This provides enhanced indexation of Commonwealth recurrent funding for schools, which includes teacher salaries and salaries of non-teaching staff, over the calendar years 2018 to 2020.
Jim McMorrow also raised doubts that the representation of the funding increases when analysed in the context of indexation is in fact and increase, and stated that the government would have been announcing progressive cuts to education, had it not “allowed in the Budget for indexation to reflect education expenses”.
“The Government’s decision to index grants annually by 3.56 per cent after 2017 effectively ‘freezes’ the Commonwealth’s contribution at the 2017 school year in real terms.”
Minister Simon Birmingham told the ABC that “analysis showing the patchwork of Gonski deals was delivering unequal levels of per student funding to each state”, citing this as a reason to overhaul the system, in the interest of equality between states.
“The Turnbull Government is determined to right this corruption,” senator Birmingham told the ABC’s AM, vowing to “replace the special deals that Bill Shorten cobbled together … with a new, simpler distribution model where special deals don’t distort a fair distribution of federal funds”.
The comments met with opposition from Susan Close, South Australian education minister, who firmly disputed “that somehow the disparity that occurs in the transition period is a reason to stop doing it at all”, and assured listeners on ABC radio that the comments “will be firmly rebutted by all state ministers”
There is support for minister Birmingham’s view in some quarters, however.
Peter Collier, Western Australian education minister supported the federal minister’s comments, expressing relief that a minister is finally responding to the fact that “the system that has been presented to the states is fatally flawed”.
While supportive of the federal minister with regard to the Gonski overhaul, Western Australian minister did call for more funding for his state. “We’ve always been very generous in the money we provide to our schools, and as a result of that we get penalised at a federal level”.
The funding model adjustments would require legislative change at a federal level, and the changes could be made without agreement from the states.
South Australian education minister, Susan Close is confident that if any legislative change were ahead, the government could expect fierce opposition from their “friends in the upper house of the senate”. Supporters of the full Gonski include Nick Xenophon, Labor and the Greens.
With no resolution apparent on the same day as the talks with states occured, Minister Simon Birmingham told ABC that he did not “expect a resolution today”.