Another day, another Commission of Audit, another blow to education

The Abbott government’s National Commission of Audit (NCOA) represents the biggest single threat to public education in this nation’s history: a bold claim but one I am confident that you will come to accept.

The NCOA concludes that education is a state responsibility under the Constitution of Australia and that all responsibility for funding and policy in education should be transferred to the states from 2018 (the end of the current Gonski-lite funding arrangements according to this government is 2017).

The backdrop to this assertion is a dialogue within the report that the increasing expenditure on education over the past decade has not resulted in improved outcomes. This conclusion comes despite the most comprehensive analysis of the education system in 40 years undertaken by the Gonski Panel finding the exact opposite and the research basis of the NCOA assertion being limited to four references, one of which actually shows a positive correlation.

Another criticism of the NCOA is that while the Commonwealth maintains its commitment to the indexation of education funding over the next four years, the decisions of the current government to free the states of a requirement to preserve their contribution, let alone index it, creates a structural imbalance between the two key funding sources. In plain English, this is an acknowledgement that the Federal Government is bound to increase education funding year-on-year for the next four years, while the states are at liberty to cut education spending.

To fully appreciate the potential impact of the NCOA on Queensland, it must be considered in the cold hard light of the Queensland Commission of Audit (QCOA) orchestrated by the LNP state government in 2012. Key among the long-term recommendations of the QCOA was that the Queensland Government should provide only “core services” such as policing and justice services, and “work more closely with non-government providers to find the most cost-effective ways of delivering a range of other social services, including public education”.

Let’s cut to the chase. The Federal Government says that education is a state responsibility and is moving to jettison this important portfolio from their jurisdiction. At the same time, the Queensland Government argues that education should not be the responsibility of any government and that they prefer to become a purchaser of education services from the private sector rather than a provider.

Education is not a transactional arrangement. The public good is best served by the delivery of high quality public education in every community right across the nation. This cannot be achieved by the means espoused by the current state and federal governments.

Education is the backbone of any civil society. Public education is the foundation of our civil society: free, secular and universal public education, nothing less.

Kevin Bates
QTU President
6 May 2014