President's comment 4 May 2016

Budget 2016 – What it’s got and what it’s not!

The 2016 federal budget delivered by Treasurer Scott Morrison on behalf of the Turnbull government is noteworthy both for how little it delivers for education and what it takes away.

The headline budget issue for teachers and schools was always going to be whether or not the Coalition government would fund Gonski in 2017-18 and 2018-19. The federal budget and the Turnbull schools funding policy handed down over the weekend confirm that the federal government has abandoned the Gonski needs based funding model and turned its back on equity for disadvantaged students and schools.

Don’t be fooled by the media attention on the proposed $1.2 billion funding “boost” for education. This funding is for more than 9,000 schools around the nation, it is contingent on the states adopting a raft of abhorrent industrial relations and education policies imposed under the rediscovered “command and control” approach of the Turnbull government, and it will apply only in 2018 to 2020 as an ill-considered substitute for the final two years of Gonski funding.

Proposals to apply a standardised “NAPLAN” style test for year one children to establish a benchmark for literacy and numeracy, annual reporting to parents on student achievement of literacy and numeracy standards, and the requirement that states remove annual salary increments for teachers in favour of “performance” based pay, all seem remarkably similar to the proposals of the defeated Newman government of just a few years ago.

The combination of odious requirements with funding that represents one quarter of that which is required to deliver the full six year commitment to Gonski promised in the “unity ticket” at the last election fails the fairness test and leaves us unimpressed.

There does appear to be a small allocation to the loading for students with disabilities promised by the Coalition two years ago, but it too represents a fraction of the resources required and promised to meet the needs of students with disability.

Critically, all of these budget initiatives come on the back of a flagged change in the approach of the federal government in education policy. Years of emphasis on autonomy and pushing back on the role of states in education has been replaced by a long list of new requirements of schools, and therefore of states, to receive access to promised funding.

The analysis of the budget will continue in the coming days. For example, changes in taxation and superannuation will have an impact on teachers and principals and require detailed consideration.

We have all known that this federal budget would be about a pitch to the Australian community about the credentials of the Turnbull government in the days before the 2016 election is called. The announcement of the Coalition’s schools funding policy in the days prior to the budget has provided a clear direction as we now prepare for that inevitability.

On the one hand, we have a commitment to the delivery of the full six years of Gonski from the Shorten Labor opposition. What we now know is that the Turnbull government offers a rehash of neo-conservative education policies linked to 75 per cent less funding that categorically rejects the Gonski needs based model. On education alone, the choice on election day is clear.