Federal fiscal flim-flam: a Budget setting all the wrong priorities
3 April 2019 : QTU President Kevin Bates comments
Delivering the sixth Budget fail in a row, the 2019 Federal Budget confirms that the years of Coalition rule under the Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison regimes are some of the worst ever for education: in early childhood education, schools and TAFE.
The tale of woe commenced with the attack on the original Gonski school funding model through $30 billion in proposed education cuts under Abbott. This was whittled back to $22 billion in education cuts under Turnbull, with Morrison as Treasurer, and then finally settled as $17 billion, of which $14 billion comes from state schools.
Despite school funding being the major policy difference between the federal Coalition government and the Labor opposition, the 2019 Budget of Morrison and Frydenberg delivers in full on the threats of previous Coalition governments. Of the $300 billion allocated to education over the next decade (allegedly an increase of 63 per cent), 60 per cent goes to non-government schools, which educate 34 per cent of students.
One new announcement is an infrastructure fund of $200,000 per federal electorate, described in the Budget as being for libraries, playground equipment and programs. This $30 million token will be available for all schools in each electorate, subject to an application process, the details of which are unknown, and is in addition to the $1.9 billion infrastructure funding available to non-government schools alone.
To add insult to injury, the Budget also fails on early childhood education and TAFE.
The further deferral of commitments to long term funding for early childhood education, with a fourth extension of funding for one more year, places an intolerable strain on this crucial education sector. The best possible start to formal education would be delivered through resourcing universal access to quality education in the early years. Annual deferral of funding decisions and short-term fixes leave the entire sector in limbo.
TAFE continues to suffer from record funding reductions, totalling $3 billion over the past six years, producing the lowest levels of student enrolments and apprenticeships in decades. A major announcement on Budget night was $525 million for skills and training, but the following morning revealed an incredible deception, with the federal Department of Education clarifying that, in fact, there is only $55 million in new money. $470 million of the funding announcement is being redirected from existing commitments to vocational education in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.
Don’t be fooled by the claims of record spending on education. We hear that every year from governments at a state and federal level, because of the interaction of significant growth enrolments and increases in the cost of delivering education, which traditionally grows at more than 4 per cent, much higher than the current rate of inflation. The current record level is simply not enough.
The government has clearly stated its priorities. Doubling tax concessions to almost $300 billion reduces the capacity to deliver essential services such as education. Teachers and principals know that $1,000 in tax cuts is far less important than funding schools so that every student can have every chance to succeed in their education unimpeded by the consequences of disadvantage.
The true measure of the government’s commitment to education is the consequences of its Budget priorities. Ninety-nine per cent of state schools will not reach the schooling resource standard (SRS) by 2032. With the SRS as the minimum level of funding deemed necessary by Gonski to deliver on literacy and numeracy standards for all students, how can any government claim to be investing in education when the schools that educate two-thirds of the total number of students will never reach that minimum level.
There is only one way to stop the cuts and deliver real funding boosts to education in all three sectors. We must change the government to change the rules on education funding: our students are depending on it.