In an election campaign, when is the truth true?
Election campaigns are notoriously peppered with claim and counter-claim about political parties telling lies to get themselves elected. The 2019 federal election in Australia has been marred by a barrage of claims in the first days of the campaign and people are rightly left scratching their heads about what is true.
When confronted by our community campaign on public education, including both school and TAFE funding, the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government has led with a counter-claim that there are no cuts to school education but rather a record level of funding is being delivered. This obfuscation actually shows that it is possible for both claims to be true: you can in fact have cuts and a record level of funding in school education.
The deficit of funding in public education is so great that government can point to more money than ever before being invested in education and yet 99 per cent of public schools will never reach the minimum level of funding recommended by the Gonski Review in 2011. The truth is that the amount being invested in education is $14 billion less than the minimum amount needed for public schools over the 10 years from 2017-2027. This 10-year funding “forward estimate” – much more than the four years usually included in government budgets – is a government invention to spread the cost of investment in education over the medium term.
The second claim is that the deficit in education funding can’t be characterised as a cut because the money for future years was never committed. Government budgets are required annually. Each year the parliament (either state or federal) must agree to laws (appropriations) to authorise the expenditure outlined in the budget; so these budgets are only ever about one year of funding plus three years of projected spending, taxation and wage/price growth and plans for programs. The government of the day must go to the parliament again next year to have their annual budget approved before anything promised can become a reality.
The funding of TAFE is an entirely different scenario with $3 billion cut from overall funding by the federal governments of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison, leading to a reduction of 150,000 apprentices across Australia, fewer courses on offer, higher costs to students and TAFE campus closures. All of this with $6 billion poured into the pockets of for-profit private providers who ripped tens of millions of dollars out of the system and then folded leaving students with massive personal debts and no qualifications. All of that is true and on the public record so no debate there.
Given these truths, we must all rely on custom and practice in dealing with the impact of the ‘forward estimates’. Not that long ago the debate was that it was not possible to plan a budget for more than four years. Now certain parts of the budget have become 10-year plans. We must still operate within the understandings that everything beyond this year is a promise, but government must accept that we will apply this to the good and the bad.
The bad outcome for education under the Morrison/Frydenberg budget is that the government has chosen to continue with the cuts to promised levels of education funding originating in 2014. Cuts that were first uttered in the 2014 Abbott/Hockey budget at $22 billion, whittled back to $19 billion in the Turnbull/Morrison budget of 2016 and settled at $17 billion, of which $14 billion is cut from public schools, in subsequent budgets including this year’s Morrison/Frydenberg budget. The investment in education was promised and will not be delivered. The cuts to education spending promised will be delivered albeit at a lower level in the case of schools.
What then of the ‘good’ in the 2019 budget, the Morrison government’s promised tax cuts. One persistent line from the Federal Treasurer’s 2019 budget speech has been that teachers and nurses will get a tax cut of $4000. Setting aside the issues of who amongst these large professions will actually be eligible for tax cuts, the truth is that if the current government is elected thrice more, and tax policy doesn’t change, and the parliament agrees, then in 2025 those tax cuts may be delivered.
A policy delivered in six years’ time, following two more elections and subject to there being no change in the government or government policy! Given we have had three prime ministers in the past six years and many changes in key policies on taxation, education funding, health funding and climate change it is hard to believe that the promised tax cuts are real but that is the world we live in.
The truth then is that the cuts to education funding in schools and TAFE are real and so are the promised tax cuts. Tax cuts have been promised by both sides of politics – Labor has promised more for low-income earners and will deliver it earlier.
Unions in Australia are campaigning for a living wage and wage rises for all. Higher wages are a means to build economic prosperity and generate more tax. Lower taxes from static or lower wages must result in reduced government services or increased government debt, especially to maintain investment in the two largest areas of education and health.
The absolute truth is that there is only one way to make sure that the cuts to education funding are reversed and that is to change the federal government.
17 April 2019
Authorised by Kate Ruttiman, General Secretary, Queensland Teachers' Union
21 Graham Street, Milton, QLD, Australia, 4064