The Turnbull government has ruled out doing special deals as it stares down the Catholic education sector – and Tony Abbott – over its schools funding package.
The Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, and other cabinet members have rejected Mr Abbott’s claim the coalition is “on a loser” if its plan disadvantages Catholic schools.
The Gonski sell
Malcolm Turnbull and his education minister are on a schools funding publicity campaign, trying to sell their new plan, but not everyone is buying it.
Asked if the former prime minister was wrong, Senator Birmingham told reporters, “That is certainly not an accurate reflection of the reforms we are proposing.”
The minister insists what’s been labelled as Gonski 2.0 by the government will ensure all schools are treated consistently.
“We don’t want a special deal for anybody,” Senator Birmingham said.
Earlier, former education minister Christopher Pyne said Catholic schools would pocket an extra billion dollars over the next 10 years.
“So how anybody could feel they are losing when they are getting a billion dollars extra is beyond me,” he told the Nine Network.
A draft report obtained by the ABC has found evidence that taxpayer funds for Catholic schools are being directed away from poor dioceses and into more popular schools.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, and Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Photo: Peter Rae
The internal report, by Kathryn Greiner on behalf of the NSW and ACT Catholic Bishops, also contains a warning Commonwealth funds must only go towards education and not to broader parish operations.
There is no direct accusation of misappropriation in the report but the warning alone highlights a lack of transparency in the Catholic school funding system.
While Mr Abbott expects the package will be vigorously debated by Liberal and Nationals MPs when Parliament resumes on Tuesday, acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said he has yet to be approached about any concerns.
Labor has seized on coalition dissent as it ramps-up opposition to the government plan.
“It should be junked – any proposal that takes more than $22 billion away from our schools over the coming decade will hurt Australian children,” opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said.
After earlier casting doubt on Labor’s commitment to restore the lost funding, Ms Plibersek said the opposition would “fight until the last day” for the $22 billion.
“Judge us on our record and you will know that we will restore funding to our schools.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten confirmed the opposition won’t stand in the way of cutting funding to 24 wealthy schools, but called on the Greens to reject the government’s plan in the Senate.
The minor party says it will take its time – including taking part in an upper house inquiry – before making any decision.
Any promises taking effect five to 10 years down the track were worthless unless legislated, Greens leader Richard Di Natale said.
“What really matters is what’s put in law,” he said.
The government’s package will ultimately increase federal money for schools from $17.5 billion in 2017 to $30.6 billion by 2027.
The Australian Education Union is urging the Greens to resist the funding proposal, saying it fails to provide disadvantaged students with the support they need.