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Issue # 1422      5 August 2009

Editorial

Resist the attack on public education

Public education is in the sights of the arch-privatisers still in control of Australia’s economic agenda. The distinction between government and non-government schools has been deliberately blurred and attempts to stand up for quality, free, universal and secular public education dismissed as harking back to the “old days” of “us” and “them”.

League tables listing the scores of schools – the logical conclusion of the literacy and numeracy tests imposed under Howard – are just around the corner. They will increase the pressure on parents to “shop around” for schools for their children. The Commonwealth and state funding mechanisms have greatly advantaged private, high-fee, often church-affiliated schools at the expense of public schools. More and more parents will seek to enhance their children’s prospects by paying extra to attend private schools. That was the purpose of the whole wave of “reform” in the first place – to create a market for education and a drift to private institutions.

The next step in this process is for all parents to get a government “voucher” to purchase their children’s education wherever they “choose” (see article page 3). For the less well off it means they will go wherever they can afford without too high a gap between the value of the voucher and the school’s fees. This system is an attack on the disadvantaged in society and puts their children’s interests at the bottom of the pile. The philosophy and ethics of voucher-funding schemes are the opposite of those underpinning a public education system and what most people would consider just and equitable.

John Roskam, co-author of a recent report pushing the voucher system, has been giving the concept the hard sell in the press: “As has been increasingly understood by both sides of the political fence, vouchers represent a powerful tool to tackle educational disadvantage. This is because parents of children with special needs, or from low-income families, are financially empowered to take their children out of failing schools and into high-quality educational institutions,” he said.

A $12,000 voucher will not enable a child from a disadvantaged background to go to an elite school. The argument is dishonest. Disadvantaged children would be segregated into “failing” schools (already stigmatised by the federal government’s league tables) and wealthier parents would deposit the voucher and (a lot more besides) into the coffers of private education Inc. The voucher system must be rejected emphatically.

Riding roughshod

Prior to the 2007 federal elections Kevin Rudd asserted his authority, publicly “expelling” several militant trade unionists from the ALP and handpicking a number of candidates. Since becoming prime minister, he has continued to rule with a rod of iron, naming his own ministry and crushing any opposition to his agenda.

The ALP National Conference in Sydney last week was the most stage-managed ever. A special team working for the Prime Minister oversaw every detail. Backroom deals quashed dissent and firmly handed Rudd and his leadership team everything they demanded.

Rudd did not even take the time out to hear what delegates had to say. He gave the opening address and not long after left, only to return on the final day for the induction of Bob Hawke as a life member of the party. The voices of rank and file Labor members were hardly heard and certainly not listened to. The rank and file were disenfranchised. The Labor machine was more interested in the corporate sponsors who paid $7,500 each to attend the conference and who knows how much more for the privilege of talking to one-on-one with key ministers.

Business representatives were not pleased with one resolution which called on the government not to reduce the overall taxation of the corporate sector. They have little to fear; one of the aims of the Henry taxation review is to make the system more competitive for business – meaning reduce the amount of tax they pay.

While delegates were voting on policy, PM Rudd was on the radio letting it be known that he did not feel bound by policies adopted at the conference. He said he would keep them in mind, but had to take into consideration the national interest.

Rudd and his handpicked team are no amateurs; they have taken control of the ALP and intend being in office for some years to come. They have a long-term, neo-liberal (economic rationalist) agenda which they intend to see through. They have no intention of letting anyone or anything stand in their way, in particular rank and file members of the ALP and the trade union movement.  

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