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Issue #1692      July 8, 2015

Corporate takeover of education

Leaked sections of a Green Paper on Federation reveal that the Abbott government is considering whether to abandon all responsibility for funding schools or to just continue with funding for non-government schools. At the same time, according to the Fairfax media, the leaked paper proposes the means testing of parents sending their children to public schools. Means testing implies the introduction of fees for public schools, with children of lower income parents on lower or no fees.

The secret paper puts forward four options for consideration:

  1. The federal government cease funding to all schools – government and non-government.
  2. The federal government continue to provide funding for non-government schools but discontinue funding for government schools.
  3. Federal government scale back its funding for schools.
  4. The federal government become the main funder of schools.

Options three and four are less likely as they are inconsistent with the $30 billion cut to schools that the government has already announced.

In addition, the government is looking for clear delineation of funding and to retreat from any responsibility for services to the people. It has already shut down hundreds of programs, sacked thousands of public servants and is in the process of privatising government services including Medicare, education and the social security system.

States take full responsibility

In relation to the first option, the Green Paper states, “The States and Territories would be ‘sovereign in their own sphere’ and reflect their responsibilities set out in the constitution.” This theme of “sovereign in their own sphere” comes through very strongly in the Productivity Commission’s discussion paper in relation to its review of industrial relations.

Consideration is given to how the states would find the additional income required. The Green Paper toys with the concept of states having access to personal income tax raised by the commonwealth. The federal government would set a personal rate (no mention of company tax!) to raise the income it requires and each state could request an additional amount – not necessarily the same amount. That is, apart from a possible increase in the GST.

It could pit state against state competing with different taxation rates. There is also a similar option in the Productivity Commission’s discussion document on industrial relations. The PC puts forward the idea that each state sets its own minimum wage rate and other minimum conditions, thus pitting worker against worker in a race to the bottom as states attempt to attract foreign investors.

Government schools charge fees

Option two would have similar outcomes. This is the model preferred by the Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, himself a former student of a private Catholic school, Saint Ignatius’ College in Adelaide.

According to the MySchool website only four percent of students at Saint Ignatius’ College have English as a second language and there are no Indigenous students. The school received $8 million from the federal government and $1.8 million from the state government in 2013.

“I want to have a direct relationship with the non-government sector,” Pyne said. “Having talked to the Prime Minister about this matter many times, it is his view that we have a particular responsibility for non-government schooling that we don’t have for government schooling.”!!

That says it all. It sums up the government’s attitude to the working class, to the most disadvantaged, the “leaners” as Treasurer Joe Hockey calls them. They only care about their own class, the capitalist class.

There is also the alarming proposition that “Each student would receive a funding entitlement, based on their educational needs and their family’s capacity to contribute, that would ‘follow’ them to whichever school they attended.”

Translating that into simple English, it is the introduction of means testing and fees into public schools.

“The States and Territories would have the option to ‘top-up’ funding to government schools, if they wished to do so, to ensure all public school students, regardless of the ability of families to make a contribution, were able to attend for free.”

States, already stretched to the hilt with extra responsibilities being dumped on them by the federal government are more likely to opt for fees and means testing.

In conjunction with all of the options, there is an implied notion of what is known as a voucher system. This was developed in detail in the Gonski report. (see Guardian, “Privatisation of education: the Gillard-Gonski model”, #1564, 12-09-2012)

It is based on a set amount being attached to each student for schooling which can be adjusted for special student needs and the ability of families to make a contribution.

Parents on higher incomes could top up the value of the voucher to enable their children to gain entry to elite private schools. It would effectively put government and non-government schools on a similar footing in terms of government funding.


The voucher approach and introduction of fees into government schools is consistent with the aim of complete privatisation of the public education system. Public schools in some states are already well down the path of privatisation.

In all but Tasmania and South Australia, states have been decentralising and schools volunteering for or being selected for greater autonomy.

The principals of these so-called Independent Public Schools have to varying degrees responsibility for hiring staff, financial management of the school, organising internal inspection of staff, providing professional development programs, etc. Many of these responsibilities were previously funded and carried out by the department.

They also have school councils and to all intents and purposes, apart from their name, are little different to private schools. They are ripe for takeover by corporate interests, religious outfits and other groups through the school council.

In Queensland, where there are already 130 Independent Public Schools, the Education Department says on its website, “They have options to pursue creative models of sponsorship and community, industry and infrastructure partnerships.”

The government appears committed to continuing with My School; the National Assessment Program (including NAPLAN); the national curriculum; and national principal and teaching standards. These measurements of performance and rankings form the basis of education becoming a commodity and competition between schools on an education market.

As Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe said, “It is a fundamental right of every Australian to be educated in public schools free of charge and has been since the 19th century.

“Mr Abbott cannot be allowed to get away with abandoning the funding of education or charging hundreds of thousands of parents to send their children to public schools.”

Next article – Medicare rebate freeze undermines bulk-billing

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