Businessman David Gonski, who wrote the former ALP government’s blueprint for school funding, which was effectively dismantled in last week’s Budget, has criticised the Abbott government and the Prime Minister’s Commission of Audit .
His comments, made on Wednesday night at the University of Melbourne during a speech in honour of Jean Blackburn, the architect of the last review of school funding, in 1973, are his first on education since the Abbott Government took power.
Last Tuesday’s Budget cut projected Commonwealth funding by $5 billion per annum within a decade under new arrangements with the states. The deal kicks in in 2017, with Mr Gonski saying “the concept of aspiration ends” at that point.
The new deal reneges on the six-year arrangement under the Gonski plan.
“I sincerely hope that in the period between now and 2017 the federal government will change the presently budgeted position,” he said.
The Chancellor of the University of NSW reserved his most pointed observations for the National Commission of Audit by fellow businessman Tony Shepherd, saying he was “disappointed with the general commentary” on eduction and rejecting its claim that increased funding did not lead to better school outcomes, arguing that “monies may have increased but not been given in the correct areas”.
“The monies distributed over the 12-year period to which the commission refers were not applied on a needs-based aspirational system. Any effects of our review only start this year ie. 2014,” he said.
Mr Gonski said he was surprised the Commission of Audit didn’t look question the tenet that all schools should receive the same amount of money per student given that they were looking to save money.
“I cannot easily forget the differences I saw in the schools I visited. To say that many of the schools in the state systems need further assistance both in money and tender loving care is to me an understatement.
“There needs to be a commitment to a properly funded needs-based aspirational system, and a failure to do so will be to our detriment.
“The way monies are applied is the important driver; increasing money where it counts is vital,” he said.
“My biggest regret with the views of the commission is their suggestion that the funding of 2018 should be based on 2017 funding indexed depending on changes in the CPI and the relevant wage price index,” he said, warning that if that level was wrong, the injustice would be perpetuated, regardless of education costs.
In a speech that was at times intensely personal for the normally guarded South African-born businessman, who confessed he struggled at times with the limelight his report provoked, he revealed education was the difference between his grandfather, who sold linen, and his father, who became a brain surgeon.
“If the advantage of education had helped my family so much how could I stand by and say nothing when the country I love is dropping in its international rankings in such an important area.
“My heart went out in this regard also to the second problem we easily identified namely that so many who suffer from disadvantage will suffer like my grandfather,” he said.
He also urged other businesspeople to expand their horizons, mocking himself as in an “ivory towner” before embarking on the funding review, saying it was a “pet concern” that people tended to stay in the one sector.
“I believe we should encourage movements within the sectors within a successful and hopefully enjoyable career. It is good for the individual but also for the society as it builds trust between the sectors and can facilitate better cooperation in achieving ambitions for the country,” Mr Gonski said.
But he had one regret about his review of school funding: that he put a figure on the cost of reform at $5 billion, although he countered that it was less than 0.5% of GDP.
“In retrospect, the decision to mention the number clouded the entire response to our review,” he said.
Now read David Gonski’s speech here.
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