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Peter Garrett has a Winston Smith moment

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Has the Commonwealth education minister, Peter Garrett, just experienced a George Orwell moment? In the novel 1984 Winston Smith, while working in the Ministry of Truth, has the job of rewriting history and changing facts to ensure that what the public reads, listens to and views fits in with Party doctrine and the demands of Big Brother.

As Orwell knew and based on his experiences of governments, both totalitarian and democratic, one of the most effective ways to gain and hold on to power is to shape events by ensuring that the Party line dominates public opinion; even if it means rewriting history.

On Monday, 22 August Minister Garrett gave a speech at the National Lutheran Principals Conference and, as customary, a copy of his speech was circulated via the internet. As noted in a piece in the SMH, Garrett funding speech censored after union outcry, 26 August, a more recent copy of the speech has been doctored to remove a key section related to school funding.


While no where near as extreme as what occurred during Stalin's reign in Communist Russia, where prominent figures disappeared from official photographs after earning the dictator's displeasure, the offending sections of Garrett's speech have simply been airbrushed from history.

In both versions of his speech Garrett criticises the existing socioeconomic status (SES) funding model, introduced during the Howard government years, describing it as "far from optimal" and "over-burdened with policy accretions based on political calculation".

Minister Garrett is particularly critical of the SES model for allowing some schools to be categorised as funding maintained. When the SES model was introduced in 2001, those schools that were at risk of losing money were guaranteed that their existing level of funding would be maintained and, as a result, they would not suffer financially.

In the original speech the education minister illustrates what he argues is the inequitable nature of funding maintained schools be referring to two Sydney non-government primary schools, supposedly, that serve the same types of students as measured by socioeconomic background.

The fact that one school receives $13,000 per student and the other receives approximately $8,000 is criticised as an anomaly and Garrett uses the example to argue that the current SES model works in an "ad hoc way without a solid foundation and set of guiding principles".

In the revised copy of the speech, reference to the two Sydney schools has disappeared, without any acknowledgment that changes have been made, or explanation given as to why the offending paragraphs have been removed.


The fact that the minister's speech has been altered is not the only cause for concern. As significant is the suspicion that the reason why reference to the two schools has been expunged is because the minister's office realised that the argument being put criticising the SES model is a fallacious one.

In relation to the two Sydney non-government primary schools, although they are not identified by name, it is possible that one receives more money because, compared to the other school, it enrols a greater number of disadvantaged students; whether measured by socioeconomic status, language background, ethnicity or being indigenous.

It's also possible that one of the primary schools has a curriculum involving particular programs targeted by government to receive additional funding or that it is a recently established school having to meet start-up costs.

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About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he recently co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum. He can be contacted at He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at

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