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School funding caught in old shemozzle, not driven by evidence

By Scott Prasser - posted Wednesday, 24 April 2024

It is astonishing to see Catholic archbishops and school authorities complaining that the Albanese Labor government is letting them down over the Australian Law Reform Commission's report to remove key protections from the Sex Discrimination Act as it threatens to destroy religious freedom and faith-based schools.

The Catholic school sector has about 20 per cent of school enrolments in Australia and the independent sector 15 per cent, most which are also faith based.

What makes this especially astonishing is how those same archbishops and school leaders sided with the Labor Party in 2017 over school funding using robocalls and letters to parents to campaign against the Turnbull Coalition government in favour of Labor candidates at the Longman and Batman byelections over school funding.


Catholic school leaders, no doubt approved by the archbishops, openly boasted that their efforts were crucial in having ALP members elected.

Then ALP leader, Bill Shorten spoke at Catholic schools and promised that Labor if elected, would provide extra $250 million in funding to Catholic schools.

This campaign followed the Turnbull government's success in passing amendments to the Gillard government's Australian Education Act which was full of inconsistencies and special deals especially for Catholic systems.

The Commonwealth Department of Education estimated that these arrangements gave the Catholic sector a billion dollars more than it should have compared to independent schools. it followed decades of special deals for the Catholic sector under successive coalition and Labor governments.

For the first time in the history of federal school funding the successful 2017 amendments put the Catholic and independent schools on the road to a level playing field, increased transparency, at last tackled overfunded private schools, grew funding to public schools faster, required greater state funding especially for public schools and made federal and state funding contributions consistent across the country.

The Turnbull government also made public what each school "attracts" under the legislated needs-based funding model as distinct from what each school received as distributed by the different state Catholic education bodies. It highlighted that many needy Catholic schools did not receive their due amounts.


As most independent schools are not part of any system, they receive exactly what the model stipulates.

This new era of transparency, fairness and equity was short-lived. The Catholic campaigning weakened Turnbull and he was replaced by Morrison in August 2018.

Then education minister, Simon Birmingham was moved sideways.

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This article was first published in the Canberra Times.

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About the Author

Dr Scott Prasser has worked on senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments. His recent publications include:Royal Commissions and Public Inquiries in Australia (2021); The Whitlam Era with David Clune (2022) and the edited New directions in royal commission and public inquiries: Do we need them?. His forthcoming publication is The Art of Opposition reviewing oppositions across Australia and internationally. .

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