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ALP schools policy: engaging in the politics of envy

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Tuesday, 28 September 2004

The first thing to be said about the ALP’s schools policy is that it represents a grubby and cynical political exercise that destroys any promise about trust and openness in government. How else do you explain why voter-sensitive Jewish schools in marginal ALP seats like Melbourne Ports are excluded from funding cuts?

The Australian Education Union (AEU) launched a $1.5 million campaign across 28 marginal seats in an attempt to unseat the Howard Government. The very next week, surprise, surprise, Mark Latham announces an additional $1.9 billion for AEU dominated government schools.

Forget that the AEU’s curriculum policy - one which refuses to hold teachers or schools publicly accountable, that is anti-family and that promotes the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people and that applauds PC fads like black armband history - is one reason why parents are deserting government schools.


Of course, Mark Latham is smart enough to know, given that 32 per cent of students attend non-government schools (in Victoria the figure grows to 41 per cent at years 11 and 12), that it would be political suicide to stop funding non-government schools altogether.

The answer: Engage in the politics of envy and establish a hit list of 67 so-called wealthy, elite schools and freeze the funding for a further 111. Like the ALP of old, Latham is able to attack privilege and prove to the comrades, while the Berlin Wall may have collapsed, that there is still value in the class war.

Ignored is that the current SES formula used to fund non-government schools is already needs based. The average government recurrent funding per student (2001-2002) is just under $9,000, students at Scotch College only receive $1,713 in government funding and students at The Kings School in Sydney receive $1,905.

By cutting funding and forcing schools to increase fees, all the ALP will achieve is to financially penalise those parents who wish to choose what is best for their children. Worse still, every student that is forced back into the government system represents an additional burden on government spending.

The fact is that 47.9 per cent of independent school families earn less than $78,000 a year and, according to figures released by the Productivity Commission, such parents save Australian governments $4.2 billion a year. Such parents not only pay for their children’s education but their taxes also fund government schools.

Take our family as an example. Julia and I both went to government schools and ended up teaching in them as well. Such was our experience of the state system that we sent James to Camberwell Grammar and Amelia to Ryton - both independent schools are on the ALP’s hit list.


The only way we paid school fees was by Julia taking on part time work and by increasing the mortgage. Of course, we did not expect governments to cover the cost. At the same time we certainly felt, as parents, that we had the right to choose and that some of our taxes should support our children’s education.

Not only is the ALP schools policy guilty of the tall poppy syndrome - let’s attack those schools that achieve the best academic results and that promote values that parents want - but the policy also gives greater control to state and federal left-leaning bureaucracies and teacher unions.
The ALP policy released this week calls for a nationally consistent curriculum, including teaching Australian values and common approaches to reporting and literacy and numeracy. Those parents who remember Joan Kirner’s VCE and Paul Keating’s national curriculum will understand the dangers in such an approach.

Once control over what happens in schools is centralised, then teachers are forced to follow whatever is the latest education fad. As parents know, state sponsored fads like whole language, fuzzy maths and values-free education have dumbed down the system.

The irony with Latham’s plan, at the very time that parents are voting with their feet because government schools are too politically correct, is that the ALP wants to deny parents the freedom to choose and to force them back to the government system.

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First published in the Herald Sun on September 16, 2004

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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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