Education reforms have Abbott on the hop

By Greg Ansley

Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo / Getty Images
Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo / Getty Images

Prime Minister Tony Abbott faces a gruelling final two weeks of the political year with rebellion on education plans, likely rejection of his efforts to axe the carbon tax, and the forced courting of the Greens he has unrelentingly lambasted.

Abbott is twisting words in a bid to convince Australians he has not backflipped on election promises to stick with Labor's education reform for four years, and not succeeding. The states that signed up to the reforms have refused to renegotiate the deal they made with the former Labor administration.

With his backflip Abbott is following the same track he accused former PM Julia Gillard of taking when she reneged on her promise not to introduce a carbon tax. He has further infuriated critics by apparently preparing to return to previous Liberal politics by shifting government emphasis to private schools at the expense of the public system.

Labor's policy was based on a exhaustive review led by prominent businessman David Gonski and was designed to close the gap between high- and low-performing students, directing funds to areas of social and economic disadvantage.

It advocated higher education spending, largely directed at public schools because of the significant numbers and greater numbers of disadvantage students attending them.

Labor struck deals with the Liberal states of New South Wales and Victoria, and the Labor administrations of South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory refused to sign up.

As education became a key election issue Abbott said that the Coalition and Labor were running a "unity ticket" and that the Gonski reforms would continue if he won office.

His then-education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, who now holds the portfolio, said that "every single school would receive, dollar for dollar, the same funding", whoever won.

Pyne is now leading the Government backflip, refusing to recognise the deals made between Labor and the states and describing the reforms as a "shambles" that needed to be replaced with a system that would be fair and equitable.

Abbott said schools would receive the same amount of funding as they would have under Labor - despite Pyne's warning that he could not guarantee individual schools would get the money they had been expecting from the Gonski reforms.

"We are going to keep the promise that we actually made, not the promise that some people thought that we made, or the promise that some people might have liked us to make," Abbott said.

Pyne also indicated that public schools could lose most if the Gonski reforms are dumped.

"That is of enormous concern to all jurisdictions." NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said.

Private schools oppose the plan and say they do not want to benefit over the public system.

Meanwhile, the Government faces defeat in the Senate on its repeal of the carbon tax, with Labor and the Greens vowing to block the legislation. And it now plans to try to win the support of the Greens to lift the national debt level from A$300 billion ($335.2 billion) to A$500 billion, despite consistently attacking the Greens for their "fringe-dwelling"economics.

The Greens and Labor blocked the move in the Senate last month, supporting instead a A$400 billion limit. Treasurer Joe Hockey warned that if his plans were thwarted he would allow government services to grind to a halt and make "massive cuts" in spending.

- NZ Herald

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