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Gonski: first moves by Gillard « Previous | |Next »
September 4, 2012

Gillard presses on with education reform in her response to the Gonski Review to lift teaching standards in spite of saying little about funding. The states, who are responsible for education, are close to broke and the Commonwealth has to stump up most of the 6.5 billion cash required.

Education is a core Labor issue in that the welfare state attempts to address the capitalist logic of ever increasing inequality through educational opportunity and a safety net. Schools for the well-off are better than ever; those for everyone else continue to deteriorate. It becomes self-reinforcing as the middle class continues to believe that their interests will be best served by an ever-freer market and a smaller state.

Gillard, in her speech to the National Press Club, stated that new funding will be contingent on states and systems agreeing to and delivering school improvement in the form of improving g teacher quality, including requiring more classroom experience before graduation and higher entry requirements for the profession; giving principals more power, including over budgets and staff selection; and providing more information for parents through the My School website.

RoweD GHonskibattle.jpg David Rowe

Gillard is opening up the negotiations with the states by mapping the field in terms of reforms aimed to achieve excellence rather than equity. On the table for negotiation are the states' share of the extra funding, the level of the basic benchmark grant under the Gonski plan (which would be topped up for needs, such as economic disadvantage), the amount of indexation and how quickly the funding is scaled up.

The states will have to scramble to avoid looking like the bad guys--as happened with the Disability Insurance scheme.---if they don't come to the table to negotiate. There is little doubt that current funding model is broken, leaving (mostly state) schools with high proportions of disadvantaged kids lacking the resources needed to ensure they get the education they need to live in a market economy. In contrast, (mostly private) schools, with more favoured clienteles, have further funding heaped on them by generous government grants.

People are now asking whether Gillard Labor is going to go into the next election with unfunded spending commitments. Will it trim middle class welfare to fund its commitments, given that the tax receipts this financial year are expected to drop 22.1 per cent of GDP to somewhere just above 21 per cent by next budget time due to falling commodity prices?

If we step back from this politics of the moment and look at what is happening at a deeper level, then we can discern the increasing inequality in our schools and society. This is what Gonski was addressing in educational terms. Philip Blond from the ResPublica thinktank says that:

While the left has tended to embrace the state as the agent of equality, the right invariably looks to the market as the agent of prosperity. And yet the left has not solved the problem of poverty through state redistribution, and the right has not delivered mass prosperity through the market. Instead, both the left and the right have presided over rapid and rising inequality and the seizure of wealth and opportunity by those at the very top of society.

His critique of the social democracy assumptions of Gillard's educational reforms would be that in the 20th century the poor represented the bottom 20%. But they have subsequently become the bottom third, and now with changes in the nature of modern capitalism in the 21st century they threaten to encapsulate the middle class itself.

It does appear that the development of technology and globalization undermines the middle class, and makes it impossible for more than a minority of citizens in an advanced society to achieve middle-class status. Francis Fukyama says that there is:

a lot of happy talk about the wonders of the knowledge economy, and how dirty, dangerous manufacturing jobs would inevitably be replaced by highly educated workers doing creative and interesting things. This was a gauzy veil placed over the hard facts of deindustrial­ization. It overlooked the fact that the benefits of the new order accrued disproportionately to a very small number of people in finance and high technology, interests that dominated the media and the general political conversation.

It is a reality that liberal democratic society's in the West cannot maintain a middle class without welfare support. We could add that the Australian society and economy cannot afford that kind of welfare support without increasing levels of taxation--eg., broadening the base of the GST (and cutting the corporate tax rate).

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:08 AM | | Comments (14)


Labor has embarked on three ambitious spending plans within weeks of being warned it is losing around $10 billion a year in tax receipts due to commodity price falls.

We have the $6.5 billion per year Gonski reforms, that would arrive in $1 billion increments from 2014 if Labor won the next election; Labor's hefty commitment to the National Disability Insurance Scheme – between $5 billion and $8 billion a year according to the Productivity Commission – and its increases in funding for public dental care ($4 billion over six years). There is also $3 billion over four years to reopen offshore processing facilities.

Is the the budget so full of fat that it can be trimmed? Or will there be a new tax?

Victoria (the fossil fuel state) is very hostile to the reforms--they are yelling about state right from the parapets and accusing the federal government of seeking 'unprecedented intervention' into the running of the state's schools.

The Gillard Government is building up a sizeable reform platform to lead it into the next election, and it's doing so without spending significant amounts of money (yet).

Will this create momentum to roll back the negative campaign being run by Abbott. You only hear the odd spluttering about carbon pricing these days.

The finger is being pointed at teacher education. Is it that bad? Aren't the public schools in disadvantaged areas lacking in resources? Don't we need extra funding support for disadvantaged schools?

The increase in funding envisaged by Gonski would not see every school have a rise in funding, but mainly those schools serving high-need students from disadvantaged families, largely concentrated in the government school sector.

The Federal Government is focusing heavily on school performance, which is a state responsibility.

"where will the money come from" is the mantra of those opposed to reform.

Philip Blond, in commenting on Australia, says that Australia seems rudderless. He adds:

The ruling Labor party seem to have abandoned one technocrat in Kevin Rudd for a single issue autocrat in Julia Gillard - the absence of ideology on the left appears compounded by a similar confusion on the right with pragmatism giving way, as it always does, to the politics of personality.

Gillard a single issue autocrat? She spends most of her time negotiating with The Greens and Independents and with the states to get her reforms through.

Blond adds that one can only do what's right if one knows what is right, and what seems evident is that nobody knows what is good, what is right and what to do as a result.

This lack of political vision suggests that the governing Australian ideologies - liberalism and socialism - have become unhinged, cast adrift from a reality they can no longer explain, understand or direct. This is dangerous - a society that loses its common foundation fragments, it becomes partisan and oppositional and fights against itself and fails to prepare against the coming travails...Without this foundation western politics tends to oscillate between extreme individualism and extreme collectivism - where the contradictions of one leads to the fulfilment of the other.

Extreme individualism and extreme collectivism?--Australia has a market economy and a welfare state.

What Blond is arguing is that Conservatism's social vision (its foundation in the virtues) represents a genuine 'third way' over against the bankrupt politics of the left and the right, beyond the welfare state and the free market.

It is not clear why the politics of the welfare state---eg., that state helping out schools serving high-need students from disadvantaged families--- are bankrupt. Why is this bankrupt in contrast to the further neoliberal privatisation of Australia's schools?

"It is not clear why the politics of the welfare state---eg., that state helping out schools serving high-need students from disadvantaged families--- are bankrupt. Why is this bankrupt in contrast to the further neoliberal privatisation of Australia's schools?"

The argument is that it is bankrupt because it is too statist. What is being proposed is a seeking to mutualise government services, to give more power in decision-making to front-line operators and to establish a more direct relationship between users and suppliers of various services.

Blond is about the the role of "civil society" (with its role of trust and reciprocal assistance) as a balance to the free market and big state. He wants to make "civil society the centre of politics because neither state nor market are able to supply various crucial local needs; whilst representative democracy has reduced the ordinary person's real decision-making power.

" Education is a core Labor issue in that the welfare state attempts to address the capitalist logic of ever increasing inequality through educational opportunity and a safety net."

What has been going on in the last couple of decades is the hollowing out of the middle class by the economic forces of the global market. The middle class is being squeezed as the gap between rich and poor widens.

Advocacy of decentralization, localization and community as bulwarks against the perils and dangers of either the state or the market is a stock in trade of social reformers and modernity critics since the late nineteenth century.

Real people-power requires coordinated and common action in pursuit of shared goods: housing, education, health etc. Through acting in concert - in their families, congregations, unions and other self-generated institutions - citizens can uphold a common life.

On this account it is not the individual's freedom of choice that is the locus of citizenship but arenas of common life - workplaces, neighbourhoods, professional bodies, and institutions like schools, universities and hospitals - and the work it takes to secure them as places of human flourishing.

In his The Future of History...Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class? in Foreign Affairs (January/February 2012) Francis Fukuyama says:

Over the past two generations, the mainstream left has followed a social democratic program that centers on the state provision of a variety of services, such as pensions, health care, and education. That model is now exhausted: welfare states have become big, bureaucratic, and inflexible; they are often captured by the very organizations that administer them, through public-sector unions; and, most important, they are fiscally unsustainable given the aging of populations virtually everywhere in the developed world. Thus, when existing social democratic parties come to power, they no longer aspire to be more than custodians of a welfare state that was created decades ago; none has a new, exciting agenda around which to rally the masses.

Is that Gillard Labor?

re the growing inequality caused by technology and economic globalization (de-industrialization)

the main opposition to this is a right wing populism that attacks the social democratic state, which that seeks to protect ordinary people from the dynamics and externalities of capitalism.

Labor's new scheme will phase in over six years from 2014 to 2020. That’s eight years and three elections away. Its a joke.