Prime Minister Tony Abbott says his government will match Labor’s previously promised “quantum” of funding for schools, but won’t guarantee that no school will be worse off.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne sparked outrage from the states and territories and the federal opposition on Tuesday, when he announced the funding package set up by Labor, would only apply in 2014 and a new scheme would be negotiated for 2015.
The so-called Gonski scheme had become a “shambles”, did not involve every state and the funding had too many strings attached to be effective, Pyne said.
The government is arguing that, because Labor returned to general revenue some funding earmarked for states that did not join the scheme, the amount available had been cut by $1.2 billion.
Pyne has said that the government had therefore been left short of funds for schools.
Before the September election, Abbott said the Coalition would “match the offers that Labor has made. We will make sure that no school is worse off”.
Asked on Wednesday if he could guarantee no individual school would be worse off, Abbott said: “No. What we’re saying is we will absolutely honour our pre-election commitment.
“And our pre-election commitment was that there will be exactly the same quantum of funding under the Coalition as under the Labor party.”
The former Labor government earlier this year got the backing of NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, as well as independent and catholic schools, for a new funding model based on student needs.
Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory held out, but on Wednesday the Abbott government said it would claw back an extra $230 million for their schools for 2014.
South Australian Premier and Treasurer Jay Weatherill, who is in Canberra for the treasurers’ conference on Wednesday, said the federal government would be penalised for going back on the Gonski model.
“We will be extracting a political penalty every day from now until Mr Pyne scraps his plans to back away from this agreement,” Weatherill said.
Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings, who is also in Canberra, said she had no problem with minor adjustments.
“But the fundamentals must not change, particularly as this was a promise that the Liberal party made,” she said.
NSW Treasurer Mike Baird said he would raise the issue at the treasurers’ conference.
“We have made an agreement with the federal government that funding has been allocated in our budgets and we expect that to be honoured,” he said.
Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls said he was disappointed not to get a four-year funding deal under the coalition government, but pleased his state would get $131 million extra over the coming year.
“We will continue to work with the Commonwealth on that,” he added.
Federal Labor frontbencher Jason Clare said the government had broken an election promise.
“There’s a reason why everyone is calling Christopher Pyne `Pyn-occhio’ today, and that’s because he is lying to the Australian people,” Clare said.
Discussions about school funding during Wednesday’s treasurers’ meeting were deferred to Pyne, Weatherill later told reporters.
“(Federal Treasurer Joe) Hockey was very keen to hand-ball that back to Christopher Pyne and I think he wishes him all the best at his education ministers’ meeting coming up later this week,” the SA Premier said.
“We were given no commitments about whether the agreement would be honoured.”
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