Prime Minister Tony Abbott has done a backflip on his earlier Gonski backflip - restoring all the money he originally promised for schools funding, with a guarantee that no school will be worse off.
After a barrage of criticism, especially from the state coalition governments in NSW and Victoria, the prime minister announced today that the money would be put back following talks in the last few days with the states and territories that had not signed up to the scheme under Labor.
Abbott said that not only was the Coalition keeping its election commitment but “we are more than keeping our commitment”.
Last week the government declared that it would only match the A$1.6 billion that Labor had put into the forward estimates for extra school funding, plus adding A$230 million for Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory which had not reached agreements with the Labor government.
In the election campaign the Coalition promised to spend A$2.8 billion, to match Labor’s Gonski offer to all states and territories.
Abbott and Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced the latest policy switch at a news conference just before parliament’s question time, to blunt Labor’s attack.
After Abbott claimed at the weekend - despite election quotes to the contrary - that the Coalition had not promised no individual school would be worse off, the government now says with the restored funding there won’t be any reason for any school to be a loser.
Pyne said because there were now in-principle funding agreements with Queensland, WA and the NT and the A$1.2 billion had been put back, “we can say that every school in Australia will get more funding and will not be worse off because of anything that the Commonwealth does”.
Abbott said that the restoration of the money followed Pyne’s discussions with Queensland, WA and NT and securing an “in principle agreement to a system which is fair and national”.
“We are putting the rest of the money back in, which means there will be full funding certainty over the next four years,” Abbott said.
Those states which had signed up to Labor’s plan have not, however, made any progress on their claim that the Coalition should honour the six year agreements which they concluded under Labor. There is no prospect the government will concede on this.
NSW welcomed the commitment to lock in four years of funding. Premier Barry O'Farrell, who is in India, was telephoned by the PM to be told of the latest decision.
O'Farrell said the announcement “not only highlights Tony Abbott’s willingness to listen, but demonstrates what can be achieved when a federal government is prepared to sit down and work with the states”.
The government will introduce legislation next year to remove what it describes as “command and control” conditions that Labor imposed under its new school funding system.
Abbott said the government had identified “appropriate savings over and above the savings that we identified prior to the election” to pay for the A$1.2 billion. These would be revealed when the mid year budget update came out, which will be before Christmas.
He described the savings as “perfectly suitable” and said they would not involve “particular difficulties for parents, teachers, students”.
Abbott said it would be “very poor form” for states to reduce their own money for schools as a result of the extra funds but “we don’t want to micro manage the states”.
With the criticism that he had broken his election promise in mind, Abbott said “we want to keep our commitments in spirit as well as in letter”.
After the government previously accused the media of misunderstanding what the Coalition had promised, Abbott said he appreciated that the removal by the Labor government of the A$1.2 billion “wasn’t heavily dealt with during the campaign, which was why perhaps some people were surprised”.