Labor has now done a backflip on education – declaring it will combine with the Greens to block the $2.3 billion savings from higher education that it announced.
The cuts were designed by the Gillard government to part-finance its Gonski school funding plan, and the Coalition took them over before the election in its savings measures.
But ALP spokesman Kim Carr said the opposition would not support the Coalition’s “cynical move” to proceed with the cuts when it had “abandoned the six year plan they were designed to fund.” The government is only funding four years of the schools plan, which it is also changing to free the states from its controls.
Carr said that under the Abbott government’s plan “the Commonwealth will pour money in from the top only to have it come running out the other end with no assurances the students will benefit. We are not going to support Abbott’s second rate deal for students”.
The Labor cuts were widely criticised when they were unveiled, especially on the grounds that the ALP was paying for schools by a cut in another part of education.
The Greens welcomed Labor’s reversal. Greens spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon said Labor’s decision to join the Greens followed a sustained community campaign involving unions, academics, students and the Greens.
The Greens campaign had targeted 27 Labor MPs in federal electorates with high student and staff populations.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne accused Labor of hypocrisy.
He said that in the pre-election economic and fiscal outlook (PEFO) Labor intended to go ahead with the higher education cuts “despite the fact that they were also ripping $1.2 billion out of their own school funding envelope as another Budget saving.
"The idea that this funding was a straight swap into schools is a complete furphy and ripping $1.2 billion out of the schools Budget is the proof. This $1.2 billion was not returned to higher education,” Pyne said.
The legislation for the cut could be voted on in the House as Representatives as early as tonight, and would then go to the Senate.
Meanwhile Tony Abbott, facing parliamentary obstruction on a number of policy fronts, has threatened to extend the parliamentary sitting beyond next week, when parliament is due to rise for the year.
“I don’t think the Labor Party should get a free pass at Christmas time … they really should be listening to the people of Australia.
"The public voted for a change of Government, the public voted for a change of policy and the public expect the policies they voted for to be put in place.”
The Labor party was doing its best to give the “two finger salute” to the Australian people.
But the Senate, where the government is in a minority, can determine its own sitting time.