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Pyne abandons Gonski model

The government says it will retain Labor's funding levels for school education, but will introduce a new model for distributing the money from the 2015 school year.

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Education Minister Christopher Pyne has blamed journalists for getting confused about his school funding promises, amid growing anger over the Coalition's reneging on its pre-election commitments.

''It's not my fault if some people in the press gallery don't understand the complicated nature of the school funding model,'' Mr Pyne told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has defended his decision to scrap Gonski and reduce education funding.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has defended his decision to scrap Gonski and reduce education funding. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Asked whether the widespread confusion over the Coalition's education funding plans was because voters were just ''not very bright'', Mr Pyne replied: ''I didn’t say voters . . . I said members of the press gallery.'' 

The Abbott government is under increasing pressure for breaking its election promise to replicate Labor's Gonski school funding model for the next four years.

Only a fortnight ago, Mr Pyne said he would retain Labor's funding and the overall model.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

But Mr Pyne is now refusing to repeat his pre-election assurance that ''you can vote Liberal or Labor and you'll get exactly the same amount of funding for your school''.

Mr Pyne has also said the government will be spending $1.2 billion less on education than pledged before the election, saying that money set aside before the election for states that hadn't signed Gonski had been spent.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott also declined on Wednesday to restate the pledge made by Mr Pyne in August that each individual school would receive the same amount of funding under the Coalition as under Labor.

''Our pre-election commitment was that there will be exactly the same quantum of funding under the Coalition as under the Labor Party,'' Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne.

''We are absolutely honouring our pre-election commitments.''

He did, however, say that the Coalition had decided to put $230 million of the $1.2 billion back into the program, which would be distributed to the states and territories that did not sign up to the Gonski funding model - Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

''We will have a school funding system which is both national and fair,'' he said.

The Education Minister said Labor's plan was no longer possible and the Coalition would have to go back to the ''drawing board'' after the first year of Labor's model.

''What one government does, another government can undo,'' Mr Pyne said, suggesting that he would scrap Labor's six-year Better Schools plan and redesign the system.

The overall funding would remain the same but the Coalition might redistribute the money, leaving open the possibility that some schools and states would lose out.

As recently as November 17, Mr Pyne told Sky News: ''I said that we would keep the new school funding model but [only] over the next four years because we don't believe in Labor's claims things can be promised five, six, 10, 15, 20 years down the track.

''Over the next four years we will maintain the new school funding model, and the budget that went with that in the forward estimates.''

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that the government had "broken its promise" on schools funding, although when pressed, would not say that the Coalition had lied.

"Yesterday they were blaming Labor. This morning in Adelaide, they are blaming the media. Who are they going to blame tomorrow? Are they going to blame the parents or the kids?"

Talking to reporters in Melbourne, Mr Shorten said that the government was assuming that the "whole of Australia" had "amnesia" about the schools funding issue.

The Coalition's backflip has infuriated states that signed up for Labor's package.

Premiers from NSW, Tasmania and South Australia have attacked the Abbott government for reneging on its promise to ensure every school would receive the same funding under the Coalition as it would under Labor.

NSW Liberal Premier Barry O'Farrell said education funding had been poorly handled by the Abbott government. He has written to Mr Abbott to express his concerns.

''Can I just make this point to the federal Education Minister,'' Mr O'Farrell said. ''When you move into government, you have got to stop behaving like an opposition.''

Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings contradicted Mr Pyne's assertion that Tasmania had not signed any agreement.

''What we have here is a heads of agreement that has been signed,'' Ms Giddings said. ''That is a deal. That is a contract. That in itself shows that Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott are breaking an election promise.''

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine also responded on Wednesday, tweeting that his government would "fight for the agreement that was implemented & signed with the legitimate government of the day".

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said the government had created the impression that there was no difference between Labor and Liberal when it came to school funding.

''Within 10 weeks of the election they’ve walked away from that promise,'' he said.

''It's outrageous, and we will be extracting a political penalty for every day this federal government remains in breach of the promise it made before the election.

''Mr Pyne will reverse his decision on this and we will be campaigning against him until he does that.

''These are just weasel words. He made it absolutely clear he was on a unity ticket, there was no difference between him and Labor on the question of Gonski funding, and the reason he did that was because Labor won the political argument about the importance of these reforms.

''This is, I must say, an extraordinary federal government . . . This was a government that used to bang on about sovereign risk, and they actually breach agreements that have been solemnly entered into and people have acted on to their detriment.

''The policy chaos that’s occurring at the national level now is extraordinary.''

Mr Shorten said the Abbott government was breaking its election commitment.

"They said there would be a unity ticket before the election,” he said.

"Now what's happened is they've reneged. But there's a deeper issue here. It goes to trust. Ten weeks in, the Coalition government cannot be trusted to keep their election promises they made before the election.”

with Mark Kenny, Anna Patty, Gareth Hutchens