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Not giving a Gonski: how teacher unions are halting progress on school funding

Matthew Knott

Published: June 17 2017 - 8:26AM

On Friday, a group of activists from the Australian Education Union staged a protest outside Derryn Hinch's Melbourne office. 

The senator's crime?

Daring to agree to vote for a $19 billion increase in school funding over the next decade, including a 5 per cent increase for public schools.

The AEU - which says it represents 185,000 educators - presents itself as the champion of public education and the Gonski report.

Yet the group behind the prominent "I Give a Gonski" campaign has emerged as one of the biggest roadblocks to sensible education policy in this country. 

While it may not have the profile of other unions such as the militant CFMEU, the AEU is hugely influential on the progressive side of politics. 

It is cashed up, skilled at lobbying and has a big base of passionate members it can mobilise quickly.

The Greens are terrified of the backlash the union could incite against them if they do a deal with the government on schools. That's even if, as Fairfax Media reveals today, they win extra money for public schools and a new independent resourcing body.

It didn't have to be this way. 

When Malcolm Turnbull, flanked by David Gonski himself, announced his school funding package the union could have welcomed the commitment to needs-based funding.

It could have backed the extra money for public schools - and the bold decision to strip money from over-funded private schools and end special arrangements for Catholic schools.

It could also have pointed out flaws in the government's plan and urged opposition parties to improve it.

Instead, like the Labor party, the AEU is calling for the Senate to block the new model entirely because it doesn't deliver as much money as Julia Gillard's 2013 deals. 

It's a position that has grown increasingly absurd as the debate has progressed.

This week Gonski review panellist Ken Boston told Fairfax Media it would be a "tragedy" if the government's bill was voted down.

Boston, a strong supporter of public education and former head of the NSW education department said: "Five years after the release and subsequent emasculation of the Gonski Report, Australia has a rare second chance.

"The progressive elements in Australian education need to recognise that their argument has been won.

"There are no grounds for opposition to the schools funding bill in principle, and every reason to work collaboratively towards its successful implementation and further refinement in the years ahead."

A day later, fellow Gonski panellist Kathryn Greiner said it would be a "disaster" if the current funding arrangements remain in place.

Have any of these arguments shifted the public sector teacher unions? Not a bit. 

So much for giving a Gonski.

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