The Rudd government has accused Premier Denis Napthine of being too lazy to work weekends after a schools funding deal was "effectively struck" on Friday night, with Victoria stalling because the Premier wouldn't be available.
Federal Education Minister Bill Shorten said the Prime Minister was ready to travel to Victoria to make the announcement on Saturday, after state and Commonwealth bureaucrats nutted out sticking points over money and local autonomy for schools.
Speaking at an education union conference in Melbourne, Mr Shorten told teachers his state counterpart, Martin Dixon, called him about 9pm on Friday and told him the Premier would be in his country electorate over the weekend, and talks should resume next week.
"Effectively the deal was done last night," Mr Shorten said on Saturday. "We've sorted out the money – the money is not an object any more. We've sorted out concerns about the Victorian government worried about some sort of Canberra takeover of Victorian schools ... Now we're told the Victorian government doesn't work weekends. This is not good for Victorian schools."
The lack of a deal comes as Kevin Rudd prepares to call an election, which would place the government in caretaker mode and therefore bring an end to negotiations. Speculation is mounting that Mr Rudd is planning to visit the Governor-General on Sunday or Monday seeking approval for a September 7 poll.
Victoria's delay also comes after Opposition Leader Tony Abbott sought to neutralise the education debate by promising to increase school funding over the next four years – without requiring state governments to increase their own budgets.
After months of branding Labor's so-called "Gonski" reforms a con, the Coalition announced on Friday it was now on an education "unity ticket" with Mr Rudd, in a move some schools view as deliberate attempt to remove the incentive for hold-out states to sign on.
New South Wales, South Australia, the ACT and Tasmania have all agreed to Labor's reforms, but Victoria, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland have held out.
Mr Shorten said he hoped Victoria was not choosing to play politics over the interests of students. He said he had spoken to Dr Napthine on Saturday morning, and the Premier had indicated he still wanted to strike a deal, but added: "I hope that Denis Napthine hasn't been conned by Tony Abbott's bogus conversion."
Under Labor's reforms, every student would get a base level of funding, as well as loadings for disadvantage, regardless of the type of school they attend.
Mr Abbott has promised to match Labor's offer "dollar for dollar" without forcing states to contribute money or cede control over their schools.
However, the Coalition policy would actually provide less money overall, because funding is promised for four years, whereas Labor's reforms would go for six. It is also not clear how the money would be distributed.
The state government insists that despite Mr Shorten's "ridiculous" statements, Victoria is negotiating in good faith, with the Premier and Victorian officials working "flat out all weekend" to get the best outcome.
"Bill Shorten should stop playing the school yard bully and focus on getting the best outcome for Victorian schools and students," Dr Napthine’s spokesman said.