Given that the All Blacks had trained at King’s over the weekend, I had been allowed to join the rugby royalty to watch the game. I was having a rueful look at the Bledisloe Cup which, I suspected, was shortly going to be firmly in the grip of our cousins across the ditch, when I saw Kim Beazley.
Kim and I had never met, which was a shame because I quite liked the bloke – even though he had targeted King’s in the 1998 and 2001 Federal elections as an elite school that needed to have its Federal funding cut. So I sauntered over.
After grunting pleasantries, I asked Kim why he had chosen to attack King’s. He thought a bit before saying, ‘The name says it all – King’s. It reeks of wealth and privilege.’ Then he said, ‘Parramatta is also a marginal seat and you photograph very well from the air.’
Kim was right. A lot of aerial footage of King’s had been used in his two election bids, as had sections of our Mission Statement which he read out to Parliament. He had also been captivated by the fact we had a rifle range – suggesting it to be an inappropriate luxury for a school in receipt of Federal funding. Then Kim smiled and confessed, ‘We made a big mistake in taking you on. It significantly weakened my chances.’ As I said, I like ‘Bomber’ Beazley.
Kim was not the only one to founder politically on the school funding issue. Mark Latham’s bid for the Prime Ministership was also wrecked when he set up a ‘hit-list’ of Independent schools. Aspirational Australians were alarmed by his divisiveness and suggested an alternative career as a writer of memoires.
With Kim Beazley returned to the helm, Federal Labor abandoned its politics of envy. The Australian on 6 April 2006, ran the heading ‘Labor ends class war on schools’. Shortly thereafter, Warren Mundine, the Labor Party President, was moved to say that parents who sacrificed their lifestyles to send their children to private schools should be thanked and supported with tax incentives. How about that for a turn around!
Not long thereafter, our Kim was overthrown, and we had Kevin Rudd taking on John Howard in the 2007 Election. Labor continued its ‘kiss-and-make-up’ campaign when Julia Gillard took Labor to the 2010 Election. This was a huge compromise for a lady whose antipathy to private schools had been legendary. It just goes to show that political expediency tends to triumph over political conviction. Julia now told everyone that she loved all types of schools and wanted to ensure they were funded appropriately. And she did. Whatever else is said about Julia Gillard, she had a great heart for education, and her Gonski initiatives are to be applauded.
So – where are we now with Federal Labor and schools like our own? The answer lies in Gonski – now rebranded as the ‘Better Schools’ package. Essentially, this guarantees some entitlement to Federal funding for every school student, but then tops the funding up in deserving cases involving such things as disability, ethnicity and isolation.
This is a funding model that the Federal Coalition has had difficulty improving on. The ‘Better Schools’ model appeases the two philosophies that have fuelled the school funding debate in recent decades: 1) Entitlement funding. 2) Needs-based funding.
Because of this demonstrable fairness, the Coalition has been forced to match Labor on its promised extra funding of schools. With States and Territories falling into line and signing up for the ‘Better Schools’ program, the Federal Opposition Education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, could not do much else.
Therefore, there is not much for schools to fight about on 7 September, 2013 in terms of funding. I find this rather unusual. Indeed, the only real threat to the funding of non-Government schools in recent times has come from the NSW Coalition Government who wanted to cut our State funding by a gob-smacking 50%. This ended up in a humiliating back down when the King’s community joined many others to ensure the proposed cuts were overthrown.
All this goes to show that politicians from all political persuasions need to be watched carefully. This is particularly important given that nearly half the secondary school students in Australia’s cities now go to non-Government schools. Perhaps this is why everyone wants to play nicely. The non-Government sector is a big voting block.