Flat White

Gonski 2.0: contrary motion

23 June 2017

12:07 PM

23 June 2017

12:07 PM

One of the more annoying exercises when preparing for piano exams was the ‘contrary motion’ scale. The student prepares a C Major scale, for instance, with the right hand ascending and the left hand descending at the same time, before meeting back in the middle.

This is sort of how our government is behaving. The right hand is ascending, the left descending.

Dutton and his Immigration portfolio are on the up. He daily reminds us what differentiates our party from Labor. For Labor, it is unfair to expect prospective new Australians to be competent in the official language. For the Liberals and indeed the rest of the country, all those who reasonably hope to talk to their new neighbours, the stricter but basic citizenship prerequisites are obvious and welcome.

The rest of the government, on the other hand, is descending rapidly, out of time. And the low notes inevitably drown out the high notes. The bizarre energy debate in the Coalition feels like a re-run of Turnbull’s catastrophic 2009 leadership, except now we’re all suffering from higher energy bills. It’s impossible to comprehend, we may have actually gone back in time.

More significantly, the full Gonski madness feels like a re-run of 2011 except this time the Liberals have pushed the big-spending, Canberra power-grab agenda of Gonski and not the Labor Party. At least when Labor did it, they were pleasing their constituency. But now the Coalition has incensed yet another element of its base.

Not everyone seems to understand the significance of Birmingham’s colossal blunder (mischaracterised as a ‘success’). They are unfamiliar with the law of unintended consequences. They see only as far as the temporary, fleeting confusion of Labor caused by the Coalition nicking their ideas.

The worrying thing is that (with the notable exception of John Howard) the divide between those who appreciate the error in this and those that don’t is largely between those who went to Catholic schools and those who didn’t. This divide between tribes which we’re witnessing is another, more significant regression.

The response (or excuse) of many short-sighted people in the Coalition is “well, the Catholics supported Gonski 1.0, so now they’re getting their just deserts”. This is an obviously wrong claim. The cornerstone of Gonski is the dubious ‘needs based funding’ model, which, whatever the Catholics previously negotiated, was clearly not that. This is what they are protesting even now.

Some have even convinced themselves that this is some kind of education policy win. But really, we know that Gonski 2.0 is a political ‘fix’ masquerading as policy. There is no evidence that showering schools with cash improves results. Every true Liberal intuitively knows this.

What’s more, it’s not even a political fix. As the senior executive of the National Catholic Education Commission poetically told Birmingham, the Coalition will “wear this like an albatross around its neck until the day of the next election”.

For those unfamiliar with Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the phrase alludes to an incident where a sailor shoots a friendly albatross and is forced to wear the carcass around his neck as punishment. Apt.

No, there is no policy or political reason to support Gonski 2.0. Why then? I think there is some residual tribalism informing the dismissive, if not resentful attitude toward Catholic schools.

The “special deal” language is no accident. For those rubbing their hands together inside the Coalition and out, they feel they’re finally rectifying a 50 year annoyance. They’re not really referring to a supposed ‘special deal’ with Gillard. Whether they admit it or not, they’re referring to what they actually consider a half-century ‘special deal’; Menzies’ state-aid to Catholic schools. Really, a lot of people think the Catholics should get no money. Until recently, it was only the Communist Greens who admitted this openly.

This attitude punishes nation builders. The Catholics, along with many other forgotten classes of people today, helped build this nation. They built schools. They built hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, you name it. More enlightened prime ministers have therefore considered it “a matter of justice” that these institutions receive support.

People won’t remember the numbskull Energy Minister who rattled off government lines on the merits of renewable energy targets and how we will fulfil our ‘obligations’ to the Paris Climate Accord. Despite the Energy Minister’s prolific television appearances, he will be forgotten. Why? Because he did nothing. He was boring. He managed the self-inflicted problem of high energy prices caused by unnecessary commitments.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham, on the other hand, will be remembered. He has definitely done something. He will be remembered for wantonly destroying a Coalition legacy. Any compromises or practical tinkering is irrelevant at this point. The betrayal has already happened.

Birmingham proclaims the merits of ‘needs based funding’ from Canberra while Bill Shorten is posing with children in Catholic primary schools. The Coalition has stolen Labor’s idea, but Labor is stealing our base.

Labor will always be able to think of new reasons not to vote Liberal. Meanwhile, we will still have that albatross hanging around our neck.

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