If you want to know a big reason why the Liberal Party lost the seat of Longman – and how to win it back, spend some time in the car park at the Caboolture Hospital.
You’ll see kids in the checked uniforms of St Peter’s and St Eugene’s arriving with Mum ahead of her night shift and leaving with Dad on his way home from work, onward to tackle homework, dinner and bedtime.
These families work hard. They pay their taxes. And they haven’t had a real pay rise in years.
They’re pretty busy, so talk fast as you try to explain that under Senator Birmingham’s formula Catholic schools are ‘overfunded’ and they will need to make up the difference as their school’s funding growth slows even as costs keep rising.
See the cold fear in their eyes as they contemplate yanking their kids out of school in coming years because they can’t afford the fees.
They’ll vote for the plan that takes the fear away.
Most people have no idea about the so-called ‘school wars’.
It’s a conflict that only exists in the greasy turbulence of the Canberra bubble.
Under both John Howard and Tony Abbott, in word and in deed, Liberals backed the rights of parents to choose the best school for their child.
We backed the rights of all parents to have some government funding for their child’s education.
We understood that Catholic parish schools are run as a system and that governments should respect the unique history of an institution that generations of parents had built over time.
And we understood that schools – state, Catholic or independent – don’t always deliver the best education for the kids in their care.
They get stuck, for reasons of ideology or inertia, in pedagogy that doesn’t deliver the high standard of literacy and numeracy that children need if they are to succeed in the world.
So Liberals worked to ensure that all schools – state, Catholic or independent – are great schools, delivering basic skills to the highest possible standard.
These are the right values to guide the education policies of a centre-right party.
Here’s hoping incoming Education Minister Dan Tehan can embrace these values as he fashions a new deal on funding, not just for schools, but for the parents of schoolchildren in Australia.
Louise Ahern worked as schools adviser to Howard government education minister David Kemp and as a speechwriter to Tony Abbott during his time as Prime Minister. She is the mother of two children at Catholic schools.
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