For Whom the Liberal School Bell Tolls

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As appears to be becoming the norm for Conservative political parties the world over, and in Australia, they have developed a blueprint for winning elections from Opposition which involves an amalgam of amorphous concepts, Fuzzy Math, Truthiness, Catch Phrases, Principled Words that look good on a backdrop and every marketing trick in the book. Or is that, every marketing trick that they can fit into a glossy pamphlet?

Thus with Tony Abbott’s Coalition we have the amorphous concepts of a government of ‘chaos and dysfunction, in disarray’. A position not actually borne out by the facts of a government who, despite instability, which is different, have governed well and in an orderly fashion over the last 3 years.

Tony Abbott likes to contrast that with his team, an Opposition ‘ready to govern’ with a ‘stable front bench’. Whether in reality that is a good thing is open to question, even as he tries to portray it as such, as you could also portray it as a stultified and sclerotic potential administration, unable or afraid to move on poor performers from their spots where they have become araldited to the Shadow Front Bench.

Anyway, as we all know, Abbott is simply trying to make the best of a bad situation, unable as he is, to move them, because if he does he invokes the agreement he made with Gary Gray as Special Minister of State which would see a cut in resources allocated to the Opposition.

Still, you can’t say that Tony Abbott doesn’t try to make every post a winner.

Also, the ‘Fuzzy Math’ is manifested in the Coalition’s position to dismiss the validity of Treasury estimates of anything but to laud the ability of their ‘Commission of Audit’, which would occur after an election of an Abbott government, to come up with the correct figures, in contrast to Treasury’s numbers, and upon which they would rely instead.  Just as the Coalition attempted to do in the 2010 election when they rubbished Treasury Costings of their policies and relied instead on the arithmetic of their chosen firm of WA Accountants (with links to the Liberal Party).  Figures which were subsequently proven to be without solid foundation, and more than a bit fuzzy.

The Catch Phrases, in lieu of cogent and accurate criticism of government policies, we can all come up with many examples of from the Abbott Opposition over the last 3 years. ‘Great Big New Tax’ being just one.

The ‘Principled Words that look good on a backdrop’, which the Opposition have chosen to background Abbott with this go around are, ‘Hope. Reward. Opportunity. Real Solutions and The 5 Pillar Economy’. All well and good, and what any citizen would aspire to for their country and to be manifest as aspirations for a government. Though I can see why the Coalition have opted for 5 Pillars, when usually 4 pillars are enough to support a structure, 5 are better!

However, all of that is not what this post is actually about. Instead I am wanting to focus on the ‘Truthiness’ aspect as it relates to the Coalition’s policy platform relating to Education.

Stephen Jones, MP pointed out in a Tweet the other day this paragraph from the Coalition’s ‘Real Solutions’ booklet which went to their Education policy:

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I had to wonder, what does that mean in reality? Because the Coalition aren’t telling us straight up. So I went to the Liberal Party Platform document to try and flesh out the motherhood statement in the pamphlet with some more concrete facts. Ever hopeful that I am of the Coalition having an Education policy, which has just been hidden away somewhere.

Here it is:

Federal Platform
The Liberal Party of Australia
THE LIBERAL WAY
CREATING OPPORTUNITIES FOR
AUSTRALIANS
Liberals believe in a society in which all children have the opportunity
to develop their potential and all people have the opportunity to
achieve.
The education system is fundamental to achieving this goal, but
education goes beyond schools to include family and community.
Material reward, cultural enrichment and personal fulfilment may be
derived from an effective education system that seeks to overcome
limitations imposed by disadvantage and maximises opportunities
for all.
Liberals are committed to the widest possible freedom of choice
in education. The right to choose should not be just a privilege for
the rich.
In creating opportunities for Australians, Liberals will:

recognize the importance of families and good parenting to children
in policies that protect and strengthen the family;

ensure the widest possible freedom in choice in education,
promoted by diversity of systems and schools;

ensure that all children have access to the best possible education,
irrespective of sex, race, religion, socioeconomic background or
place of residence;

establish standards of literacy and numeracy, and accountability
mechanisms for their achievement;

help students overcome limitations and disadvantages by fostering
choice in education, accommodating diversity in needs and
aspirations, and encouraging excellence;

decentralise the control and administration of schooling
by empowering local systems and respecting school
communities;

promote awareness of the need for adults to upgrade their
education and provide appropriate opportunities for doing so;
LIBERAL PARTY OF AUSTRALIA
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offer financial assistance where appropriate so that educational
needs can be met;

oppose discrimination based on irrelevant criteria;

implement economic policies that generate employment
opportunities;

assist migrants to integrate and find appropriate employment;

provide for the needs of special groups in the community,
including the disabled, the aged, indigenous Australians and
remote communities; and

recognise that gifted and talented children often have special
educational needs, which must be met if their potential is to be
realized.

Nope, nothing there that tells us exactly what the Coalition would do as far as their approach to educating our children and grandchildren goes. In fact, if you read it you would have to say that their aspirations sound very much like those outlined in the Gonski Report. ‘Provide for the needs of special groups in the community….’ Also, to ‘offer financial assistance where appropriate so that educational needs can be met’, sounds very much like they would provide something like the ‘School Kids Bonus’, which they have pledged to rescind.

Anyway, the line which interests me the most, and which is, yet again, left deliberately vague as to it’s implementation on the ground, is:

decentralise the control and administration of schooling
by empowering local systems and respecting school
communities

So, in the interests of informing ourselves just what this new system of educating our kids might actually look like, which the Coalition are keeping under wraps for the most part, possibly until after the election, we’ll have to go to those government’s school systems that have already embarked upon similar paths to see what they look like.

From the research I have done there may be a few options for paths that the Coalition may go down. They are paths that other countries with Tory governments have taken as they have turned over what we know as Public Education to Private Education Services providers. Which can also encompass ’empowering local systems’, or franchises, when you think about it.

Plus, I will look at those Coalition State governments that the federal Coalition are looking to for inspiration.

1. Vouchers.

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On ABC24’s ‘The Drum’ last Monday, a spirited discussion about what may be the specifics of the Coalition’s plans for Education policy, occurred between the IPA’s, Tim Wilson, and actor and friend of Kevin Rudd, Rhys Muldoon.  The Privatisation of Public Schools was discussed, based upon the paragraph in the ‘Real Solution’ pamphlet that I have highlighted above, and Wilson, often a public cipher for the Coalition’s private musings, was more inclined to think that the introduction of Education Vouchers for each student would be the best way to go and that any group, in any community, who would wish to start up a school, should be able to do so.

So, what is the Voucher system and how does it work? What are it’s pros and cons?

School Vouchers are a certificate given by the State Government that allows parents to take their child’s portion of that State’s per pupil education spending and apply it to the school of their choice (Private, virtual, or home) instead of the Public School district their child resides in.

What are the advantages of School Vouchers?

School Vouchers give parents who would not otherwise be able to afford it some choice in their child’s education. Public Education is the cheapest form of education and many simply cannot afford other choices such as Private Schools. The voucher system gives them the opportunity for this type of choice.

Another advantage is that all taxpayers pay for Public School funding regardless of type of school their child attends. So a parent, who has a child in the Private School system, is paying for the Public School system as well. This eliminates that double payment. Proponents also argue that School Vouchers would provide more competition across schools, which would in turn improve the quality of education for all students.

What are the disadvantages of School Vouchers?

The opportunity to undermine the Public Education system is presented with the School Voucher program. Public School enrollment and funding would take a huge hit. Essentially opponents of School Vouchers say that the monies being taken away from Public Schools through the voucher program would not be replaced and it would be difficult to be competitive without adequate funding.

It can also be argued that Private Schools, many who control enrollment, will not have enough room to meet the potential demand, thus having to turn down students who wish to attend their school. Much as they would love to, Private Schools would not be able to endlessly expand. Opponents also argue that parents who take the vouchers to home school their child may not be spending it properly on their child’s education.

I remember that when Brendan Nelson was John Howard’s Education Minister, he and Howard began to make sotto voce comments about a School Voucher program. Then Howard lost the 2007 election and the option has not been publicly spoken about by the Coalition since. Only the IPA.

For a more comprehensive explanation of the Voucher System and a comparison with other alternatives, you may like to read this: http://www.wested.org/policy/pubs/full_text/pb_ft_voucher.pdf
It may be an American information sheet, but so much in Education Theory these days is global and shared.

2. Independent Public Schools

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Fortuitously for me, over the last week, Christopher Pyne, Shadow Education Minister for the Coalition, has fleshed out what will be the policy that they will take to the election. By reading this informative article by Maralyn Parker in The Daily Telegraph, of Wednesday, July 17th, 2013:
http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/maralynparker/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/the_coalitions_school_education_policy_independent_public_schools_and_more_/

and an article, by way of reply, from the NSW Education Minister, in The Sydney Morning Herald, of Saturday, July 20, 2013:
http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/nsw-shuns-federal-coalition-plan-to-split-state-schools-20130719-2q9ng.html

it is now possible to say with confidence that the Coalition have a plan to spread nationwide, by ‘encouraging’ the States, that system which has been implemented in Western Australia, and is being rolled out now in Queensland. Though not one that NSW is interested in.

What is it and what does it involve?

From this article in ‘WA Today’ of March 25, 2012:
http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/minister-refutes-privatisation-of-schools-20120325-1vs4k.html
we have the WA Minister of Education, Dr Liz Constable, explaining the guts of it as being about giving School Principals more autonomy in the schools they run and attracting experienced and outstanding Principals to the most disadvantaged schools, with financial incentives, and allowing them to develop the programs that will lead to an overall improvement in the school’s results.

Which sounds all well and good, and, as Dr Constable explains, it is merely the implementation of an agreement to do just that which has been entered into with the federal government.

The other aspect of the Coalition policy is this:
Under the policy, schools can apply to become an IPS, giving them autonomy over budgets and staffing, greater discretion over curriculum, and managed partly by a school board. They remain publicly funded and do not charge compulsory fees.

However, Minister Piccoli in NSW is not convinced:

”While we are talking about very significant devolution of authority from the centre out to local schools, we are not talking about wholesale autonomy,” he said. ”We will not be introducing charter schools or independent public schools because there is no evidence that they improve student performance.”

If it doesn’t lead to improved student performance, why advocate for it then? Unless it is to be the thin end of the wedge which leads to the Privatisation of Public Education, where schools are run by ‘Education Services Providers’, who take over the running of the schools and the education of the students in them, from the government.
Such as has been happening in Sweden for the last few decades, and is happening in Britain now, where the Cameron Tory government, under Education Minister, Michael Gove, has introduced Academies and Free Schools, and is considering whether to allow them to be able to run and make a profit:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/cash-for-classrooms-michael-gove-plans-to-let-firms-run-schools-for-profit-8682395.html

So, as you can see, at least we now have an Education policy from the Coalition, and we can compare it to the ‘Better Schools’ offering from the Labor federal government.

Two radical new proposals to take education of our kids down a new path in the 21st century.

One an evolution of our present model and an improvement upon the, now generally recognised, failed model of the Howard years.

The other, a devolution revolution. And one which it’s critics say benefits the companies who seek to get into the education space, more than the students themselves.

The election will decide which one we get.

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The Show MUST Go On.

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Life is a highway. Are you going my way?
I’m on a journey. I hope you can come too.

That journey is to effect the sort of change in the Labor Party which I think we can all agree is needed if it is to survive & prosper as a Progressive Social Democratic political party, onwards through the 21st century and beyond.

As someone who gets to see politics in the raw in NSW, I think I am qualified to say my piece about what has occurred as the 43rd Parliament drew to a close, and I hope that you respect the fact that I have thought long and hard about the situation we have all just lived through and which the party finds itself in with respect to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard exchanging roles yesterday, and I hope you respect my perspective.

You don’t have to agree with it, just respect the fact that it is neither a knee-jerk, reflexive lashing out, or a requiem for the ALP that some might expect or demand, just my perspective. A different perspective.

In fact, I’m not going to make a comment either way about the manner in which Kevin Rudd came to get back the position of Prime Minister. That has been hashed out ad infinitum and we all have an opinion about the propriety of that action and the manner in which JGPM (for she will always be that to me, I coined the acronym after all on Twitter), was relentlessly undermined by forces within her own party, the media and the Opposition, which includes their mouthpieces in the Conservative Think Tanks. That’s a given, and a shame that it had to occur to the nation’s first female Prime Minister, and that it coincided with the advent of 24/7 News media in this country. They have to have something to comment on, dissect, analyse and pontificate about in an increasingly obvious partisan way.

Such is life. We do it too, and those in glass houses shouldn’t cast around for stones at a time like this because to continue to express rancour now only expends our energies needlessly and for short term existential gain. Not the sort of long-term productive gain which can really lead to us vanquishing our common enemies.

Who are they?

Firstly, and foremostly, it is the Coalition.

In a very short space of time, we of the Progressive bent will be facing them in the trenches, and we had better get our acts together I say, in double-quick time, if we are to have a chance of defeating them. That’s all that counts right now.

Bitter recriminations are fine, and all well and good in the short run but only serve to hobble the cause we all believe in, in the long run, if we let those feelings eat away at our souls. That way lies an ineffective and divided rabble, and a heart-breakingly thumping win for the Conservatives. With all that would entail in a draconian policy sense.

So, yes, Kevin Rudd was an A-Grade A-hole, and so were the Cardinals and the other assorted Rudd Rats. I think we can all agree that their behaviour was reprehensible, and they too are our enemies within.

Which is why I have decided not to resign from the Labor Party, as others have. I have decided that Kevin Rudd and his acolytes & congenital chancres within the Labor Party may be having their day in the sun in the Labor Party now, but the cause of reform drives me on to the horizon beyond them and is the greater good which I have decided to keep working for, inside the party.

As I said to a couple of ladies up my way when I first joined the ALP, you can get upset about things and yell from the sidelines, or you can run onto the field as part of the team & get down and dirty with the rest of them and fight for what you believe in and do your best to kick goals and produce the sort of results you think should be being achieved.

“History is made by those who turn up”, as Tony Windsor said. So I’m going to keep turning up because I am on a personal crusade, with the Labor Party as my vehicle, for what I believe in. I have succeeded in sidelining some of the malign forces that we all detest in my local area, which has prevented them from having a platform on the national stage, and we have got a better representative as a result. Also I believe that if I stick with it I can do my bit to fulfill the legacy of JGPM in the party, as Tanya Plibersek appears to have decided to do also, and stick around to vanquish the malign forces and see them replaced by those who represent the qualities we respect.
I do.

If I don’t and I give up and go away I think that I would feel worse. I do.

I also think Julia Gillard would approve because we are staying to stand and fight another day.  Nothing good is ever easy, and the past 3 years and the last 3 days have shown me me that when the going gets tough, the tough get going and the show MUST go on. They might have won the battle but they will not win the war.  I fight on.

It’s Our Bloody Future! Not Our Ruddy Future!

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So, what do we have confronting us today?

From what I can read between the lines of the stories on early morning news breaks we do indeed have a stalemate when it comes to the leadership of the Labor Party.

1. The Cardinals are wasting their time and energy, traitorously attempting to engineer chaos and dysfunction, er, the Prime Minister to step down and hand over the leadership of the party, and hence the job of PM, to Kevin Rudd, in the run-up to the election.

So we get their stage-managed stunts with Kevin as star attraction. their statements to the media that Julia must step aside, and their touting of the numbers. Today, apparently, they have finally got >50% of the Caucus prepared to vote for Kevin, but they want , nay demand!!! the overwhelming majority of Caucus to get behind him.

Um, after all the malign machinations they have been up to, I think I can guarantee that’s the last thing Caucus will do. In fact, I think that Caucus will want to never speak to many of them ever again after the way they have made real the likely death of the party at the election, due to the obvious disunity on display, purely as a result of their continuous and, it seems, never-ending, campaign of white-anting.

That’s the take-out I have made from the particularly bad polls. People just hate the destabilised rabble that they are confronted with. In fact, I believe, a lot of the animus is directed, not at Julia Gillard, but at the very people so obviously agitating to get Kevin Rudd back. Could there not be an element of, ‘Well, put him back, if that’s what you want! Just do it and get on with being unified!’

Not that it will happen that way. As we all know, who follow these things closely, that if Kevin Rudd was put back as Prime Minister, it might satisfy the Cardinals, who are living on a prayer that he will be their saviour. It might satisfy a few tabloid-reading, Reality TV addicts in the community.

But it won’t satisfy Murdoch. He’ll just get out a fresh set of Ginzou knives and hand them around to his hacks and the next 3 months will be filled with more red blood to ensure the Blue Bloods win the election. As he wants.

2. Kevin Rudd appears to still not be interested in challenging JGPM. He’s smarter than the Cardinals because he knows that mass resignations from the Cabinet would result from his success and accession to the top job. Peter Garrett’s statement to that effect last Sunday was a voice for the many that said they would do the same, in the past.

Which would give the ‘headless chooks’ & ‘chaos & dysfunction’ metaphors, that the Opposition are peddling, big, fat, juicy legs. It really would become a cakewalk for the Opposition then.

3. Julia Gillard is not going to listen to the Cardinals now, or take heed of their scandalous plotting. It’s all so obviously contrived, along with the mendacious media pushing it along, as they all struggle for relevance together.

The Prime Minister is smart enough to see all this and will not waver. So is most of the Caucus, despite what the embittered old party hacks in their hereditary Labor ermines are saying. The future of the Labor Party, if it is to have one, lies in not going back to the halcyon days of yore of faceless plotters like them, feeding their egos and feeding stories to the complicit media, in order to perpetuate the the way of doing business manifest in the personage of Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald in NSW. The old, tired and discredited NSW Right way of doing things, which these Cardinals are the absolute and continuing embodiment of.

If we give in to them now, and let them put their front man back in to do a job that he was so obviously unsuited for, then the Australian Labor Party should just shut up shop, and hang a ‘For Rent’ sign on the front door. As it will be the old days and ways of the Hawke era back with a vengeance. When the old, male Union dinosaurs, or ‘Trogs’, as they styled themselves, ran the show as a sinecure for the Labor peers and greasy pole climbers, who did their work in the shadows and made sure so many lumps of useless wood got to sit on the Senate benches and occupy safe seats.

Those days are gone, and it’s about time those idiots realised it.

It’s not going to work for Tony Abbott either. Unless he wants to preside over a Serfdom. Though, considering the limited extent of his vision displayed thus far, and his megalomania, that’s probably exactly what he wants.

‘Poor Fellow My Country’, is exactly what’s in store if either man, Rudd or Abbott, gets to hold sway. That I do know for sure because they are both incompetent at administration and only sustained by the media, and the media have not yet displayed to me that they have the answers either.

Only the Gillard Ministry seem to have a real clue about where to take the country, that isn’t to a place littered with mass unemployment and mining tenements pock-marking the landscape. Or dams every damn where, destroying the fragile environment as they try and coax food out of a blood-red stony soil in the north of the country.

I just sit here and I watch all of this in despair, I truly do. However, just as resolved and determined to fight it as I ever was.