THE Government has found the $1.2 billion it said Labor pulled from education spending and will now give all schools $2.8 billion over four years.
The sudden discovery of the extra money – which could not be found as recently as last Friday – was needed to end accusations Prime Minister Tony Abbott was guilty of a major breach of an election promise.
Prime Abbott said today all schools in Australia will get more money under his revised spending plan.
The Prime Minister rejected a suggestion he had been forced into “a $1 billion backflip” by accusations he had dumped an election pledge on funding.
Gonski is back on.
“I think we’ve given a candid explanation of what we have been doing,” he said after a week of funding uncertainty and embarrassing criticism of the Federal Government from conservative premiers.
However, it was clear that the recovery of the $1.2 billion announced at a press conference just before Question Time was to blunt expected attacks by Labor.
In the September 7 election campaign Mr Abbott and Liberal education spokesman Christopher Pyne said a Coalition government would replicate the money and the mechanics of Labor’s school funding scheme.
The Government of Labor’s Kevin Rudd had reached agreements – either in principle or in fact – with the governments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.
It had promised $2.8 billion extra over four years to all states. However, Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory declined to sign up, and the $1.2 billion which was to have gone to them was returned to consolidated revenue. That meant $1.6 billion was allocated to the other states.
But last week Mr Pyne, now Education Minister, said the Abbott Government would not honour the agreements signed with the previous government and wanted the deal renegotiated.
He also said the $1.2 billion was no longer available and attacked Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who as Education Minister reached the agreements, as “Short Change Shorten”.
But today Mr Pyne said he had completed deals with Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and had found the extra $1.2 billion.
“We will implement a funding model that is national, fair and needs based while getting rid of the prescriptive command and control features that removed authority for schools from states, territories and the non-government sector,” Mr Abbott said in a statement.
“Labor left school funding in a mess. The hurried agreements signed in the dying days of the Labor government meant some States secured funding, while others missed out completely,” he said of the agreements the Coalition had promised to uphold.
“The Coalition Government is delivering what Labor failed to – a national agreement on school funding that ensures parents, principals and students, regardless of where they live, have funding certainty.
“The Government will also honour funding promised to non-government representative bodies for four years including $55 million to Catholic Education Commissions and $110 million to the Association of Independent Schools.
“The Government is keeping its commitments on school funding and delivering more funding over the next four years than promised by Labor.”
The agreement includes the $1.2 billion set aside by the former Labor government for the non-signatory states of Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.
Mr Abbott says the deal with the three was made by Mr Pyne in the past few days.
The return of the $1.2 billion will bring total additional school funding over the next four years to $2.8 billion.
“Mr Pyne has … secured an in-principle agreement to a system which is fair and national,” he told reporters in Canberra today.
“Given that we now have a fair and national deal, the government will put the $1.2 billion that Labor took out back into schools funding over the next four years.
“There will be full funding certainty over the next four years.”
Mr Pyne said the Government would amend the Australian Education Act in 2014 to “dismantle the regulation and red tape that made the model virtually incapable of being implemented”.
“Every student in Australia will be treated exactly the same way regardless of what jurisdiction they’re in,” he said.
Labor had made deals with NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, as well as independent and Catholic schools, but Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory held out.