We do not support Gonski 2.0

Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

We know that paying all teachers more doesn’t improve school education.

We know that governments that spend up big in their first budget don’t fix the mess closer to an election.

We know that Liberal Governments that have adopted Labor-Green policies lose Liberal voters but don’t pick up Labor-Green voters.

And we know that governments that borrow incessantly eventually cause mass hardship for the people.

Yet on each count the Government’s school funding deal is making these same mistakes we’ve seen in the past.

When Labor was in government it was clear that the previous increases in school funding had not improved the quality of school education. But despite this, Labor sent terms of reference to David Gonski that did not require his recommendations to fit within the spending envelope of existing spending. Unsurprisingly, Gonski’s recommendations called for increased spending, Labor adopted such spending increases as policy, and Labor legislated for these spending increases in the Australian Education Act 2013.

In the 2014 budget the Abbott government instead proposed that from 2018, Commonwealth school funding should be increased in line with CPI and student numbers. This was a step in the right direction.

But the Abbott government never bothered to enact this proposal, so to this day Labor’s approach remains the law of the land.

The Parliamentary Budget Office has advised me that the existing law requires nearly $20 billion more Commonwealth school funding over the next decade than Abbott’s proposed approach.

So when the Turnbull Government proposed to increase Commonwealth school funding, compared to Abbott’s approach, by $18.6 billion over the next decade — and when Turnbull actually planned to legislate to convert his proposal into law — I was inclined to support Turnbull’s legislation.

The Parliamentary Budget Office confirmed to me that passing Turnbull’s bill would reduce Commonwealth Government funding over the coming decade by $1.2 billion, compared to what the current law requires.

Despite the Government’s claims that it was increasing school funding, this was compared to the unlegislated fantasy of Tony Abbott. I knew that the Government’s bill was actually cutting school funding over the coming decade compared to what the current law requires. And that was fine by me.

The Government was also proposing to make small improvements in how funding is distributed, although in a perfect world the Commonwealth would provide no school funding, the States would fund students rather than schools, and funding would be properly means tested, such that we could jettison the grab-bag of duplicative, poorly-designed loadings and capacity-to‑contribute calculations of the current system.

But yesterday the Government changed. It proposed a further $4.9 billion in Commonwealth school funding over the coming decade, and has prepared amendments to its own bill to make this funding boost the law of the land.

So now the Government is planning to increase Commonwealth school funding over the coming decade by $23.5 billion compared to Abbott’s approach. And crucially, this also means that Commonwealth school funding, compared to the current law of the land, is set to increase by $3.7 billion.

Within a day the Government’s approach to schools has morphed from a spending cut to a spending splurge.
This despite the evidence that school funding does not determine school performance.
Despite the evidence that fiscal responsibility is required early in a parliamentary term.
Despite the evidence that adopting Labor-Green policies doesn’t make Labor-Green voters vote Liberal.

And despite the evidence that a government’s incessant borrowing eventually causes mass hardship for the people.

The irony is, the consequences of this will fall on current school students. In order to pay current school teachers more regardless of their performance, the Government is burdening today’s children with an ever greater debt.

Might I remind Senators that the Government’s net debt is $355 billion. And might I remind them that each year the Government is adding to this debt by running budget deficits. We are spending money we do not have. We are falling into the very spiral of borrowing and debt that Senator Gichuhi so clearly warned against in her maiden speech. How can you in good conscience agree to borrow even more money under this school funding deal?

When confronted with a Senate with a dangerous addiction to borrowing and spending, the Government should have been prepared to see its bill defeated.

But its focus is on the political theatre of a winning vote, regardless of what that vote entails.

It is principle-free governing.

And it is ruinous for our nation.