You might have noticed a brief flurry of media and political commentary last month, prompted by a leaked Australian Government discussion paper on the challenges facing Australia’s federation.
The commentary focussed on one section of the paper dealing with education, identified in the paper as one key area for reform.
In case you missed it, the paper canvassed options for reform, including the idea that the Australian Government could become the dominant funder for all schools – government, Independent and Catholic.
In the public commentary, this option was taken to imply that means tests could be imposed on parents with children in government schools – an option that the Australian Government promptly ruled out.
After a fleeting storm of claim and counter-claim, the media and political caravan moved on. This is a pity, as a couple of things were lost in this outburst of instant comment. The most obvious was that this was a discussion paper which, by its very nature, canvasses a range of possible actions, none of which governments have to accept.
Also overlooked was the need for reform.
This was clearly stated in the discussion paper: ‘The level of overlap and duplication in our Federation is becoming excessive, leading to wasteful expenditure, a constant “blame game” between governments driving up the cost of public services, and people not really knowing which level of government is responsible for what’.
It noted that, when policy and funding are shared between governments, it can lead to ‘duplication, waste, and poor targeting of investment and effort’.
The paper said: ‘Arguably, constant chopping and changing through short-term programme funding has made it harder than it needs to be for schools to do their jobs and plan the allocation of their resources. It also makes it harder to gather reliable evidence about what works, and reduces the possible benefits of competitive federalism – where States and Territories trial different approaches and learn from one another’.
It’s a wasted opportunity if the chance to calmly discuss reform options ends in a futile debate about least likely scenarios.
Independent Schools Victoria believes that it’s important to have an open and mature conversation about how levels of government interact.
In our submission to the Reform of the Federation White Paper Taskforce, we argued that better coordination between and within governments is essential for all education services.
We advocated for a continuing role for the Commonwealth in funding non-government schools.
Regardless of which level of government they are accountable to, Independent schools want to ensure that there is no duplication or overlap of accountability requirements, which should be reasonable and not onerous.
And we made the point that pointless ‘red tape’ should always be eliminated, for all schools.