Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Staying the course
Labor should remain focused on the main game


In case you’ve lost track of the school-funding debate, here it is in a nutshell from shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek, speaking at the National Press Club today: “Under the government’s formula, all private schools will reach or exceed their fair funding level, but no public school ever will.” That is to say, after a decade of painful reform – Gonski 1.0 under Labor, Gonski 2.0 under the Coalition – and after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an extra $4.6 billion in funding for private schools in September, the sector-blind school resourcing standard will only be met for private schools, not public schools. It’s a killer line – a red rag to the families of the two-thirds of children who are educated in state schools. Plibersek was asked today whether Labor would mount a scare campaign on school funding, and she answered that it wasn’t necessary: “You only have to tell the truth in this area for parents to be very worried indeed.”

Plibersek engaged in politics that seemed almost old-fashioned today: having held the education portfolio for two and a half years, she is across the detail, fielding questions on NAPLAN, TAFE and university funding with aplomb, without saying anything new. She did not really answer whether or not NAPLAN is a waste of time, instead talking about how important good data is. She did not really answer whether the contestable model for vocational education had failed and should be abandoned, instead talking about how important TAFE is. She did not really answer whether the demand-driven system for university places should continue, instead talking about the need for a thorough review. But she did reconfirm that Labor will invest an extra $14 billion in funding to public schools and, as was flagged this morning, announced $300 million extra to support school students with a disability.

There was nothing especially controversial, and not one word about continuing taxpayer support for over-funded, elite private schools. Plibersek was conciliatory, with no hint of a Mark Latham–style “hit list”: “Not every school can have 10 rugby fields or a rifle range, but every parent should be confident that the local public school will educate their child as well as the nation’s most elite private school.” There were almost presidential touches: two of her favourite teachers from her own childhood were in the room, and Plibersek’s voice cracked as she thanked them for coming.

As the federal government sinks into the mire – with fresh revelations about US ambassador Joe Hockey’s intervention in the burgeoning Helloworld crisis – Labor faces the twin challenges of holding the government to account and spelling out an alternative, positive agenda. The first task is dicey, because some of the chum hurled out of the chum bucket can splash back on the hurler. So when Labor finance spokesperson Jim Chalmers lashes the government about “chumgate”, calling it a “very Liberal scandal”, and citing Herald Sun inquiries revealing that only 14 of 82 Liberal MPs had definitely not received free travel from Helloworld, the government business manager Christopher Pyne yells back that the Coalition will not be lectured on fiscal rectitude by the party of Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi. Scandals like Helloworld and Paladin lower all politicians – government and Opposition alike.

Labor is far from immune. It should not, however, forget the real issues that ultimately shape the daily lives of most of us: wages, taxes, health and education. Plibersek today showed Labor has not lost sight of the main game and is continuing to focus on policy that matters.


“I think we’d like to [have] a bit more transparency about what weapons have been provided to Saudi Arabia, the quantities of equipment and how do we know that those weapons are not ending up on the battlefield in Yemen.” ABC NEWS

Elaine Pearson, Australian director of Human Rights Watch, talking to the ABC about more than $36 million in defence assistance provided to Canberra-based Electro Optic Systems, which is reported to have struck a deal to have its weapons system supplied to Saudi Arabia.


“You’ve got protesters talking about the black-throated finch … I mean, this is so ridiculous, you just can’t understand where they’re coming from. I think the [state] government has given them every opportunity, because the do-gooders have taken them to court and done everything [and] they’ve lost and lost and lost, but then they come up with another one … There’s thousands and thousands of Indians over there still with bloody oil lamps that want bloody coal.”THE AUSTRALIAN [$]

Bill Shorten’s mentor, former AWU president Bill Ludwig, slamming the Queensland government over the latest hitch in Adani’s Carmichael project.

The Number

The estimated fees pocketed by former trade minister Andrew Robb for consultancy with Chinese company Landbridge, under an agreement so vague that he would be paid even if he did nothing. READ ON

The Policy

“A Shorten Labor Government will task the ACCC with testing the efficacy of a Minimum Farm Gate Milk Price and to make recommendations on the best design options. It is not acceptable for our farmers to be paid less than the cost of producing their milk. If a floor price is needed to end this crisis, that’s what Labor will deliver.” SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE JOEL FITZGIBBON

The list

“The Queensland Art Gallery, as it was then, inaugurated the Asia Pacific Triennial in 1993, while Australia was still looking with wide-open eyes at the rest of the world. Now shown across the since-expanded Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), APT is in its ninth iteration and is one of our most significant cultural engagements with the neighbourhood, as well as a crash course in political and social developments in the region.” THE MONTHLY


“I felt enormous relief for the sick refugees on Manus Island and Nauru when the final senate numbers were read out and it was moving to share this experience with doctors and advocates, many of whom have spent the past two decades fighting for the rights of asylum seekers and refugees But the battle is not over. The government is still obfuscating, blocking and deliberately misleading the parliament and the public.” THE SATURDAY PAPER


“Six months before the fall of Mosul, US president Barack Obama dismissed the Islamic State, with a withering contempt, as the junior league partners of Al Qaeda. Since then, however, the proudly publicised dark deeds of the Islamic State – the beheadings, the stoning to death of adulterous wives, the immolations, the crucifixions, the mass slaughters, the killings of homosexual men, the sexual enslavement of Yazidi women – have become only too well known.” the MONTHLY

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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