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The federal government fell behind Labor in Tuesday's Newspoll for the first time under Malcolm Turnbull. Wikimedia Commons/Anxe Lytton, Takver

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Wednesday will launch a campaign to exploit Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion that it would be logical for state governments to take over full funding responsibility for government schools.

Shorten is writing to every public school principal, a petition will be circulated, and material is to be distributed to Labor MPs to use in their seats.

Turnbull floated the idea in the context of his proposal for the states to get the right to raise income tax – a plan they rejected and which Turnbull has now withdrawn. The Commonwealth and the states are now exploring the states getting a slice of income tax revenue, with the number of “tied” grants from the federal government being reduced.

It is not clear whether or to what degree tied grants in education would be involved if such revenue-sharing got off the ground. In any event, the whole issue is pushed beyond the election.

While the government last week announced A$2.9 billion extra to the states for hospitals, it has only said it will talk with them over schools money, with negotiations to conclude by early next year.

The 2014 budget cut $80 billion from projected funds for health and education over a decade. Turnbull said on Friday this money, promised under the Gillard government, was never there. He also said his government was not committed to “the full Gonski”.

In his letter to principals, co-signed by education spokeswoman Kate Ellis, Shorten says: “Mr Turnbull’s policy of cutting $30 billion from schools and walking away from public education is one of the worst ideas ever put forward by a prime minister. It’s an insult to the dedicated staff that work hard every day in our quality public school system.

“Ending federal support for public schools would lead to a two-tiered system – with non-government schools receiving federal funding and state schools competing with hospitals, police and emergency services for scarce resources. Gaps in student achievement would increase and many students would simply be left behind.”

Shorten points to Labor’s policy for a $37 billion commitment over a decade to deliver the needs-based Gonski reforms “in full” and reverse the government’s cuts.

“Labor has made the difficult decisions on taxation and savings necessary to make sure our plan for schools is fully funded and fully costed over the next decade.”

Shorten said in a statement: “At the next election, Australians will have a choice between my plan to provide needs based funding to every child in every school, or Mr Turnbull’s policy to rip $30 billion out of schools and stop supporting public schools altogether.

“It is not that Mr Turnbull and his Liberals can’t afford to fund public schools – it’s that they’re choosing not to.”

He said that Turnbull was “abandoning millions of Australian schoolkids just because they go to a public school”.


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation.