Australian school children
Australian school children form the number 100 in the giraffe enclosure as two giraffes (R) look on during an event marking the 100th anniversary of Sydney's Taronga Zoo, September 15, 2016. Reuters/Rick Stevens/Pool

Education Minister Dan Tehan is allegedly threatening to withhold school funding unless the states back its new education funding deal. Victoria Education Minister James Merlino has released a letter sent by Tehan, claiming the Federal Government is “holding a gun” to their head.

Merlino said the Morrison Government was keen on having its new funding approved that it had to threaten states to sign up. Tehan apparently sent the state ministers a letter on Wednesday night to tell them that unless a deal was signed by Dec. 7, public and private schools in early 2019 would not be funded.

“Should a bilateral agreement not be in place by this date, the Commonwealth will be unable to make the first 2019 payment to the relevant state or territory, including with respect to government schools,” Tehan’s letter reads.

“In these circumstances, I would seek your assurance that the Victorian government would make up any shortfall experienced by the non-government sector to ensure that schools do not face undue financial stress.”

Merlino called the letter an “unprecedented and clumsy threat,” saying Tehan, took over his Education role from Simon Birmingham last month, didn’t quite get how things worked yet.

“Only weeks ago, before the Liberal party’s internal chaos erupted, there was a different minister sitting in Mr Tehan’s chair, so it is hardly surprising he hasn’t got his head around the issues yet and doesn’t understand where negotiations are up to,” Merlino said. “Now he is rashly demanding the states and territories immediately sign a deal, essentially holding a gun to the head of states and territories by inventing deadlines.”

He continued, “If Mr Tehan were serious about education, he would work with states and territories to provide a fair funding for every child rather than come up with solutions that pit one sector against the other.”

Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek also accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of “holding schoolkids to ransom.” She said that since state governments did not like his “massive public school rip off,” he was resorting to “desperate bully boy tactics.”

Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace said that while it was “about time” that the government show some interest in reaching a long-term funding agreement, they wouldn’t sign any agreement that was not equitable.

Tehan, on the other hand, took issues with Merlino leaking his letter to the public, saying he did that for political purposes.

“No other state or territory minister has had a problem with the letter,” he said. “I have held bilateral discussions with four of the states within the last 24 hours, with three more tomorrow. The only minister who has refused to set a time for discussions has been James Merlino. He wants to play politics.”

Last week, NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said he would reject Morrison’s private school funding model, calling it “not fair.” He told ABC’s RN Breakfast on Thursday that state school students should receive the same amount of extra funding being offered to private school students. This would cost $7 billion over the next 10 years nationally, he said.