The government is still working out the details of its plan to give Queensland, WA and the NT $1.2 billion for their schools.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne is still working out the details of his schools funding deal including what conditions, if any, are placed on the states getting billions of dollars.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Mr Pyne dodged repeated questions from Labor in parliament about details of the deal, instead focusing on $1.2 billion they’ve found to give to Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Labor wanted to know whether the “panicked deal” will include guarantees for co-contributions and indexation of state funds along with pledges to increase teacher standards and student outcomes – all of which apply to the other five jurisdictions.
“Did they ask the state governments who hadn’t signed up before the election … what if we just give you some money, is that okay with you?” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said.
“I have never, in the history of state-commonwealth relations, ever seen an amount of money of this size handed to state governments with no strings attached.”
A week after saying they would dump Labor’s so-called Gonski needs-based funding plan, Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne on Monday said the government would stick by deals done by Labor, before the election, with NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.
They also announced in-principle agreements with Queensland, WA and the NT, spending $1.2 billion Labor had on the table before the election but which was not allocated as no deals were signed.
All up, the government is now offering under this system $2.8 billion for schools over the next four years.
On Tuesday, Mr Pyne conceded details of the new deal were still being worked out.
“What has happened since I reached a national agreement with Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory is that I’ve asked my officials and their officials to finalise the details of those agreements,” he said.
It’s expected all states will get per-student base funding plus loadings for disadvantage, in line with the system Labor set up.
Mr Abbott told parliament the loadings for indigenous students, disabilities and small and remote schools were funded over the next four years.
Mr Pyne’s office has not answered questions about whether these and loadings for students with low socio-economic backgrounds or poor English skills will be calculated the same way Labor proposed.
Meanwhile, a battle has broken out on another educational front with Labor declaring it won’t support legislation to cut $2.3 billion from universities and uni students.
The efficiency dividend, end to discounts for early HECS-HELP payments and conversion of student scholarships to loans were proposed by Labor in April as part of measures to pay for the cash injection to schools.
Now they say since the coalition won’t commit to Labor’s six-year school funding plan, the government doesn’t need all that money.
With the Greens also opposed, the legislation is doomed in the Senate.
Labor’s change of heart has been applauded by the higher education sector, which vehemently opposed the cuts.
“We appreciate that we are in challenging fiscal times but investing in universities is one of the smartest ways to help balance the budget in the longer term,” Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said.