Labor’s education spokeswoman Kate Ellis says the Abbott government exploited a legal loophole to cut Tasmania out of a schools funding deal it signed.
Federal Labor has accused Education Minister Christopher Pyne of sitting on his hands and effectively cutting Tasmania out of a six-year schools funding deal set up when it was in office.
But Mr Pyne counters Labor only left behind a funding mess when it lost power last year.
In January, the minister declared that only NSW, South Australia and the ACT were “participating” states – meaning they had formal agreements with the commonwealth.
The Abbott government further said there was no formal agreement with Tasmania and Victoria, despite Labor announcing before the federal election it had signed the two states up to a new six-year funding plan.
It’s now been revealed the Tasmanian government gave the federal education department a draft agreement on August 5.
But because the bureaucracy went into caretaker mode that day, the department couldn’t finalise the agreement and there wasn’t a federal minister to sign it.
Opposition education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said Mr Pyne could have signed the agreement once he became the minister.
“Christopher Pyne sat on his hands and did not approve Tasmania’s implementation plan for more than three months,” she said in a statement on Friday.
She said he then used a legal loophole to declare Tasmania “non-participating”.
“This is a calculated legal move designed to break the six-year school funding agreement the premier signed with the prime minister last year,” she said.
“Tasmania fulfilled its requirements on 5 August last year, but the Abbott government refused to sign a document before the 1 January deadline”.
Mr Pyne said his government had successfully reached “a truly national agreement” on a new round of schools funding.
“Kate Ellis has now admitted that the previous Labor government left schools funding in a complete mess, with unsigned agreements and a $1.2 billon cut to funding for Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory,” his spokesman told AAP.
“The coalition will not be penalising Tasmania for Labor’s failures. We have guaranteed funding for the next four years.”
The new Liberal Tasmanian government said before the state election it wanted a six-year deal for schools.
Its education minister, Michael Ferguson, has been contacted for comment.
Ms Ellis said Mr Pyne’s spokesman’s claims about cuts to school funding were false and that she had never said any such thing.