Gillard Government drops education revolution
31st August 2010

In a comment piece on the ABC's the Drum Unleashed (and below) I argue that Peter Garrett is the wrong choice for Schools Minister and that the Gillard Government no longer has education as a priority.

The fact that insulation roof Garrett, responsible for one of the most misconceived, poorly implemented and financially reckless programs in the nation's history, has been put in charge of the nation's schools is not only bewildering, it also proves that education is no longer a key priority for the incoming ALP Government.

Forget the spin and the rhetoric, Peter Garrett's appointment as Minster for Schools and the decision to break-up the previous mega-department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations represents a significant reduction in the importance of education and an admission that other policy areas carry greater political weight.

Regional development and pork-barrelling the independents, climate change and the ETS, border protection and restoring the ALP's economic credibility are top of the list when it comes to Gillard's agenda as Prime Minister and education is clearly being put on the backburner.

Not only is Garrett's track record on entering Parliament strewn with ineptitude and poor judgement but, when compared to the two previous education ministers, Julia Gillard and Simon Crean, he is a political novice and so far down the ALP pecking order that during Cabinet meetings he will find it impossible to be heard.

One only needs to remember how invisible Garrett was during the election campaign to understand what a liability he is and to appreciate the low regard in which he is held by senior members of the Government and the faceless apparatchiks who control the ALP machine.

Comparing this week's events with the treatment given to education by the ALP in the past and it's obvious how far the political landscape has changed. Kevin Rudd, on being elected leader of the then opposition in December 2006 was quick to nominate education as one of the key policy areas on which he wanted to be judged.

Mirroring New Labour and Blair's cry of education, education, education, Rudd called for an education revolution and leading into the 2007 election campaign put issues like back to basics, computers in schools, accountability and testing centre stage.

Stephen Smith, as the opposition's shadow education minister, boasted that Labor was responsible for making education a "front and centre public policy issue" and in the months leading up to the December election released a range of polices that gave the ALP an electoral advantage and helped install Rudd as prime minister.

The fact that Julia Gillard, the deputy leader of the Rudd government, was made minister for education underscored the importance of the portfolio and the fact that education was a critical part of the Rudd government's agenda.

In a number of keynote speeches Gillard described education as central to the government's plans to lift productivity and to make Australia's economy more internationally competitive. In one speech Gillard stated, "so while my portfolios can be a mouthful, I'll be happy to be referred to simply as the minister for productivity."

During her time as minister for education a range of policy initiatives were introduced that heralded a revolution in education, including a national curriculum, national literacy and numeracy testing, the MySchool website and the much criticised building the education revolution (BER) infrastructure program.

Moving Simon Crean, one of the more respected, influential and competent ministers within the parliamentary ranks of the ALP, out of education and installing Garrett not only indicates that education is no longer centre stage. Education has also lost a political heavyweight and a spokesman better able to win the policy debate.

As political insiders understand, when it comes to a razor gang scrutinising budget proposals and having to convince colleagues to support cabinet submissions, unless you have the political influence and nous to get the numbers, you have little chance of success.

Like Maxine McKew, another celebrity politician who failed to make the transition to the hard-edged and unforgiving world of politics, Garrett is inexperienced in the Byzantine ways of the ALP and a relative newcomer to the parliamentary game.

That Julia Gillard, throughout her parliamentary career and especially when minister, championed education and placed it at the forefront of government makes her decision to fragment her old portfolio and to appoint Garrett even more difficult to understand.

Either the decision to downplay education is just one more example of political pragmatism, given the need to assuage the independents and to re-engineer the Labor brand by emphasising other areas of government, or all the previous hype and excitement about the ALP's education revolution is simply empty rhetoric and political spin.

Whatever the case, the change could not have happened at a more sensitive and potentially disruptive stage for schools. The committee reviewing funding to Catholic and independent schools is due to hand down its report next year and all schools, government and non-government, will soon be forced to implement the new national curriculum.

Given Garrett's closeness to the Greens and his penchant for new-age, left of centre politics it should not surprise if funding to non-government schools is cut and faith-based schools are made to implement government policy in areas like enrolments and staffing. Also expect the national curriculum to embrace a politically correct, far left agenda.


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31st August 2010

In a comment piece on the ABC's the Drum Unleashed (and below) I argue that Peter Garrett is the wrong choice for Schools Minister and that the Gillard Government no longer has education as a priori...
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