• Ned Manning

Why Labor have got it so wrong about Gonski.

The Turnbull Government have gazumped Labor over Gonski.

Malcolm Turnbull’s surprise announcement that his government would honour the key recommendations of the Gonski Report has not only shocked everyone with a genuine interest in education it has highlighted the failings of our current political discourse. Labor’s reaction is a stark reminder of why people are so disillusioned with our political system and our politicians. Bill Shorten’s puerile tweet and Tanya Plibersek surprisingly reactive press conference reminded us why so many of us, particularly our young people, are turned off by contemporary Australian politics.  

Watching the press conference when Turnbull and Simon Birmingham, flanked by David Gonski, announced a commitment to “Gonski 2.0” I was deeply suspicious. I immediately dismissed it as a political stunt. I even muttered something about Gonksi being a mate of Turnbull’s. If I’m to be brutally honest I probably didn’t want Turnbull to be making this announcement. I wanted it to be Shorten or Tanya or Sally McManus. But it wasn’t. It was my political enemy, Malcolm Turnbull.

After sleeping on it dawned upon me that my political bias had not only blinded me to the facts but was causing me to traduce a very good man. I don’t know David Gonski. I’ve never met him but, as an “I Give A Gonksi” warrior (and a member of the theatre community), I have come to admire him immensely. David Gonski can’t be bought. He’s not a politician. He is a man of unquestionable integrity. If he’s on board you can guarantee it’s for the right reason. That is why his presence at the press conference is reassuring. He wasn’t there for money or ego. He was there to make these reforms work.

David Gonski and his committee, whatever their political leanings, have put the future of young Australians front and centre of their deliberations. Their report has been lauded by nearly every educator in the land. Because my side of politics know that they had the Liberals measure on Education and that it is a sure vote winner they have put their own political future ahead of the future of young Australians. Everyone with a scintilla of interest in contemporary Australian politics knows that the minute Turnbull announced his governments u turn, Labor strategists would have been hitting their IPhones trying work out how to lessen its collateral political damage. It was like the opposition had scored a brilliant try against the run of play and the coaching staff were barking instructions from behind their own goal line to take a few opposition players out rather than changing their game plan.

Just imagine if Labor had come out and said,

“We are thrilled that the Turnbull Government have finally seen the light and are supporting the Gonski Reforms we have been championing for years. Not only are we thrilled about it but we are going to go one better and commit to the $20 billion that their economic managers haven’t been able to find.”

That would have been it. End of story. The politics would have been immediately taken out of Education funding. The thousands of “I Give A Gonski” warriors could have partied like they’d won the America’s Cup. But that didn’t happen because Labor can’t see the wood from the trees one this issue. This is exactly why so many people are completely disillusioned with politics in this country. It is exactly why so many brilliant young minds have turned elsewhere to try and have some impact on society. It is why some of Labor’s most revered political thinkers, like John Faulkner, have thrown their hands up in the air and given up.

Labor’s ill considered, knee jerk reaction to this once in a lifetime opportunity could have tragic consequences. Just like its responses to Tampa, Climate Change and Gay Marriage have had long term tragic consequences. Apart from shattering the hopes of thousands of disadvantaged Australian school children it will allow the Right of conservative politics to continue to attack Gonski and prevent these desperately needed reforms from being instituted.

It isn't a sign of weakness to admit that your opponents have made a good call. It is a sign of maturity. Labor should support this announcement in principle and prosecute a strong case for returning the funding as originally outlined in the Gonski Report. 

*I would usually have sent this article to the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age but because of my Solidarity with Fairfax journalists I am posting it straight to my blog.

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© 2020 by Ned Manning.