Christopher’s Crisis

Pyne_vd-gonski-gone-pyne-275Christopher Pyne said he was expecting a warm reception from education ministers yesterday. Seems it was heated to the point of being downright explosive. According to The World Today, Tasmanian Education Minister, the Greens Nick McKim, says Mr Pyne had thrown a stick of dynamite into the discussions.

(Image via SMH.)

He also spoke of a “bombshell revelation that will rock the public education system to the core”.

Other ministers were similarly unimpressed. According to the AFR:

“All in all ministers are very disappointed,” Coalition NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli, who chaired the ministerial meeting, said.

McKim again:

“Here’s a unity ticket for you right here – a Labor minister, a Greens minister, National ministers, Liberal Party ministers, sticking up and unified behind Australian schools and behind funding certainty for Australian schools”

Pyne said “no-one should assume they will get less money”. Seems the government school sectors in the states that signed up to Gonski deals with Labor are expecting exactly that. Pyne seems to be strongly implying that if extra funds are needed for the states that didn’t sign up or for other aspects of his new scheme then it will come from the government school sectors of those states that did sign up.

Adrian Piccoli, the NSW minister, points out that this means that everything that is done in schools in 2014 will have to be done on the assumption that it may not flow through to 2015. McKim says we have “Christopher’s Crisis” rather than a “Shorten Shambles”.

Barrie Cassidy says that the Government assumed that it has a store of goodwill. He warns that it doesn’t.

Geoff Kitney in the AFR asks What is going on with the Abbott government?

The alarm bells about the Abbott government are becoming deafening. And they are ringing around the world. What started as a rumble in Jakarta is now echoing through the capitals of every nation which has any dealings with Australia.

And it’s not hard to imagine that the first question being asked about Abbott’s Australia is: “What on earth is going on?”

Cassidy says:

In the lead up to the election, Essential Media Communications released research which showed the electorate didn’t think much would change after the election. Their expectations were low.

Even though the Coalition’s primary vote was high, only a third of the electorate thought the Coalition was ready to govern.

That is why the Coalition played negative politics so rigorously. It wasn’t about a brave new world.

Kitney says we are getting a completely new brand of conservative politics.

The new “brand Australia” that the Abbott government is presenting to the world is neo-conservative nationalism, with a populist twist.

The frightening thing about Pyne is that this is not just about money, he does have a ‘vision’ for Australian schooling. The best critique I’ve seen recently was by Des Griffin here and here.

Pyne is continually enthusiastic about better teaching performance. His vision is for teachers to use a more didactic approach. As to what they teach, it’s not children apparently, rather traditional facts to be taught to children.

And so it goes.

Abbott’s brave new Australia would be at home in a 19th century world.

40 thoughts on “Christopher’s Crisis”

  1. I think many of us suspected that this new government was light on when it came to policy formulation and that winning was their prime focus – and of course slogans.

    I don’t think any of us actually comprehended that they had no policies and had done no groundwork beyond a passion for tearing down every thing that the former administration had done in office.

    We now have a vacuum in our education funding policy and an ideologically driven minister who has nothing to offer beyond a passion to destroy Gonski : an incomprehensible climate policy ( with a minister to match) driven by a passion to destroy carbon trading: a broadband policy that will fail to give the speed we need , will cost more than we were told and will take longer to deliver, again based on a passion to destroy the fibre to the premises strategy .

    In some parts of the world, notably California, they have recall elections where the electorate can vote out a non-performing administration mid- term: not such a bad idea.

  2. The most devastating critique came from the NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli: “There’s no doubt that what seems to be happening is that states that signed up [to Labor’s Gonski plan] are being punished and the states that didn’t are being rewarded,” he told The Australian newspaper.

    “They can punish me as much as they like but I’m not the one being punished. It’s the million students in NSW, and I find that difficult as a human being. It’s immoral.”

    Read more:

  3. The new “brand Australia” that the Abbott government is presenting to the world is neo-conservative nationalism, with a populist twist.

    Probably more ‘paleoconservative’ than ‘neoconservative’ as the focus is inward rather than outward — more Pat Robertson than Donald Rumsfeld.

  4. Beats me why anyone would be surprised at what is turning out to be a true expose of Abbott and his band of Liars and manipulators coached and supported (with earpieces during interviews) by shock jocks and the IPA.

  5. Abbott is seeking to turn the clock back to 1996. Like a punch drunk boxer, he wants to fight the culture wars over and over. In this, he is cheered on by what he thinks is a mass of people but which in reality is a thinly scattered cabal of bitter old ranters and premature reactionaries in the Murdoch press.

    How did this eventuate? A disengaged and disillusioned public, tired of the Rudd-Gillard show, idly switched channels to Abbott without too much thought of what this represented. Now Abbott proclaims a mandate for nothing more than tearing everything down, wrecking it all and toss the toys out of the cot.

    Pyne is the toddler sitting on the floor rediscovering the Howard era playthings. “Hey, what does this button do?”

    The funniest thing is watching the steadily building “oh shit” realisation among the folk who conned themselves that Abbott was a pragmatist who would run a centrist, market-friendly, reform-minded government with a strong social safety net. The Great Sage Paul Kelly, his jowls aquiver, told me as much when I tackled him on it at The Economist magazine’s Australia Outlook conference before the election.

    This government is a disaster with a capital ‘D’, a mangy pack of shallow ideologues interested in nothing more than payback.

    It will be so, so sweet to see their comeuppance.

  6. Abbott’s Liberals’ political genealogy can be traced back the the American (Know Nothing) Party of the 1850s.

    Necessarily, one needs to substitute hate objects — Muslims for Catholics and Germans — but an aggressive anti-intellectualism and crass chauvinism are identical.

    Tragically for Australia, instead of remaining a noisy fringe party, Australia’s Know Nothings achieved office thanks to a dumb, dumb, dumb electorate.

  7. I am not surprised by the shambles this Government has become but I am amazed at the speed at which it has happened.

  8. Yes Mr D. The media played their part but surely voters know that the media usually lie. The electorate were wilfully accepting of the lies peddled to the media.

    Mark Textor persuaded voters to buy the vibe and to ignore the substance (or lack of it).

  9. the liberals persuaded not “the voters” but a proportion say 5% of the voters to switch parties and vote for them.

    Around 48% of the “voters” did not vote for them.

    I get annoyed about references to the “voters” as though they were an homogenous united group.

  10. I wonder if Howard was a much better leader than we have given him credit for. Comparing the performance of the current government with their performance when Howard was leading them it’s easy to decide that Howard was the deciding factor.

    Pyne’s “the way I learned is the way you will all learn” is … dumb.

  11. Moz

    The fact that the bar is so low is not a reason to see Howard as underestimated. The current crowd did after all, learn at his bended knee, and he is uncritically endorsing them. If Howard appears less incompetent and malign, then it was possibly because for a time, other things constrained him.

    He had to tread more carefully early on after sacking whole swathes of ministers under his own Code of Conduct, which was an own goal. That weakened his ability to override others and he spent most of 2001 behind in the polls until Tampa and 9/11 hoved into view and Beazley kindly handed him a free pass.

    We also now know that all the while, in true cricket tragic tradition he was obsessed with getting to his political century and had to double cross Costello to do it, which again restrained him. Unluckily for him, between Crean, Latham and Beazley, the ALP was running dead and he got a thumping win in 2004.

    After 2004, all bets were off and his basic lizard brain took over and he looked ever bit as malign and incompetent as the crowd he’s now praising.

  12. So Fran, your bet is that Howard was just more aware of the constraints he was operating under? Sounds plausible. This lot have always had, dare I say it, “adult supervision” before.

  13. Mr Denmore – It is remarkable that veteran journalists saw Tony Abbott as a pragmatist who would be a calm, considered leader. Indeed Abbott kept telling us as much. There would be no nasty surprises!

    Why do you think many hitherto sensible commentators bought it?

    I am genuinely puzzled.

    Why were they all in his sway? I say ‘were’ because I detect a bit of astonishment among certain scribes that TA and his band may not be all they had thought he would be. Many a marriage has come to grief on the honeymoon.

    Do you think the hard-core media supporters and cheer squad will turn on him when it becomes painfully obvious to them that TA is a dismantler and destroyer who offers us nothing.

    Their own reputations and large salaries are at stake I would have thought.

  14. If the convention is that the Attorney-General should be a lawyer and the Minister for Health should be a health professional, why should we accept anything less than an educator as Minister for Education. This would excuse Mr Pyne as well as most of the Coalition but raises the questions “Are there any former educators in the Parliamentary Liberal and National Party Coalition?”, and “If not, why not?”.

    An educator would at least know what he or she was talking about from a position of experience and would have more than a shallow and trivial understanding of the practicalities of the profession.

  15. My take was that Howard and Abbott were an interesting combination. Abbott often came up with interesting ideas that were worth thinking about and may have pushed Howard to think outside his comfort zone. Howard had a restraining effect on Abbott so Abbott’s really silly ideas didn’t get far enough to be damaging. The combination also allowed Abbott to do his attack dog thing while allowing Howard to look more restrained.
    Abbott on his own has seen him function as an effective attack dog but has not seen him function as the sort of leader to drive his team to come up with the new ideas required to regenerate the conservatives after their 2007 defeat.
    The LNP has also been weakened by the influence of the US Tea party and Murdoch, the Tea parties big media supporter. The Tea party influence has favoured politicians that are good at empty minded, load negativism.
    The rapid drop in support for the government could see Abbott dumped as leader.

  16. Sceptic, on my view, Paul Kelly really isn’t a journalist. He hasn’t been out of it for years. He’s one of those people whose job is to opine with apparent gravitas irrespective of the actual accuracy. Kelly is also a Catholic and is part of a cabal of News Ltd professional pontificators whose role is to provde cover for the Catholics in the Coalition.

  17. Kelly is also a Catholic and is part of a cabal of News Ltd professional pontificators whose role is to provde cover for the Catholics in the Coalition.

    A nice piece of sectarian bias there Mr Denmore, which I thought we had put behind us in the 1960s.

    Would you care to share with us your knowledge and insights on this vast Catholic conspiracy?

    Is its true purpose to overthrow the Act of Settlement and to place a papist on the throne to rule over us?

  18. Mr Denmore @ 18 – It is interesting how many Catholics number among prominent political commentators, lapsed and unlapsed. Indeed you put yourself among the lapsed along with Chris Kenny.

    I would be interested to know though if there are more Catholics than otherwise among political journalists and commentators. Two of Abbott’s most fervent supporters, Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt are not Catholic. I seem to recall that Bolt has declared himself to be a non-believer.

    It is interesting too how many ex-seminarians have found their way into political journalism. I know of Chris Uhlmann, Paul Bongiorno, Greg Sheridan and Thomas Kenneally, an author foremost but one who often writes and comments about political and social issues. Tony Abbott himself as we all know very well indeed, studied for the priesthood and wrote for The Bulletin before entering politics.

    Then there are the unlikely Catholic converts: Malcolm Turnbull and Rupert Murdoch.

    I don’t know if the religion of any political commentator is central to the undeniable support given to Abbott by some News Ltd journalists. I do believe, though that Abbott’s Catholicism has been a great advantage to him. I believe it has made him appear more interesting, a deep thinker and troubled soul. Maybe that is what has made him attractive to some political journalists.

    I don’t know. I can’t see anything remotely romantic about Tony Abbott. He looks like a pugilist and behaves like one.

    The standard of political commentary in this country is by and large, dull, repetitive and unchallenging.

    Plodding minds produce columns by the kilometer which remind me of those endless straight roads without bumps or twists. Roads which make you drowsy. Did their own tedious commentary cause those writers to fall asleep at the wheel?

  19. GregM, that’s a bit of a stretch from what I said. I’m merely making the point, as many others have done, that the Liberal Party – once openly hostile to Catholics (natural home of Fabians and uppity Irish working class radicals) – is now overflowing with them.

    Something fundamental has changed and it is not a million miles away from explaining why Pyne (another Catholic) is returning to a discredited funding model that favours Catholic and independent schools against the godless public sector.

    “The transfer of Catholic allegiance from Labor to the Liberals at the parliamentary level has been the most dramatic shift in Australian politics over the past 50 years.” Professor John Warhurst, ANU.

    And before you accuse me of sectarianism, I was raised by an Irish catholic family. My father trained as a priest, my aunt was a nun, my grandmother was a former nun and I was schooled by Marists.

  20. Mr Denmore @ 21 – I would be fascinated to know what the fervent Catholics in the government and commentariat make of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium in which he strongly denounces free-market economics, the trickle-down theory and consumerism.

  21. Sceptic, about time the Church rediscovered its social conscience. All power to His Holiness.

  22. Mr Denmore

    Sceptic, about time the Church rediscovered its social conscience. All power to His Holiness.

    Let’s not get too carried away. I’m not in favour of benign and pluralistic theocracy, nothwithstanding that it would by definition be less offensive than malign dogmatic theocracy.

    As I understand it, he continues to oppose

    a) same sex marriage
    b) ordination of women
    c) abortion (though he has said that the church should not “obsess” about it)

    Yes, he seems now to be a liberal within the church context (apparently he had some sort of epiphany in the mid-late 80s at which time he was a conservative authoritarian). He’s apparently keen on a “stewardship” approach to the environment rather than pillage. That’s to be welcomed.

    Kudos to him … He’s less objectionable, and probably a man with personal integrity. The institution however, remains a bar to progress.

  23. To its credit Abbott has decided to honour the Gonski agreements for 4 years. The ABC said that

    The Government has moved to quash criticism that it was breaking a promise over schools funding, announcing it will honour Labor’s Gonski commitments for four years and boost spending to those states that had not signed up by $1.2 billion.
    The Government has been under fire over its stance on schools funding, accused of breaking an election promise made by Mr Abbott, who had said the Coalition was on a “unity ticket” with Labor on the issue.
    In a surprise move, it now says it has reached an “in-principle” agreement with the states that did not sign up, and will honour Labor’s funding agreements “to the letter”.
    “We now have a fair and national deal – the Government will put the $1.2 billion that Labor took out back into school funding over the next four years,” Mr Abbott said.
    The $1.2 billion refers to additional funding Labor had offered under its schools funding model but which was not allocated because those states – led by conservative governments – had not signed up to the Gonski model.

    I guess we will see if this is just another promise that isn’t really a promise. At least 4 year funding means that we will have an election before the funding cuts out.

  24. I am loving the new announcement. The “newspeak” a la George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is that somehow it is Bill Shorten’s fault, but not even my dad is going to buy that. Hoist, Tony, in your own petard.
    Gonski = improving funding for disadvantaged students. The number of people willing to stand up and say “well, that’s unacceptable” is mindboggling.
    All the people who voted for Tony: Are you sorry now?

  25. I’m not that excited about Frankie as our No.1 Papa.
    He won’t change anything – he’ll just sound more kindly.

    I think the cardinals voted him in to piss off the Vatican curia, in support of Bennie.

    You probably need an uncle or brother in the priesthood/Rome to be totally up to speed on this.

  26. Gillard’s Gonski is harder to get rid of than they thought.

    I’ve heard reports that they’ve been erasing “Gonski” from the education website. Expect a new name I’d guess (but thats not particularly unusual for governments to do that).

    It is very good to see that this government is vulnerable to public pressure though. I’d guess the upcoming senate election for WA probably has some influence.

  27. When I get time I might set up another thread on Pope Francis, but it’s off topic here.

    I think Pyne got rolled by Abbott and perhaps some of the more adult members of Cabinet, though they are in short supply. There is less pain in the long run with the double backflip with pike, Beattie style, than persisting with the stupidity.

    A number of questions remain.

    If Gonski was so terrible, is Pyne still going to invent a better way of identifying need? As Ken Boston said today, any alternative if it is to be fair needs to be based on individual school populations and characteristics and aggregated from there. As the matter stands, every state can do its own thing, as they could have under Labor, but under Labor whatever they did would be very transparent and accountable.

    The new promise is only for four years. Pyne must address his notion of Gonski or something different sooner or later.

    I’m betting the money is coming from universities, already raided of course by Gillard/Swan.

  28. The issue here is the principle, or principles, or secret agendas, by which this money will be distributed. Already, Qld, WA and the NT are off any Federal leash. And for the rest, in NSW and Vic there is only a lukewarm commitment to the spirit of Gonski.

    For sure, Abbott and Pyne, will not be interested in having another fight with their Tory confreres in the two largest states.

    Gonski is backski (sort of) but mostly in the form of huge bucket loads of face-saving bribes.

  29. It’s up to State Oppositions to scream the house down if ,as expected, the Premiers opt to cut their share of the education budgets now that they are released from that restraint insisted on by Gillard’s Labor.
    Abbott has declared “self regulation” to be a given, they being Coalition Governments.

  30. I am deeply sceptical of the assertions made by Pyne and Abbott yesterday (December 2) in their media conference and subsequently, such as on the ABC’s 730 Report. Far too much hype is attached by Pyne to his obtaining agreement from Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory to be part of the National Plan for School Improvement (aka Better Schools Plan). What Pyne did was simply offer them money with no obligation whatsoever for them to contribute money. What else would one imagine they might do but accept?

    Pyne continues to assert that Labor “ripped out” $1.2 m from the funding which almost everyone including media commentators have pointed out is at the very least silly. He has also continued to assert that agreements were not signed off by several governments and the Catholic sector. If that were so why would those same ‘players’ join in the condemnation of Pyne’s stance of last week? Pyne refuses to face up to the fact that every stakeholder objects in the strongest terms to his assertions and his proposals. There is no guarantee that the three latest players will contribute and there is no commitment to the fifth through seventh years of the plan.

    It is ridiculous that the Abbott government is not requiring any accountability, simply asserting that “command and control” is wrong. Last, we have heard nothing of the other aspects of the school improvement agenda concerning, for instance, rewards to teachers who progress through the levels of the teaching profession and the focus on leadership development for principals. The latter is especially important; one of the world’s leading researchers on school leadership, Bill Mulford at the University of Tasmania, is never mentioned.

    In University of Chicago studies school leadership is recognised as the most critical of school supports from which everything else including community participation and parental support flows. But then Pyne doesn’t take any notice of research does he!

  31. Others have mentioned it above and Bernard Keanes reiterated it during an interview this morning – the Backski model is not a funding model, it’s just an equivalent wad of money for the states to spend as they want… and there’s nothing to stop them from going down the SES route which so successfully delivered a lot of money to privileges schools.

    Worse than that though, without explicit strictures placed on the use of the federal money there is nothing to stop the states from decreasing their own contributions to education following the Coalition Backski funding, and instead using it for other purposes.

    So already it seems that Gonski is gone a second time.

  32. Bernard Keane is correct and this is precisely the point I made abut an hour ago. BY the way, a study mentioned on the Save Our Schools site for July 4 says this, “The review published by the UK Office for Standards in Education shows that numerous international studies conducted since the early 2000s show a positive impact of increased expenditure in schools, especially for disadvantaged students.” So Pyne’s (and others including that Tim Wilson fellow) assertion that money is not the issue is a vast oversimplification!

    A careful review of the policies developed by Gillard and Rudd shows a number of interrelated policies contributing to improved student achievement. In other words, the School Improvement Plan is a set of strategies. Pyne’s revamped plan is simply a bucket of money! To bang on about command and control is utterly stupid and completely misses the point. Garrett made it clear months ago in response to criticism that Canberra wasn’t going to be intruding into every school. But that does not mean to say that there was the intention to not seek any evaluation of the outcomes of the application of money. Doesn’t Pyne know anything about policy implementation?

  33. All the tubes carrying funding to pamper bourgeois welfare established by Howard under SES will be reattached by the states to the corpse of Gonski.

    Abbott and Pyne have decentralised administration of federal funds to the states. All the Tories at both state and federal levels can give each other a wink and a nudge, recall their old private school days and contemplate the pleasure of Tory-voting, private school attending aspirationals. “In order that everything remains the same everything must change,” they will intone. Job done.

    But not quite. Here in Victoria, the Coalition is on the nose. Also, Victoria has the largest non government school sector.

    The next state election, in less than two years, will be a struggle for control of a very large pot of federal money and for the soul of Gonski.

  34. Katz @ 36 – well I hope it doesn’t devolve into yet another private vs public school fight. Because one of the fundamentals of Gonski was moving funding to a sector-blind basis.

    Worse than that though, without explicit strictures placed on the use of the federal money there is nothing to stop the states from decreasing their own contributions to education following the Coalition Backski funding, and instead using it for other purposes.

    Will the states that signed up before the election still be bound to keep their own funding promises? Pyne was claiming that ALP government in SA had already reduced their own funding plans for schools. And I’m already not that impressed with the SA government approach to education as it appears that they and the teachers union negotiated a reduction in class time for students in the latest enterprise agreement (I’m guessing in lieu of pay rises they went for shorter hours).

  35. One might hope so Chris.

    But if I know my history of Victoria, in the context of a large sum of federal funds injected without major strings into a close and bitterly contested state election, the forthcoming stoush could be a doozy.

    This will be the biggest contest since Whitlam promised federal aid to independent schools. It appears that Abbott and Pyne have dumped the aims of Gonski while paying off their critics with free and unfettered access to the swill trough filled with Gonski money.

  36. Yes Ronson, I think Pyne’s colleagues will have been very cross with him. John Falkner in the Senate painstakingly went through the five successive positions Pyne has taken.

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