Abbott has abandoned any pretense that increased school funding is desirable and insisted that the status quo is adequate, in terms of both the amount and the formulas to determine funding.
If he were ever interviewed by a journalist who does actual research, he should be asked to explain the current school funding formula. For example, because Liberal governments of four states and the NT have cut their education budgets, the amount they get from the Commonwealth for education is also reduced. The Premiers concerned would be expected to complain loud and long about how Canberra had dudded them - until the incumbents promised to change the basis on which funding is offered (per capita and transcending touchy private/public distinctions), meeting them more than half way ($2 of Commonwealth money for every $1 from the states), and giving them a net increase ($14b over five years; not $5-6.5b/year that Gonski's report promised, but ahead of where they are now). They're holding out to make Gillard look bad, especially to old-school deadline-driven journalists; but there is only so long anyone can resist a bucket of cash that big.
I think I agree with Bronwyn Hinz that both the hard work is ahead of them, and is being done - assuming I have taken the right path through her thicket of metaphors (e.g. a landmark is no magic bullet, is federalism baby or bathwater?). I want to agree with Andrew Whalan, but am not quite there yet.
As a history graduate, I definitely don't agree with Chris Pyne when he says "History is what it is". What he is proposing is the NSW curriculum that was taught to me at various state schools in the 1970s and '80s - Our Cultural Inheritance From Greece And Rome And Britain, and skating quickly past all those Aborigines who helped the explorers and got dispossessed along the way.
The idea that the curriculum doesn't contain enough about Anzac Day is rubbish. Every April of my schooldays, we had the lessons of Lone Pine and Goodbye Cobber God Bless You drummed into us, how the Poms sent us to the wrong beach and how Turkish veterans weeded the graves of Australians after the shooting was done. Even the mouthbreathers who couldn't spell their own names knew what 25 April was about. I've never been to Gallipoli but I reckon I'd know it better than the backyards of houses I've lived in. Pyne's trotting out nonsense that was patiently disproven and comprehensively rebutted when he and I were Young Liberals.
We should know the truth about it and we shouldn't allow it to colour our present and our future.Indeed we should. Pyne went to a private school in South Australia roughly coinciding with my schooldays, and it would have been a real con on his educators' part to simply import the NSW curriculum and present it as a superior pedagogical offering to SA state/systemic schools. In the latter stages of my membership of the Liberal Party I had disagreements with a number of Liberals, including Howard and Abbott, when I said that pride in our country makes no sense without the "black armband" aspects. Blainey's whole "balance sheet" ("what balance sheet?"cry those who don't know where the phrase 'black armband' comes from) is stupid - did Bradman score enough runs to make up for Myall Creek? This was the point where my membership of the party became untenable.
The point about education is not just that it's warm and fuzzy, and even those without children acknowledge it is socially important on some level. The point about education reform (not only Gonski but also BER and the increased focus on Asia) is that it's something tangible for us all to take, and to pass onto our children, from the China boom. If we piss away this bounty on public school boards made up of people not good enough to win Liberal preselection, or giving free railway lines and dams to Twiggy Forrest, then we will hate ourselves as a nation forever.
The insistence of Abbott and Pyne that the status quo is just fine not only goes against reality, but against the culture warriors on their own side who take it as given that Australia's education system is appallingly inadequate - like, for example, Kevin Donnelly:
Dr Kevin Donnelly from the Education Standards Institute says the current curriculum downplays the impact Anzac Day and the Gallipoli legend have had on forming an Australian identity.Which is it? If Gallipoli is being ignored in schools, why are any Australians going there at all? Is the curriculum diverse or one-sided? What a scatterbrain this man is. No wonder the Liberals are down on pointy-heads, or used to be. What dills Pyne and Abbott are to have him in the trenches with them. For all Donnelly's faults I'll give him this: he knows more about education than the putative Education Minister, who has been shadowing the role for an apprenticeship-worthy four years.
"Australia and our character is ignored in the history document, because it's all about diversity and difference and multiculturalism and different perspectives," he said.
"It's a very one sided, politically correct view of Australian history and I would argue we need to get back to a stronger sense of what has made Australia a unique nation."
Mr Donnelly said it was ironic Anzac Day was underplayed in classrooms at a time when increasing numbers of young people were travelling to historic battlefields in Turkey and France to commemorate the event and more children than ever were taking part in dawn services.
"Young people are wanting to affirm that sense of us being uniquely Australian and celebrating the heroic ethos, yet it is being all but ignored in schools," he said.
Mark Roberts threatened to "cut the throat" of someone who does practical work with and for Aborigines. The article above quoting Pyne shows him doing the same to Abbott, however inadvertently, deep-sixing all of that careful positioning of Abbott as a born-again believer in helping Aborigines:
Critics say a trend towards political correctness sees history classes place undue emphasis on indigenous culture ...All those photo ops of Abbott hammering in nails gives the impression of practical action for Aborigines - but this too is practical action, teaching Australians that Aborigines were skilled and careful custodians of this land and that much is lost with the destruction of their traditional societies. It's one thing for Pyne to be lazy about his own portfolio, but to actively undermine his leader in this fashion is astonishing. Three years of careful reframing and optics, gone.
To describe this overreach as mere departure from the songbook shows a genuine lack of understanding of Australian politics right now, a pathetic lack in someone whose job it is to convey that understanding.
Come to think of it, I can't remember of Abbott with any Aborigines other than Noel Pearson - no frolicking with little black kids, no listening to wise elders, no interactions with Aborigines his own age and pondering how different their lives must be. Do you know what sort of (non-Aboriginal) person gets photographed with Aborigines? Do-gooders. Whitlam pouring dirt into the hand of that striking stockman. Legal-aid lawyers and teachers and nurses and social workers. It's one thing for Abbott's press people to do a bit of reframing, but Liberal conservatives won't have one of their own gallivanting about with the blacks, thank you very much! They left that behind when Fred Chaney and Bob Katter bailed out of the Coalition parties.
You can bet that Abbott's support for the recognition of Aborigines in the Constitution will vanish, too. That cry from the void - no, no, no - will prove too strong. The conservatives' petty need for differentiation through reaction as a form of self-definition will overwhelm the need to reach out to others. The only Australians with a vested interest in maintaining Aboriginal dispossession are the Coalition's regional base.
The Budget, The Economy
The Coalition used to promise that they'd get the Budget back into surplus on their first go (if you believe the doomsayers, we're talking next year's budget as the first of the next term of Parliament). They used to promise that because Costello and Howard convinced everyone who doesn't pay much attention that the bigger the surplus, the better the economic manager you were, and that a deficit was a sign of economic failure. Howard had to concede that Costello was a better Treasurer than he'd been, but even that self-effacement was self-serving to reinforce surplus-is-good and to keep Costello in his place.
If you are backing away from your commitment to a surplus, and if you accept the Grattan Institute's report of wider and deeper budget issues, then you have to undergo a complete re-education process about what sound economic management is and how your offering tracks to that. For the Coalition, it's too late. They promised a surplus and now they can't deliver.
They won't even deliver a teeny, tiny tax break to small business. Small business was the Liberal base under Howard, and Abbott promised a repeat of Howard, but ... maybe all that Labor rhetoric about the very wealthy getting tax breaks and everyone else getting tax hikes has some truth to it.
People looked to the Coalition for economic management, now they'll look away. All that puddling along by Wayne Swan doesn't look so bad if it's kept us all in jobs and AAA ratings, so what are Abbott and Hockey offering to top it? Nothing.
Given that the incumbents have reopened Nauru and Manus Island, the only room for differentiation is the mean stuff - where we send desperate people to their deaths and damage our relations with Indonesia. He thinks it makes him look like a tough guy when it really makes him look like an arsehole, of which the evidence is already too much and beyond reasonable doubt. This reinforces Abbott's meanness on other fronts. A hint from the Indonesian government that Aussie tourist access to Bali might be restricted, and Abbott becomes A Big Risk just like Latham, or Hewson, or every other loser Opposition Leader really.
There is no reason why this couldn't have happened sooner. It shows why Abbott's statements about the UN Refugee Convention are invalid; that agreement masks rather than forms the basis for his decision-making, and shows why reporters who are flat out quoting him accurately are simply surplus to requirements. Governments that don't care about the law are dangerously incompetent; prospective governments that don't care about the law should be headed off, rather than praised for their marketing skill.
My favourite aspect of this much-parodied image is the computery-style numbers on the banner. I hope there is a FTTN box installed behind that banner especially to update it as each boat comes through, and that 361 more boats come between now and September just to mess with this silly construct. It's designed to resemble a petrol bowser, a daily point of cost resentment for many, with the implication that each time the numbers click over it will burn a hole in your pocket. Perhaps Chris Bowen could set up BoatWatch to enhance his public policy accomplishments.
Howard as Governor-General
To translate from journotalk, "plays down" means an attempt to defer a true story that is inconvenient to deal with right now. Sillier journalists confuse playing-down with refutation, if not rebuttal, and even so you know how Abbott lies when he's painted into a corner. Abbott so wants to appoint Howard as Governor-General, which is the actual story in this article that was completely missed by the dopey journalist who wrote it.
Howard is popular with Liberals. Liberals seem popular at the polls. Therefore, if you're a dill you would extrapolate from that the nation wants (or wouldn't mind) John Howard OM AC as Governor-General. Abbott was wrong to focus on Howard himself, even though he loves the ceremonial stuff: Jeanette pines for Kirribilli Point, and clearly Admiralty House will suffice.
This seems like a small issue now, but smaller issues than that have borne the full weight of political arrogance and overreach, and served as pivots to public opinion.
Part of being a competent Opposition is going into election day as the underdog. The underdog doesn't get bogged down in governmental minutiae. The underdog is given he benefit of the doubt. The government is the underdog in Australian politics today; it's 1993 all over again, the very predicament Abbott has supposedly spent twenty years learning lessons from and working to avoid.
Abbott isn't the underdog who was cruelly denied office by a few flaky independents, and whose potential shines against the quotidian drudgery of the incumbents . Everything he (and his front bench) says is - finally - starting to be weighed against what might actually happen. It's one thing to say no, no, no in the face of Julia Gillard, or to adopt the mock-sympathy routine for interest groups who will be screwed by Abbott's proposals, but you can't just say no, no, no to real-life situations affecting our country and refuse to adapt. Conservatives can't pick the difference between passing fads and structural shifts, which is why they tend to get overwhelmed by 'events'.
This is more important than polls - not only does it separate the journalists from the press-release splicing drones and the insider fart-sniffers, but this is the stuff that actually changes people's voting intentions. There is no good reason why more journalists could not have done this sooner. Just at the time when the Gillard-doomed-Abbott-inevitable Narrative has become entrenched it will start to change. Most journalists will not take to this well and, frankly, should be sacked. Those who do, however, will produce the enduring journalism of the 2013 election and will point the way forward for that
First, the Budget. I actually wanted to use a metaphor of Napoleon retreating from Moscow here, the man with the unstoppable momentum retreating and getting picked off by enemies and circumstances that he had once overcome easily.
This is the calm before the storm, and right now the Coalition is going nowhere. This will change; this government will stumble, and the empty vessel that is this opposition will rattle along. Even so, the fact is that the Coalition underestimates how inadequate the Howard legacy is to help them rise to the challenges of governing the nation into the future. They're winging it, they know it, but what they don't know (but do dread) is that it just won't carry them into government.