Chris Back, a West Australian Liberal senator and nine-year veteran of that state’s Catholic Education Commission, said he could not support the government’s package in its current form, and threatened to cross the floor as his final parliamentary act.
“I’m not convinced,” he told ABC radio. “Until I’m convinced that the proposals in place will not disadvantage Catholic schools, and independent schools for that matter, I’ve indicated to the minister: ‘please don’t make me vote against the government in my last week in the Senate’.”
At the heart of the dispute is Senator Back’s call for Catholic schools to maintain their system-weighted average (SWA) funding model for another 12 months while the socio-economic status (SES) formula is reviewed.
“I am not satisfied yet that a change from the system-weighted average through to an individual student SES model will do anything other than radically hurt the Catholic sector in Australia, and if that’s the case I can’t support it,” he said on Monday morning.
“Do I want to be in this position in my final sitting week? No, I don’t.”
Senator Back said he was engaged in “robust discussions” with Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who hopes to pass the new school funding model into law this week before Parliament’s long winter break.
“I’m not convinced”: Liberal senator Chris Back says he can’t support the schools funding package in its current form. Photo: Andrew Meares
Senator Birmingham stressed annual federal funding for the Catholic sector would grow from $6.3 billion in 2017 to $9.7 billion in 2027, or $3.4 billion over the decade.
However, modelling comparing the plan to the likely outcome under the status quo – what Senator Birmingham calls Labor’s “special deals” – estimates Catholic schools will be $4 billion worse off over 10 years.
“Robust discussions”: Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Photo: James Hall
The state-based commissions would maintain the ability to divvy up funding between their schools as they saw fit.
“They can continue to fund all their schools in the same way with additional funding into the future,” Senator Birmingham said. “Which means there should be no need for school fee increases or the kind of fear campaigns and scare mongering we’re seeing.”
He described his colleague Senator Back as “a good man” and said they would continue to discuss “some technical issues” on which they disagreed. Senator Back announced his retirement last week and Thursday will be his final day in Parliament.
While the “Gonski 2.0” package has been welcomed by other sectors and former Gonski Review panellist Ken Boston, Labor and the Australian Education Union remain opposed because the overall funding increases are less than those promised by former Labor prime minister Julie Gillard.
Because the Turnbull government does not have a majority in the Senate, it needs to secure a deal with the Greens and/or other crossbenchers to pass the schools funding package.
If the government wins the support of the Greens, it would need one more vote to pass its package – two if one Coalition senator crosses the floor.
enator Back’s threat does not doom the schools funding package but makes the government’s job more difficult if it cannot strike a deal with the Greens and needs to cobble together the support of crossbenchers to reach the 39 votes required to pass the bill.
On Monday, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation appeared to come to the table, with whip Brian Burston describing the reforms as a “fair deal” that his party would support.
Source : WA Today