Malcolm Turnbull has tempted a backlash from Catholic families, as he seeks to ‘right Labor’s wrongs’. Turnbull risks the revolt after ditching the political tenet that no school would be worse off under education funding changes and embarking on a gamble to introduce “genuine” needs-based resourcing. In a move that creates losers and alienates the Catholic schools sector, the government announced the funding for 24 independent Catholic and private schools would go backwards, a further 353 “overfunded” independent schools would have a lower share of funding and 9048 schools would receive more resources. The federal government’s changes will see it almost double its federal school funding to $30 billion in the next decade. The money will be tied to reforms designed to reverse Australia’s 20-year academic slide and return the nation to the top of the global rankings.
The School Resourcing Standard is the benchmark at the heart of the Gonski needs-based model. Under the Turnbull government’s changes, the Commonwealth would pay on average 20 per cent of the SRS for government schools and 80 per cent for non-government schools. States and territories are the majority funders of public schools, and the government is the majority funder of private schools. The Prime Minister and Education Minister Simon Birmingham have attempted to outflank their critics by appointing David Gonski, whose name has been co-opted by Labor and education unions to push the case for more school funding, to review how to spend money to improve student results, in a review dubbed Gonski 2.0.
John Howard guaranteed non-government schools their funding would not go backwards, recognising that Catholic schools in outer suburban and regional areas, catered to average families who wanted choice with low fees. Labor’s Gonski model did not unwind the levels of funding the Catholic system historically had received because Julia Gillard promised no school would be worse off. Former Labor leader Mark Latham, who created a “hit list” of overfunded schools during the 2004 federal election, said the biggest problems in education now were teacher quality and academic standards. Mr Turnbull said the funding changes would end Labor’s patchwork of 27 inconsistent agreements and “ensure that students with the same needs will be treated exactly the same in terms of commonwealth funding, no matter which state they reside in, or the school system they are being educated in”.
The government refused to identify the non-government schools that will lose money but the Education Department previously has identified overfunded schools including Sydney’s Loreto Kirribilli, St Ignatius College Riverview and St Aloysius’ College as well as Daramalan in the ACT and Melbourne Grammar. The government will fund 20 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard for government schools, up from 17 per cent, and 80 per cent for non-government schools, up from 77 per cent this year. The changes mean that schools will transition more quickly, over 10 years, to their appropriate SRS, the funding benchmark at the heart of the Gonski needs-based funding principles. The reduction in funding for schools will be about 2 per cent or less a year until they reach the benchmark.
Mr Latham criticised the use of Mr Gonski, saying “the worst person to review the school funding system in Australia is a rolled-gold elite with no direct experience with the challenges of disadvantaged public education in low income neighbourhoods”. “His only ‘qualification’ appears to be a friendship with Turnbull,” Mr Latham said. National Catholic Education Commission acting executive director Danielle Cronin hit out at the proposed changes, saying the government was unfairly targeting the sector and forcing Catholic schools to “abandon a mechanism that ensures resources are distributed fairly and according to need among schools that belong to a single Catholic schools authority”. Known as the System Weighted Average, the mechanism allows Catholic school authorities to spread resources across diverse school communities, she said.
Catholic Education Melbourne executive director Stephen Elder described the changes as a direct attack on Catholic parish primary schools. Under the plans, “parents at these schools will be expected to pay similar fees to those charged by elite independent institutions”, he said. “This will hurt families of modest means most of all.” Senator Birmingham countered by saying: “Surely nothing can be fairer than a funding model that treats all non-government schools consistently and on equal terms, based on the need of each individual school regardless of their sector or faith? Across Australia, Catholic school systems will receive estimated average per student growth of 3.7 per cent per annum, well above current measures of inflation or wages growth.” The per student base amount in 2018 will be $10,953 for primary students and $13,764 for secondary school students.
The government argues more than 99 per cent of schools will see a year-on-year increase in funding, and on average per-student funding will grow 4.1 per cent a year over a decade. Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said it was “a smoke-and-mirrors, pea-and-thimble” effort to hide the fact the government was cutting $22bn from schools over a decade, instead of $30bn. Independent Schools Council of Australia executive director Colette Colman welcomed the government’s “attempt to make the new model more consistent in application” while Business Council chief Jennifer Westacott applauded the government for “abolishing the commitment to maintain all schools’ funding levels, regardless of their level of privilege, thus establishing a fairer, simpler and more transparent approach to funding disadvantaged students and schools into the future”.
CORPORATE BULLYING OVER LGBTI ISSUES THREATENS RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
There is an increasingly insidious presence operating in our corporate sector. This presence is the existence of so-called “diversity” organisations and committees. Far from promoting authentic diversity within our businesses, they have become the means to impose a particular social agenda. In the past month, we have seen more clearly the long-term agenda of these bodies: to compel employees to submit to a political agenda unrelated to the commercial success of their operations. The case of Mark Allaby has received significant attention in the media. Last year, at PricewaterhouseCoopers, pressure was placed on him to resign his position on the board of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) because of PwC’s commitment to LGBTI “diversity” values in the workplace.
More recently, as an executive with IBM, he has been pressured through social media to resign from the board of ACL’s Lachlan Macquarie Institute because of IBM’s commitment to LGBTI programs in the workplace. This pressure was placed on Allaby because of ACL’s opposition to changing the Marriage Act, and its defence of the traditional understanding of human sexuality, marriage and the family. His case raises questions about bullying in the debate over changes to the Marriage Act and the right to religious freedom in Australia. It is one thing for corporations to seek to promote community projects that assist those with particular needs in our society; it is another for them to be promoting radical social agendas that pressure employees to act against their conscience or to stop their involvement in projects outside their work commitments that express their deeply held religious beliefs.
It is ironic that initiatives claimed to be about promoting diversity in the workplace have the opposite effect, reducing the diversity of views in the workplace. It is quite appropriate for corporations to promote a diversity of views among their employees based on mutual respect and understanding. Such a commitment would encourage all employees to express their particular social views and engage each other in a respectful way. This clearly is not happening. These initiatives are aimed at preventing authentic diversity and instead mandating conformity to the social agenda of the particular corporation. Of course, the more glaring issue this raises is the lack of commonwealth protection for religious freedom in Australia.
For society to be truly democratic, citizens must be able to express their deeply held beliefs, in particular, religious beliefs. To allow corporations to practically deny a citizen the ability to participate in a community organisation that promotes the good of religion smacks of totalitarianism. To threaten a person because they belong to a group with a different view opens the pathway to an Orwellian future. Corporate bullying must be called for what it is and our society should establish legal protection to the right to religious freedom.
Source: A statement by Julian Porteous, Catholic Archbishop of Hobart
NEW CATHOLIC STANDARDS BODY TO CRACK DOWN ON CLERGY
A newly established national oversight body for the Catholic church will have the power to publicly name dioceses or religious orders which fail to meet its robust standards. The new body, Catholic Professional Standards (CPS) Ltd, will also give bishops the authority to penalise priests who do not comply with the new benchmarks. Painful and difficult stories in their thousands emerged from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The body, formed late last year, will set, enforce and audit new standards on the protection of children and vulnerable people. Neville Owen, the chairman of the Catholic church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said CPS would publicly name the dioceses and orders which failed to comply.
“The teeth in this system is public reporting,” he said. “The intention is public reporting will be the norm.” The CPS board would have discretionary powers over public reporting. Archbishop of Brisbane and vice president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Mark Coleridge told the hearing into church authorities the body would give bishops the power to penalise priests who failed to comply. “These are serious sanctions, to stand a man aside or remove his faculties but given the seriousness of what we are discussing, they are measures I would consider,” Coleridge said. The CPS, as well as a public national register with background information on Catholic ministry, were still in the early stages of formation. CPS will be “functionally independent” from the church although it will be funded by two Catholic peak bodies, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia.
Chief executive of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council Francis Sullivan said the ministry register and CPS would help hold the church to account in light of thousands allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy over decades. “Getting change in the Catholic church is heroic and it takes a lot of time to get small changes,” he said. “The real driver for this change has been the historic poor performance of church leaders. “The real problem is that church leadership has never been held to account.” Archbishop Coleridge described the establishment of the CPS as “historic”, saying it represented a “slow and painful shift of the culture”. “If it doesn’t lead to cultural change, the danger is we go round and round and the appalling prospect is that we could end up where we started,” he said.