GRATTAN INSTITUTE Special deals for special interests -Catholic School funding

How lobbyists work to advantage Catholic schools at the expense of state schools .

In March 2018, the Catholic schools lobby received a pledge from federal Labor that they would be $250 million better off in the first two years of a Labor Government and billions of dollars better off over a decade. The pledge has been criticised because it appears to undermine the ‘Gonski’ ideal of a single, needs-based funding model for all schools.

Labor claims the pledge is part of its existing policy to increase funding for all schools. Indeed, the initial $250 million over two years seems to cover the funding gap between Labor’s 2016 election commitment and the Coalition’s ‘Gonski 2.0’ funding model. But the 2016 commitment was made under the old school funding model and Labor is yet to explain how it would change the current needs-based funding formula to allocate the billions promised. Eventually Labor will have to explain what parts of the formula are being changed to justify the extra dollars, and whether those changes are being consistently applied to independent and government schools.

Whether or not this is a ‘special deal’, the timing is questionable. One week before the March 2018 Batman by-election, Bill Shorten wrote to Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart to offer an extra $250 million for Catholic schools in the first two years of a Labor Government. In the following week, the Catholic schools lobby made 30,000 robocalls urging residents of Batman to vote for Labor. And the head of Catholic Education Melbourne, Stephen Elder, wrote a letter to all Catholic school parents in Batman. Shorten personally called Elder on the night of the by-election win to thank the sector for its support.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission is now investigating Catholic Education Melbourne’s political activities during the Batman by-election.

(Influenced by Catholic School lobbying in both Batman and Longman by elections, Scott Morrison replaced the federal Education Minister …John Menadue)

Who’s in the room? Access and influence in Australian politics

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