Rorting of school funding

When State Aid was introduced 50 years ago it was intended to help poor Catholic schools in the poorest socio-economic areas: no one thought it would ever become a rort.

Credit – Unsplash

NSW Catholic schools received $2.8 billion in state and federal funding this year. It was all delivered to a body called Catholic Schools NSW.

An ABC report shows that $309 million of this public funding will have been diverted from poor to rich schools by 2023.

Details of the distribution had been kept secret despite the Education Act stipulating that distribution models be “transparent and publicly available”.

The distribution involves 420 schools in 11 dioceses, whose bishops have a decisive say in the allocation.

A draft proposal among the documents shows the distribution model for 2020-2023 gives high socio-economic status (SES) schools three times the amount of funding they are entitled to under the Australian Education Act.

Sydney and Broken Head dioceses are favoured at the expense of regional and rural areas including Wagga Wagga, Bathurst and Wilcannia Forbes. The latter has the highest proportion of indigenous and low SES students of any diocese, the outstanding ABC report revealed.

Adrian Piccoli, director of UNSW’s Gonski Institute for Education, said the documents were “explosive” and showed that “the Catholic system has hoodwinked governments for years”. Piccoli, a former NSW Education Minister, said while children in lower SES areas accounted for allocation of funds from government, the money “is actually being siphoned off to keep the fees down for people who live in Gordon and Killara”.

Greens MP David Shoebridge seized on the public broadcaster’s exclusive report to support public education.

“We exposed years ago that the NSW Government gives Catholic Education NSW a lump sum of public money with almost no oversight,” Shoebridge said.

“Catholic Schools NSW have opposed transparency because they want to be able to take from the poorest Catholic schools in the state and give to the richest.

“It’s no surprise that so much of this funding is redirected to schools in the powerful Catholic Diocese of Sydney headed by the politically well-connected and ultra-conservative Archbishop Fisher.”

Archbishop Anthony Fisher, a former lawyer with Clayton Utz, comes from a conservative background. His father came to Australia from the Basque country in Spain and his mother was half-Italian and half-Romanian. A graduate of Riverview where he was dux in 1977, he was awarded a first-class honours degree at Sydney University in history and a BA in Laws.

Fisher is a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, previously known as The Inquisition. He opposed same-sex marriage and occupied doctrinal positions in opposing LGBT issues.

He was consecrated by Cardinal George Pell, a predecessor, on 3 September 2003 and took “Speaking the truth in love” as his episcopal motto. He organised the week-long World Youth Day 2008 at Randwick Racecourse raising millions of dollars during Pope Benedict XVI’s official visit.

Shoebridge, a barrister and Upper House MP, condemned the biased education policy of the NSW Coalition saying: “The NSW Government has been so unwilling to require transparency from private schools including Catholic Schools that it has allowed thousands of students in poor areas to be robbed of a fair education.

“The system where Catholic Schools in rich areas are competing against public and private schools is producing these perverse outcomes where funding is allocated based on parental wealth and not need.

“Poor students shouldn’t be subsidising rich ones. Students in Bourke and Brewarrina are having much needed funds taken from their schools so students in Mosman and Willoughby can benefit.

“Every dollar of public education spending needs to go to where it is most needed and this starts with fully funding every public school, not subsidising elite private schools,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Labor’s shadow education minister has decided to take opinions of backbenchers before making a statement when the NSW Parliament resumes on September 15-24.

If, like me, you have no idea who Labor’s shadow education minister is, let me tell you. She is former Premier Bob Carr staffer, Prue Car (sic), MP for Londonderry since 2015.

In her inaugural speech to Parliament on 6 May 2015, Ms Car gave special thanks to five people – Kaila Murnain, Jamie Clements, Sam Dastyari and Luke Foley. The first three are former Labor NSW general secretaries and the fourth (Foley) was party leader. All five have either been chucked out of the NSW Labor Party or their careers are in ruins.

Ms Car concluded her speech to MPs saying: “Every day I will strive to make the society, you and your generation, to inherit a better place, a fairer place, a place where people do not get left behind.”

What better time than when Parliament resumes to launch a full-blooded attack on the NSW Coalition for deliberately failing to fund public schools and stealing public money to give to elite private schools?

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Alex Mitchell is a former Sydney Sun-Herald State Political Editor whose commentary appears every Friday. His latest book is Murder in Melbourne – The Untold Story of Palestinian exchange student Aiia Maasarwe.

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