Prime Minister Tony Abbott is continuing the war of words over school funding, denying the government is backing away from a pre-election commitment and adding that some people may be confused about what the coalition promised.
The government has faced political and community backlash over its decision to shelve Labor’s four-year Better Schools scheme, signed with the majority of states and territories.
Before September’s national poll which brought Mr Abbott to power, the coalition said schools would receive the same amount of funding as under the so-called Gonski model.
“We are going to keep the promise that we made, not the promise that some people thought we made or the promise that some people would like us to make, we are going to keep the promise that we actually made,” Mr Abbott told the Ten Network on Sunday.
The prime minister refused to repeat the promise word-for-word, but said schools will get “the same quantum of funding over the four years that they would have under Labor”.
The coalition will fund schools as planned for 2014 before introducing a new scheme from 2015 which Education Minister Christopher Pyne is trying to nut out with state and territory counterparts.
Labor says the coalition is making excuses.
“The government is clearly determined to break their word – that’s what’s happening,” Labor senator Penny Wong told ABC TV.
“They aren’t the government they said they’d be before the election.”
Opposition education spokeswoman Kate Ellis dismissed Mr Abbott’s “clever words” and said there is no way the government can justify its move.
“A promise is a promise,” she told the Ten Network.
“They were very specific in their words before the election … a promise they have now walked away from.”
Ms Ellis said teachers and parents across Australia have a right to be angry about the government’s decision and didn’t rule out backing industrial action.
“I would certainly support … us fighting to make sure these huge and important reforms are not tossed aside,” she said.
State and territory leaders will get the chance to eyeball the prime minister about school funding at an upcoming Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.
“It will absolutely be an agenda item,” Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings told the Ten Network of the December 13 meeting.
“This Gonski reform is one of the top issues.”
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, who faces a state election in 2014, said the school funding issue may filter through to be an influencing factor.
“(The government) know that they can’t be seen to break a promise so that’s why they’re pretending that they haven’t broken a promise,” Mr Weatherill said.