Monday, August 12, 2013

False. Abbott wants to privatise public schools

"Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne want to follow Premier Colin Barnett's lead in WA by privatising our public schools.”

Bill Shorten, press release, July 26 2013

If elected the Coalition will be “rolling out independent public schools as our preferred principal autonomy model around Australia,” according to its education spokesman Christopher Pyne. Labor’s Bill Shorten says Abbott and Pyne want to follow Western Australia in “privatising our public schools”.

Could Abbott really be planning to privatise schools?

Supporting evidence

The first point to note is that the schools in question are owned by the states and territories, not the Commonwealth. It can’t sell them because it doesn’t own them. Pyne himself says he hates “central command and control from Canberra”. But he says he will “work with the states and territories to encourage state schools to choose to become independent schools”.

So it wouldn’t be privatisation as such. But would what he is proposing amount to privatisation, where the states agreed to allow their schools to become independent?

How it stacks up

Victoria has had a semi-autonomous school system for many years. Western Australia introduced an option for “Independent Public Schools” in 2010. About one third of the state’s government schools are now partly managed by local boards.

The Oxford dictionary says to “privatise” is to “transfer (a business, industry, or service) from public to private ownership and control”. There would be no transfer of ownership in what the Coalition is suggesting, and only a limited transfer of control.

Kylie Catto, President of Western Australian Council of State School Organisations explains the system like this: “Independent Public Schools are still government schools. The way they operate gives them slightly more autonomy, but they still must comply with the main policies of the Western Australian Department of Education.”

The principal and the board are unable to expel students, for instance. But they are able to hire staff and manage their (government-provided) budgets.

Almost everyone Politifact spoke to said privatisation was the wrong way to describe what the Coalition was proposing. And it carries specific (and often negative) connotations in states such as NSW and Queensland which are actually selling assets. Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos said the Coalition’s plan was “part of a privatisation agenda”. But he didn’t call it privatisation.


Politifact finds Shorten’s claim “false”.

With Michael Koziol, in Politifact and The Sydney Morning Herald

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