Newcastle Herald Opinion Piece 27 January 2016

Charlie was born with a destiny; to join the ranks of the unemployed and possibly a spiral into drugs, violence and crime.  By the time he attends school, he'll be aware that both his parents and grandparents have spent most of their adult lives on government support.

It didn't necessarily need to be, governments can play a role in breaking the cycle of intergenerational unemployment.  Indeed it  should be one of its top priorities - for the sake of the growing welfare budget, our labour supply, social outcomes and of course, for the sake of the likes of Charlie.

In my many years in public life, nothing has captured my attention more than this issue.  In my early years, I found myself focusing most on methods of intervention in the post-school years; working with training providers, Business Enterprise Centers and the like.  This remains important work and programs like the unfortunately named Work-for-the-Dole remain a crucial part of the mix, but too often the intervention comes too late.

So it didn't take me long to see the obvious; the earlier the intervention, the more likely is a good result.  That of course, is where our school system comes in.  Charlie will begin school behind the eight ball, having missed the benefits of good parenting, formal child care and pre-school.  His best hope now is his school and its teachers, most likely the local public school where still; the majority of our students go.

More and more, teachers are required pick up the pieces where parents, community and government have failed.  With diminishing funding these challenges must appear insurmountable.

I spent eleven and a half years on the Opposition benches urging the Howard Government to demonstrate it understood this by addressing the key shortcomings of our schools system and to properly resource it.  A dollar invested in Charlie now will likely save many more dollars in the future and his active participation in the workforce will also deliver dividends, both economically and socially. 

John Howard never delivered but the Rudd Government did. Its education reforms were historic, producing transparent, comparable measures of individual school performance and providing funding growth which targeted the individual circumstances and needs of each student.  Amongst other things the so-called “Gonski” reforms put additional teachers in our schools to deal with the specific needs of our students.  It is a new model, a tailored approach.

Of course the impact was never going to be immediate but talk to any teacher and they will tell you we were on the right track.  As I did the usual round of end-of-year school presentations last year, principal after principal publicly expressed appreciation for the much needed and targeted resources the Gonski reforms were delivering.

But the ink on the award certificates was barely dry when on the eve of Christmas, the Turnbull Government declared its intention to kill Gonski by cutting off its funding.  The Prime Minister has not attempted to argue Gonski has not been effective; he simply doesn't want to fund it.  He obviously views Gonski as a cost, rather than a prudent investment. 

It's a sad reality of our short electoral cycle, Malcolm will save a few dollars, but along with Charlie and his local community, a future PM will pay.

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