Tide turns on school reforms as Queensland softens stance

The federal government has been buoyed by ”positive” discussions with Victoria and Queensland over its school funding reforms on Friday as it extended its July 14 deadline for states and territories to sign up to a deal.

Talks with Victoria and the Catholic school sector have long been moving towards resolution but the surprise on Friday was the stance of Queensland, which had previously dismissed the reforms outright.

Now Queensland appears to be edging closer to a deal, with its conservative Premier, Campbell Newman, praising Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for listening to the state’s concerns at a meeting in Brisbane on Friday afternoon. Mr Newman said the change of approach from the federal government was ”refreshing” and Queensland would work to get the best deal for the state.

”It was a very productive discussion. It was a discussion that was not afforded to us by the previous prime minister [Julia Gillard] and the previous minister [Peter Garrett],” he said.

”It was very productive and we know now what we have to do to try to reach an agreement.”

Mr Newman went into the meeting with Education Minister Bill Shorten and Mr Rudd calling for the federal government to increase its offer by $650 million next financial year.

Mr Newman said the Prime Minister agreed to consider Queensland’s concerns, including the ”red tape and bureaucracy” that would be imposed on schools under the reforms, the potential for some schools to be left worse off, and the associated slashing of university funding and uncertainty over kindergarten funding.

”We want to achieve a deal for Queensland; it’s got to be a deal that is right for Queensland … and Queensland kids,” he said. ”I’d say there’s been progress on all these issues because there’s been dialogue.”

Emerging from the Brisbane meeting, Mr Shorten said both sides should know whether they would be able to reach an agreement within the next week or two.

He said the meeting was constructive but had been unable to resolve all differences and federal Labor would leave no stone unturned to strike a deal. ”For me it’s not about the blame game; it’s a question of are we smart enough, state and federal, to secure better schools for our children,” Mr Shorten said.

NSW, the ACT, South Australia and Tasmania have signed up to the reforms but the federal government is yet to reach agreement with Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott reaffirmed his intention to unpick the reforms if the government fails to reach agreement with every single state and territory.

It came after his education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, repeated his own position that the system would be kept if the ”overwhelming majority” of jurisdictions signed up.

At a visit to a school in Brisbane on Friday, Mr Abbott insisted a national scheme required ”national agreement” and that meant ”all states and territories”. But he hardened his stance against the reforms by questioning what the reforms actually involved and denouncing ”secret” deals with different states and school sectors.

The federal government’s reforms, formerly known as ”Gonski” but now rebadged as the Better Schools Plan, involve setting an ideal base level of funding for each student, to be topped up with ”loadings” targeting disadvantage.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.