Has the coalition government cut $14 billion from public education?

By Callum Godde, Peter Trute and James Lane

The Statement

“They (the coalition government) ripped out $14 billion from public education.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese. December 4, 2019.

The Analysis

Labor leader Anthony Albanese says Australia’s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results is a wake-up call for the coalition government on education funding.

The opposition leader said the poor results in maths, literacy and science come after the coalition has “ripped money out of education during its six years in government”. [1]

“They ripped out $14 billion from public education,” he told ABC radio’s AM program. “They never put the money back that they took in that 2014 budget from public schools.”

So has the coalition government cut $14 billion from public education?

AAP FactCheck examined Labor’s funding for government schools in its last federal budget in 2013, and government schools funding in budgets since the coalition took office in September 2013.

In the 2013 budget, Labor pledged $9.8 billion in extra funding for schools over a six-year span up to 2017/18. However about $2.8 billion was allocated in the first four years, with almost $7 billion unfunded. [2]

Liberal leader Tony Abbott promised a “unity ticket” on school funding before the 2013 election. However, coalition policy documents show that commitment to match Labor “dollar-for-dollar” was restricted to four years from 2014. [3] [4]

In the 2014-15 budget under the Abbott government $5.11 billion was allocated before rising to $5.75 billion in 2015-16. The figure was $6.44 billion in 2016-17 under the Turnbull government lifting to $7.08 billion in 2017-18, $7.69 billion in 2018-19 and $8.33 billion in 2019-20 under the Morrison government. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

The origin of the $14 billion figure first arose in claims made by Labor about changes to school funding made by the coalition in 2014.

Treasurer Joe Hockey’s first budget in 2014-15 set out changes to funding arrangements for public hospitals and schools to generate $80 billion in “total savings” to 2024-25. The budget also included a table showing how projections compared to Labor’s plan. [11]

In his 2014 budget reply speech the then-Labor leader Bill Shorten claimed this as an $80 billion “cut” to schools and hospitals. However, a 2016 fact check by economists Peter Sivey and Buly Cardak in The Conversation pointed out that according to the 2014 budget chart, funding for schools and hospitals continued to increase, albeit at a slower pace than under Labor’s pre-election funding promise. [12][13][14]

When questioned by Labor senator Penny Wong in a Senate Economics Legislation Committee in 2014, Treasury official Nigel Ray broke down the $80 billion of “savings” as roughly $30 billion for schools and $50 billion for hospitals by 2024-25. [15]

Labor seized on this figure with deputy leader Tanya Plibersek and opposition education spokeswoman Kate Ellis labelling it a “$30 billion cut to education” in a media release on May 20, 2014. [16]

The figure was whittled down in May 2017 as coalition policy documents touted $22.3 billion in “savings” from 2018 to 2027 compared to Labor’s funding arrangements. Ms Plibersek again deemed it a “cut” and claimed it equated to sacking 22,000 teachers. [17] [18]

The figure dropped to about $17 billion after the Turnbull government agreed to an extra $5 billion in school funding, rolled out over six years rather than 10, to win support for its so-called Gonski 2.0 plan to pass through the Senate in June 2017. [19]

The figure’s most recent resting point relies on Parliamentary Budget Office and the National Catholic Education Commission data, which was released by Labor in February 2018, purporting to show 86 per cent of the $17 billion - equating to $14 billion - in “cuts” would affect public schools. [20]

At the 2019 federal election, Ms Plibersek said voters had a clear choice between Labor’s public schools investment “or the LNP’s $14 billion of cuts”. [21]

RMIT ABC Fact Check took Ms Plibersek to task over the claim in 2019, delivering a verdict of “misleading” as they had for her $22 billion cut declaration in 2017. [22] [23]

When asked on December 5 for the source of Mr Albanese’s $14 billion claim, a spokesman for the opposition leader referred AAP FactCheck to an article on an Australian Education Union-affiliated campaign web page, Fair Funding Now. The article, titled ‘The Facts: Scott Morrison’s $14 billion public school cuts’, details a timeline for the $14 billion in “cuts”. [24]

Mr Albanese’s office also cited the 2014-15 budget overview document, which includes a table illustrating $80 billion in “savings” in spending on schools and hospitals. [25]

AAP FactCheck contacted two economists to seek opinion on whether the funding situation amounted to a cut.

AMP chief economist Dr Shane Oliver told AAP FactCheck via email: “I find it hard to regard it as a cut because school spending has actually still been increasing.”

Chris Richardson, a partner and economist at Deloitte Access Economics, agreed and said as “others have noted - that (Labor’s projection) was never a sensible baseline to compare against”.

"Effectively, it was never legislated, and never funded," he told AAP FactCheck in an email.

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck has found the claim to be mostly false. Two economists have agreed that funding of government schools has continued to rise. Labor has claimed the “savings” outlined in the coalition’s 2014-15 budget of $80 billion amount to a “cut” and has continued to claim that the proportion of those “savings” relevant to schools amount to lost funding. Labor did announce an increased spending trajectory in its 2013 budget however the funding commitments were only for four years. The commitments did not extend to 2024-25. It is worth noting, however, that while Labor’s claim that the funding has been cut is not supported, the coalition has claimed the same unfunded spending as a saving.

The Verdict

  • Mostly False - Mostly false with one minor element of truth.

The References

1: ‘This is a big F, a big F for fail’: Anthony Albanese on PISA results', by Sabra Lane. ABC. December 4, 2019: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/am/this-is-a-big-f,-a-big-f-for-fail:-anthony-albanese/11764208

2: ‘Budget Measures. Budget Paper No.2 2013-14’. Commonwealth of Australia. May 2013 (Page 120): https://archive.budget.gov.au/2013-14/bp2/BP2_consolidated.pdf

3: ‘Tony Abbott says Coalition will honour Gonski school funding plan for four years’. ABC. August 2, 2013: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-02/coalition-to-support-gonski-school-funding/4861102

4: ‘The Coalition’s Policy for Schools: Students First’. August, 2013. (Page 5): http://lpaweb-static.s3.amazonaws.com/13-08-29%20The%20Coalition%27s%20Policy%20for%20Schools%20-%20policy%20document.pdf

5: ‘Budget 2014-15. Budget Strategy and Outlook Budget Paper No.1 2014-15’. (Table 7 - Page 163 or Statement 6 Page 19): https://archive.budget.gov.au/2014-15/bp1/BP1_combined.pdf

6: ‘Budget 2015-16. Budget Strategy and Outlook Budget Paper No.1 2015-16’. (Table 3.1 - Page 109 or Statement 5 Page 13): https://archive.budget.gov.au/2015-16/bp1/Budget_Paper_No_1.pdf

7: ‘Budget 2016-17. Budget Strategy and Outlook Budget Paper No.1 2016-17’. (Table 3.1 - Page 122 or Statement 5 Page 12): https://archive.budget.gov.au/2016-17/bp1/bp1.pdf

8: ‘Budget 2017-18. Budget Strategy and Outlook Budget Paper No.1 2017-18’. (Table 3.1 - Page 155 or Statement 6 Page 12): https://archive.budget.gov.au/2017-18/bp1/bp1.pdf

9: ‘Budget 2018-19. Budget Strategy and Outlook Budget Paper No.1 2018-19’. (Table 3.1 - Page 142 or Statement 6 Page 10): https://archive.budget.gov.au/2018-19/bp1/bp1.pdf

10: ‘Budget 2019-20. Paper No.3’ (Quality Schools Funding Table - Page 31): https://www.budget.gov.au/2019-20/content/bp3/download/bp3.pdf

11: ‘Budget 2014-15. Budget Strategy and Outlook Budget Paper No.3 2014-15’. (Executive Summary Page 1): https://archive.budget.gov.au/2014-15/bp3/consolidated_BP3.pdf

12: ‘Budget Reply’. Bill Shorten MP. May 21, 2014. https://www.billshorten.com.au/budget-reply

13. ‘Budget Archive 2014-15’. Australian Government. (Chartpack download - 07 More sustainable spending arrangements for schools and public hospitals): https://archive.budget.gov.au/2014-15/index.htm

14: ‘Fact check: Has the Government cut $22 billion from schools?’. ABC. June 5, 2017:https://theconversation.com/election-factcheck-has-the-government-cut-80-billion-from-schools-and-hospitals-58988

15: ‘Official Committee Hansard. Senate. Economics Legislation Committee. Estimates’. June 4, 2014: https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/estimate/000741db-2d46-45cc-b4b7-8057cb9518fd/toc_pdf/Economics%20Legislation%20Committee_2014_06_04_2549_Official.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22committees/estimate/000741db-2d46-45cc-b4b7-8057cb9518fd/0000%22

16: ‘Schools to Feel Effects of $30 Billion Cut Immediately’. Tanya Plibersek MP. May 20, 2014: http://www.tanyaplibersek.com/schools_to_feel_effects_of_30_billion_cut_immediately

17: ‘Labor Senators’ Dissenting Report’. Parliament of Australia. (Line 1.7) https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Education_and_Employment/AustralianEducation2017/Report/d01

18: ‘Tanya Plibersek’. Facebook. May 2, 2017: http://archive.ph/H14bf

19: ‘Gonski 2.0: School funding package passes Senate, as Coalition takes big win’, by Jane Norman. ABC. June 23, 2017: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-23/senate-votes-to-pass-gonski-2.0-in-a-big-win-for-coalition/8644156

20: ‘Transcript: Television Interview Sky News’. Tanya Plibersek MP. February 8, 2018:http://www.tanyaplibersek.com/transcript_television_interview_sky_news_thursday_8_february_2018

21: ‘Media Release: Labor commits $3 Million For New Hall At Mango Hill State School’. Tanya Plibersek MP. May 7, 2019: http://www.tanyaplibersek.com/media_release_labor_commits_3_million_for_new_hall_at_mango_hill_state_school_tuesday_7_may_2019

22: ‘Labor says Scott Morrison cut $14 billion from public schools while treasurer. Is that correct?’. ABC. June 14, 2019: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-12/federal-election-fact-check-coalition-cuts-public-school-funding/11084514

23: ‘Fact check: Has the Government cut $22 billion from schools?’. ABC. June 5, 2017:https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-05/fact-check-has-the-government-cut-22bn-from-schools/8526768

24: ‘The Facts: Scott Morrison’s $14 billion public school cuts’. Fair Funding Now: https://www.fairfundingnow.org.au/morrisons_14billionschoolcuts

25: ‘Budget 2014-15 Overview’. Commonwealth of Australia. March 10, 2015: (Page 7): https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20150309173953/http://budget.gov.au/2014-15/content/overview/download/Budget_Overview.pdf

First published December 6, 2019 19:22 AEST