Lesser evilism — whereby one votes for a party defensively, because at least they are not as bad as the alternative — is a three-card trick that the Labor Party is very skilled at using.
In this election campaign, the very real threat of a Tony Abbott Coalition government is allowing Labor to establish the framework of a very harsh second term while scaring voters with the warning that the alternative would be even worse.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is not just filling her days warning working people that an Abbott government would be a very bad one. She is also outlining a framework for the kinds of “microeconomic reform” she promised a second-term Labor government would carry-out in her July 15 National Press Club speech.
And the bosses love it.
At the heart of Labor’s pitch for support from the big end of town is the promise to “reform” the areas of the economy that the Hawke and Keating Labor government of 1983-‘96 failed to. Specifically, Gillard promised to take the axe to health and education.
Gillard’s support for education “reform” is well-known to public school teachers. Standardised, national testing of all students across the country in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 (the National Assessment Plan — Literacy and Numeracy, or NAPLAN tests) is the cornerstone. Students and schools are to be regularly assessed against each other and publicly ranked.
League tables, which list schools’ apparent achievements, will be published. The poor performers will be pilloried.
Poorly performing schools may be given extra funding (initially) to improve marks. But where a similar regime has been installed in Britain, ongoing failure to meet “benchmarks” (such as 30% of pupils achieving the benchmark of five A-C grades, including English and maths) renders a school liable to being closed, the British Guardian said on January 13. The article said 247 schools faced the threat of closure.
Gillard has not yet produced the big stick of school closures, but it’s a slippery slope.
On August 9, Gillard announced that from 2014 schools would compete nationally to receive one of 1000 reward payments of $100,000, for “improvement” in their test scores. Such payments — available to public and private schools — are most likely to benefit the wealthy, said Christine Cawsey, president of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council, reported the August 10 Sydney Morning Herald.
“We know that student growth in performance is often highest in affluent communities and we would be concerned that the model did not discriminate against students from low SES [socio economic status] backgrounds”, Cawsey said.
She also said she would be “worried” if no account were taken of “schools that select their own enrolments” — private schools and selective high schools.
A re-elected Gillard government would use competition for extra pay to break down solidarity among teachers. From 2014, 25,000 “top performing” teachers would receive one-off bonus payments of up to $8100.
The scheme would set “teacher against teacher”, said New South Wales Teachers’ Federation president Bob Lipscombe on August 9.
“A similar controversial scheme, using very similar and equally flawed criteria to assess teachers in Washington DC, has recently resulted in nearly 1000 teachers (representing 25% of Washington's teachers) either being dismissed or put on one year's notice. Like the proposed Australian scheme, the Washington scheme misuses NAPLAN-type student data to assess teacher performance.”
On August 10, Gillard announced that a re-elected Labor government would spend $16 million in a scheme to train “professionals” as teachers. Engineers, accountants and others would be given an eight-week training course, and then installed in schools for two years, ABC Online reported.
It is a move that mirrors what has happened to teachers in the technical and further education sector. Teaching qualifications would be watered down by the employment of such poorly trained “professionals”.
“The skills required to teach children cannot be learned in such a short period of time”, Australian Education Union national president Angelo Gavrielatos said on August 11.
“The focus should be on addressing the things that make it hard to recruit people into teaching and to keep our best teachers in the classroom: high workloads, large class sizes and inadequate career paths.”
Labor, however, is not interested in giving every child an equal opportunity for a rounded education. Labor will continue to ensure that the wealthy have all the access to education they need. Its decision, announced on August 4, to extend Howard-era funding guidelines for private schools until at least 2014 ensures that.
For the rest of us, the US and British system, where school closures, teacher sackings and funding cuts are the norm, is our future.