Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent
header_02 home about login header_06
sidebar-top content-top

Howard's education: there is a pattern here

Longtime Webdiarist and contributor Tony Phillips makes a welcome (and overdue) return with this critique of Howard's education handout. Great to see you again, Tony. His last contribution to Webdiary was Greens riding the minor party wave as Vic campaign closes. Great to see you again, Tony.


The “centrepiece” of John Howard’s campaign launch was on the face of it, a huge dollop of social democracy. A $6 billion handout without fear or favour to everyone. No Anglo-Saxon “mean” testing here. In a nutshell every child at secondary school makes their parents eligible for up to an $800 tax rebate, for primary and pre-school kids parents can claim up to $400. The response from the left leaning has been paradoxically very Anglo-Saxon liberal, this is just upper class welfare has been the claim.

The claim is true and it isn’t. The policy is actually closer to middle class welfare. Howard’s upper class welfare has more to do with things like the private school handout formula, the negative gearing regime, the capital gains tax breaks, and sundry subsidies to big business in the form of cash, tax breaks, or exemptions from the environmental costs they inflict on the country.

Paul Keating more than once said, "you have to keep the middle class interested". He was referring to keeping afloat political support for social services and government help that was needed to prevent large gaps of inequality opening up. Thus the concept of the “social wage” and the need for redistributive policies that accrued benefits to all members of society. Also, of course, it is a verity of modern economics that some non-market redistribution is always needed to keep open a level of equality of opportunity in a market economy. Otherwise the rich just keep purchasing advantages to ward the cold winds of competition away from them and their offspring, and tend to get richer along the way.

Howard sees redistribution as basically about looking after his own interests and the vested interests that support him. Thus, for example, in education and health the effect of his largesse has been basically about redistributing wealth toward the wealthy. The $3 billion, and growing, propping up private health care is classic case. The market has failed but in its place Howard has put subsidy - taxpayer dollars prop up private businesses and allow a largely comfortable clientele to enjoy a subsidised extra level of health care. At the same time the percentage of GDP spent on health in Australia by comparison with other like economies has risen, indicating the policy is one of both inefficiency as well as inequity.

In this latest case of school handouts he is repeating this policy pattern, but in election mode he is doing so strategically, that is, he is also looking after his own interest. However, the basic public policy concerns of efficiency and efficacy, let alone questions of equity, are markedly not present here.

In strategic terms the policy is aiming again at those aspirationals in marginal outer suburban seats. The ones with jobs and kids (or planning for them) who are looking to the cheaper private schools in terms of socioeconomic mobility or at least status preservation. Of course he's also handing another $800 to either the rich schools (’cos they'll put prices up) or to the middle class, who can afford $12,000 plus a year in school fees per child. But the $800 will actually mean quite a lot to those whose budget is more likely to be in the $2-3000 per year, per child range.

What Howard is trying to do is the opposite of Keating, and in a capitalist society where wealth buys influence and PR, something much easier. He’s trying to keep the respectable working class, from whom the aspirationals of today’s marketing-speak are drawn, interested in middle and upper class welfare. To give enough of them enough of a titbit to give his government those key votes needed to get over the line.

For the roughly 70% of families who don’t have kids at private schools this policy offers little more than a nudge towards considering moving to one. Some poorer members of this group may not even claim the full $800 rebate, since they must spend $2000 to get $800 back. For the other 30% of families, well perhaps 15-20% are likely to gratefully pocket the cash but probably would have voted Liberal anyway. But of the others…, well in the marginal seats, Howard and his people must be calculating this pork may make the difference he needs. For him it’s good politics: he looks after his electoral interest and still sticks to his pattern of redistributions that favour the wealthy in the private sector.

Of course his other ongoing policies, of 230,000 new immigrants a year, negative gearing tax breaks for housing investors that effectively leave them paying 20-25% less for houses than home owners, and the rampant spending promises that will push up inflation, these will all come back to belt those same aspirationals. Through house prices, through interest rates, through loss of amenity, and in terms of (lost) future opportunities for their kids.

But he's counting on them lacking the education to see it.

[ category: ]

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Today's Lib email

Friday, 16 November 2007   Coalition's Education Tax Rebate (click here to SEE the PM announce)

At the Coalition Policy Launch earlier this week, the Prime Minister announced a re-elected Coalition Government would introduce a tax rebate for the cost of children's education from pre-school to the end of secondary school.

Click on the link below to watch a short video of the Prime Minister announcing the Coalition plan.

The new tax rebate will cover all education expenses at government and non-government schools, including:

        * school fees;

        * voluntary contributions and levies;

        * text books;

        * uniforms;

        * camps and excursions;

        * stationery;

        * calculators;

        * laptops and broadband; and

        * the extra costs of elective subjects e.g. music and drama.

The rebate for secondary school will be up to $800 annually for each student. The rebate for primary and pre-school will be up to $400 annually for each child.

More than 2.1 million families will be able to claim education expenses for 3.6 million Australian children. 

SA seats

Margo, my predictions are notoriously inaccurate. I've been saying my own electorate, Kingston, will go to Labor as Kym Richardson won it last time only by something like 80 - 120 votes. However, Robert Brokenshire, who was previously our state (Liberal) representative has thrown his hat in the ring for Family First. He has a strong personal following and I presume his preferences will go to the Coalition. 

I don't know enough about other seats, so I guess I will just have to worry right up until I hear Howard concede defeat!


On another thread I pointed out that this would be worth about $100 annually to parents at our local high school and $800 to their neighbours whose children attend the private school it competes with.

If this was about education rather than votes, Howard might have chosen to give $800 directly to the schools to benefit all students equally. He could have required the schools to reduce fees by 40%, so he would still have relieved parents of the burden he is on about. That would result in a zero net benefit for the private school (but not it's parents) and an injection of ($800 - $100) x 700 students = $490,000 for our local high school. Of course, as it is, it's not costed at $800 for every student, but even half that would be a big boost to our school.

If enacted as is, this will result in another wave of middle class families exiting the public school system. It's too bad Howard isn't there when the fresh-faced 13 - 18 year olds "left" in the public high schools are feeling inferior and referring to their school as a "pov" school. What happened to governing for all Australians?

Margo: Hi Robyn. How many SA seats you reckon Labor will win? 

But the rich schools support ALP

How things change.  In 2004 the private sector went ballistic when Latham dared to suggest that funding for their rich schools should be frozen but now they support Rudd's plan and think Howard's plan for tax breaks for the rich to be stupid.

There is apparently a report that says $2.9 billion has been withheld from public schools but the government won't release it.

Howard can't win a trick these days and is now forced to admit he is retiring sooner rather than later.


Mary j Shepherd, what Rudd's Plan? He says one thing and Garrett and Kelly say another. They don't know whether they are Arthur or Martha, and now we have Newhouse in Wentworth making a hash of things.

Margo: Come on Alan - Coalition candidates have stuffed up or contradicted official Coalition policy too. too. Let's get real here, OK?

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
© 2005-2011, Webdiary Pty Ltd
Disclaimer: This site is home to many debates, and the views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the site editors.
Contributors submit comments on their own responsibility: if you believe that a comment is incorrect or offensive in any way,
please submit a comment to that effect and we will make corrections or deletions as necessary.
Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner

Recent Comments

David Roffey: {whimper} in Not with a bang ... 12 weeks 6 days ago
Jenny Hume: So long mate in Not with a bang ... 12 weeks 6 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Reds (under beds?) in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Justin Obodie: Why not, with a bang? in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Dear Albatross in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Michael Talbot-Wilson: Good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Goodnight and good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 3 days ago
Margo Kingston: bye, babe in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 6 days ago