Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has flagged a proposal for the Federal Government to transfer responsibility for funding public state schools to the states themselves, while continuing to fund private schools.
It is the next step of Turnbull's plan for states to collect income tax, the "once in several generations" tax reform announced on Wednesday. As part of a government media blitz to spruik the changes on Thursday morning, Turnbull told ABC Radio that the tax reform plan may see the Federal Government withdraw its funding to public schools yet continue funding non-government schools, and questioned the merit of even having a federal Education Minister.
"You could make a very powerful case for example that, if there was a revenue sharing, if the states had access to a portion of income tax, that they would have the resources and the money [to] have the responsibility for state schools," Turnbull said.
"I suspect no Federal Government would retreat from funding and continuing to support the non-government school sector because there would be a concern that they would not get a fair go from state governments who obviously would have a competing interest with their schools.
"But in terms of state schools, state education, government schools, if the states had the money, if they had the money from a share of the tax base, would they not do a better job managing those schools themselves?"
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said in a statement on Wednesday that the Federal Government contributed just 13 percent of the average per student funding in government schools in 2013-14.
"However, Australians deserve better than a further blurring of the lines in school education and the pretense that funding is the only thing that matters. The Turnbull Government wants to deliver clarity, accountability and the incentive for our school systems to innovate and be their absolute best rather than being strangled by multiple levels of government bureaucracy," Birmingham said.
But in his ABC interview on Thursday, Turnbull cast doubt on whether a federal education minister should even exist.
"That would be a question to ask the education ministers: does the education minister in Canberra know better how to run a primary school in Tasmania or South Australia or Western Australia than the education minister in those states?" he said.
"We have a massive education department in Canberra, in the Federal Government, but we don't employ any teachers. You have got to ask yourself whether we should not have clearer lines of responsibility."
Turnbull said he still supports having a national curriculum, but said "overlapping engagement" around funding might be "adding to the problem".
Labor leader Bill Shorten was quick to slam the news.
This is a disgrace. A PM willing to walk away from funding schools & properly funding hospitals isn’t fit to be PM. https://t.co/IWoyMO3omx— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) March 30, 2016
Shadow education minister Kate Ellis said on Wednesday that Labor would strongly oppose any such federal pull-out from the schools system.
"We don't want to see the system broken down into each State and Territory having totally different systems, totally different funding models... We know that the research already shows us that at worst there is a two and a half year difference in school achievement when you cross a State or Territory border in this country at the moment," she said.
Turnbull will address the idea at the Council of Australian Governments meeting on Friday.