Pupils more important than politics

We Queenslanders are a parochial lot, and we admire our politicians when they stand up for the state’s interests.

Jim’s article was first published by the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 April 2013.

But there is a limit to parochialism when it actually damages the people our politicians are elected to represent.  Especially when it hurts the kids who will carry Queensland forward in the years and decades to come.

That’s what makes the damaging parochialism practised by Premier Campbell Newman so hard to fathom when it comes to his opposition to the National Plan for School Improvement proposed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.  A plan that not only sees no reduction in funding for any Queensland school, but more money for every school in Australia.  And loadings for disadvantage so that kids are less likely fall behind, giving them new opportunities to succeed.

Opposing this vision for our schools and their teachers, the kids and their parents, is parochialism gone mad.  A type of parochialism that crosses the line from standing up for a state to standing in its way.  A political strategy that will see Queensland kids miss out on something like $3.8 billion in funding for better resourcing, teaching and school communities.

How do we know it is a political strategy? Because on Sunday, April 14, the same day Mr Newman said he did not yet have the details of the plan, he still described it as a “great big mirage”.  That is, before he knew what it was he knew he was against it.  A remarkable position that points to a premier prepared to make up his mind before he knows the facts.

Again, four days later, he described the Council of Australian Governments meeting as a “dysfunctional sham”, before the meeting had even taken place.  Again, reaching for the parochialism without cause, desperate to be seen as a modern day Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.  Again not giving the kids of his state an opportunity to benefit from the most significant improvement to their schools in many decades.  Not even hearing or considering the case.

Contrast this with the approach taken by Barry O’Farrell, the premier of New South Wales.  Whatever other criticisms I might have about him, it was good to see he wasn’t rushed into signing up either, taking the time in the days following COAG to weigh up the benefits for his state. On Tuesday, having concluded the upside for NSW kids was substantial, he signed up – despite knowing it would deliver a Labor Prime Minister a massive policy win and make life uncomfortable for Tony Abbott.

Mr Newman could learn a lot from the calm and considered leadership shown in this case by his Liberal Party counterpart south of the border.  The principle lesson being that pupils are far more important than politics.  That parochialism has its limits when it damages lives and opportunities.

From Mr Newman we need less of the sweaty doorstops outside Canberra’s fancy Hyatt Hotel, full of confected outrage and disrespectful language towards the Prime Minister of our country, and less of the swaggering arrogance.  But most of all, for the sake of Queensland’s kids and their parents, we need more Barry and less biff when it comes to the National Plan for School Improvement.

About Jim Chalmers

Jim Chalmers

Jim Chalmers MP is Shadow Minister for Finance, and the federal Labor Member for Rankin. Prior to his election he was the Executive Director of the Chifley Research Centre and, before that, Chief of Staff to the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer. He has a PhD in political science and international relations and a first class honours degree in public policy. His book Glory Daze was published in July 2013 and he tweets as @JEChalmers .

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