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Young people not happy, Julia

10 August 2009 1,370 views No Comment

JULIA Gillard is the darling of the Canberra press gallery. This makes some sense: she is erudite and sometimes funny in question time, a welcome break from the tedium of our Prime Minister’s mangled bureaucratese. She is also “the woman most likely”, a potential female prime minister in a city obsessed with the symbolism of such potential.

But increasingly concerns are growing in the education sector that she may be out of her depth when it comes to delivering in her very large portfolio areas. On last week’s Q&A program on ABC1, in which she was up against Malcolm Turnbull and three young political activists from across the spectrum, her most problematic political failing was on display. She is all style and very little substance. Long on rhetoric, but short on delivery.All foam, no beer.

Am I going too far with the cliches? If there is any politician who deserves to be described in cliches, it is Gillard. She has added more to the cliche lexicon than to the education system.

They all got a run on Thursday night, starting with the biggest cliche of them all: the education revolution. As climate change activist Sara Haghdoosti pointed out, a revolution implies “seismic, enormous change. This isn’t it”. Quite right. Most of the education revolution has involved nothing more than the abolition of old programs and their reintroduction with new names.

Hence the Howard government’s $700 tuition voucher program for students who fail to meet national benchmarks in their literacy and numeracy tests was cancelled, and that money was instead spent on the National Partnership on Literacy and Numeracy. Rather than giving the money to parents, Gillard is giving the money to state governments. Apparently she feels they are better at managing it. As someone who has been observing the Queensland and NSW education departments for some time this is a remarkable leap of faith.

The members of Q&A’s panel also took umbrage at Gillard’s Youth Allowance changes giving extra so-called scholarships to everyone who is getting Youth Allowance, at the expense of 30,000 students (mainly from the country) who work for a gap year to earn eligibility for Youth Allowance so they can afford to move to the city and go to university. As debating champion and aspirational Liberal Mitchell Grady said:

“Julia has seen an inequality and decided to try and solve it by creating another inequality in a different spot.”

The Building the Education Revolution program was brought up by the panel too, with Malcolm Turnbull renaming the spending as the Julia Gillard Memorial Halls. Most of the young people involved in the debate pointed out that if this much money was available for an education program, then it would have been much better to spend it on teachers.

The fact is that the Building the Education Revolution was never about education, it was about providing stimulus to the building industry. Unfortunately within months we have seen an outcry from principals, school communities, the building industry, the education union, the media, and just about every political party.

Problems include overspending, underspending, state skimming, profiteering, project managers getting millions for shuffling papers, schools with halls and gyms being forced to accept second halls and second gyms. There is very little value for money being delivered in the program.

Nor does it surprise that the Auditor-General has announced he will be conducting a full investigation into this spending, a humiliation for the Minister only three months into the delivery of her program. If it were anyone else on the Treasury benches in charge of this debacle, their career trajectory would be in serious freefall. If some of the Q & A panel were in the press gallery, we might see Gillard held to account.

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