It’s almost budget time. That means that every rent-seeker in the country is off to Canberra with their begging bowl: Please Mr Morrison can we have some more? To be fair to Morrison there are an infinite number of worthy causes calling out for increased expenditure.
Take national security, for example. We live in a dangerous world where any number of ideologues and self-proclaimed religious fanatics want to kill us. While it isn’t clear that diesel submarines are the solution it does seem sensible that the federal government spend money on defence.
But is there an argument for increased federal expenditure on education and health?
Here the situation becomes complicated by our federal system of government. As much as Australians are in denial about federation, the fact is that Australia is a federation, and education and health are largely state responsibilities.
Rather than run to Canberra for increased school spending, parents and teachers (read teacher unions) should focus their effects closer to home.
This year the Australian Education Union is claiming that the Turnbull government is funding ballet centres and orchestra pits in private schools while public schools require buildings.
In the very first instance the arts are a very important component of any education and it reflects poorly on the education union to suggest otherwise.
The far more important point, however, is that the union argument is highly misleading. This is not a case of the federal government funding the haves at the expense of the have-nots.
The federal government tops up parents who chose to fund their own children’s education. The state governments finance the education of those students whose parents either cannot afford to pay for their own children’s education, or are too cheap to pay for their own children’s education. Historically the quantum of public (both federal and state) money going to schools has favoured public schools over non-public schools.
Yet many people criticise the federal government for underfunding public schools. Much is being made of the Turnbull government cutting $1.9 billion from school funding. They should look in the first instance to their own state government.
The NSW government, for example, has $5.4 billion surplus. The federal government has a $23.6 billion deficit. To the extent that NSW public schools need capital improvements, or don’t have ballet centres or even orchestra pits, that is because NSW has chosen not to spend the money.
Now there is no good reason why Australian taxpayers should fund NSW public schools when the NSW government has chosen not to do so.
Blaming Canberra for all the ills of the world is cheap and lazy politics — especially given our federal system of government.
While it is true that Canberra raises the bulk of tax revenue and the states are responsible for the bulk of social expenditure the presence of state surpluses while the federal budget is in deficit implies that education unions in those states should be looking to their own state government for increased education funding.