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“We wouldn’t want to be where you guys are, that’s for sure”

Tom Greenwell writes in Inside Story (1.2.17) about how schools in Australia and New Zealand set off in opposite directions in the 1970s in terms of government funding and management. The author looks at where the two countries’ education systems have ended up in the time since.

‘The story is familiar enough. An opposition leader seeks to modernise his party by transcending the old ideological opposition between state schools and church schools. Above all, he wants to woo the Catholic vote needed to win government. Prevailing over his rivals, he jettisons the party’s century-old opposition to public funding of private schools.Then, on winning government, he initiates a process of consultation, negotiation and policy formulation that culminates in a widely hailed breakthrough. Those years in power, from 1972 to 1975, come to be seen as a turning point that still defines the education landscape.

‘Gough Whitlam’s Australia? Yes, but also Norman Kirk’s New Zealand. That’s where the likeness ends, though, for the new educational epoch Kirk ushered in was quite different from the era created by Whitlam and his education adviser Peter Karmel. In Australia, church schools got what we called state aid, but they remained distinct from the state school system. In New Zealand, church schools became state schools, creating a single system of schools, some religious, most secular. It was “perhaps the most important educational measure passed by parliament in the twentieth century,” says Sir Patrick Lynch, chief executive of the New Zealand Catholic Education Office for more than two decades.’

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