A new report has found that inequality in Australian society runs deeper than previously thought, prompting the NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, to urge the Federal Government not to abandon the state’s most disadvantaged schools.
The report, released by the NSW Education Department, used 12 years of the national household, income and labour dynamics survey of 14,000 Australians.
Dr Peter Siminski and co-author, Silvia Mendolia, from the University of Wollongong found that economic opportunities were partly determined by the circumstances of family background, such as parental education, occupation, marital status and region of birth – over which individuals have no control.
Minister Piccoli echoed this finding in a plea to the Federal Government on Monday.
“A child doesn't get to choose to be born to parents who are doctors, they don't get to choose to be born to parents who are drug users, it is never the child's fault,” Piccoli said.
“We have a responsibility as a society to level the playing field. That is what education is for. The Prime Minister has said that his focus is on human capital. We have to give children a better opportunity by investing in their education.”
Siminski said that her report’s findings showed that Australia’s perception as the “lucky country full of equal opportunity” was likely to fade if current trends continued.
“We aren't nearly as equal as we like to think,” he said.
Yesterday’s Closing the Gap report, which showed that there has been no progress in raising the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, further highlights the issue of growing disadvantage in Australia.
In a statement, NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) president, Maurie Mulheron, said Gonski funding was already making a positive difference to children in remote parts of Australia.
“If we are to succeed in ‘closing the gap’ it’s important that the Federal Government doesn’t turn off that important funding tap,’ Mulheron said.
In Federal Parliament last week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his government was committed to needs based funding but cautioned against the “money first” approach, which he said would not work.
However, some leading voices in education disagreed, seizing upon the latest research as “yet more evidence” that the successful Gonski funding model needed to be implemented across the board.
“This research has found high levels of inequality in Australia, and strong links between disadvantage and lack of social mobility,” Australian Education Union (AEU) federal president, Correna Haythorpe, said in a statement.
“It argues that the key to a reduction in intergenerational inequality is investment in education. This investment must be needs-based Gonski funding that gives children from disadvantaged backgrounds the support they need to achieve at school.”