Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Victoria: former Education Minister comments on the Government's changes to the education system

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: It hasn't only been conservative governments that have felt the anger of Victoria's teachers' unions and parents' lobbies. In the late 1980s, the then Labor Education Minister, Ian Cathie, found himself under intense pressure over his plan to introduce reforms to the State school system. The changes which would have seen a greater autonomy for schools were eventually dropped by the Government.

Michael Carey asked Mr Cathie about the experience.

IAN CATHIE: I wanted schools to be the centre of the system but as a Deakin University study indicated long ago, a devolved system doesn't suit the central bodies who exercise power in education, and who act as the key lobby groups on the Minister of the day, and that's the Parents' Federation, VICSO, and the teacher unions. And indeed, when I first introduced change which was the Blackburn Report, and I called together everybody that I thought ought to have an impact on giving me advice as to how to implement it, those three major bodies all caucused together and in fact they walked out of the meeting.

MICHAEL CAREY: But how did they get you, the Victorian Labor Government, to drop the plan?

IAN CATHIE: That was easy. They simply worked through the Labor Party at conferences, country conferences, State ALP conferences, and the ALP Policy Committee, and they killed it off. After all, most of the key people involved in all of those organisations are on the ALP Policy Committee anyhow.

MICHAEL CAREY: Well, given that experience, are you surprised that the new government would choose to crash through rather than try to negotiate these changes, down the line?

IAN CATHIE: I realise the financial difficulties that we are in and part of the difficulty - and the Grants Commission told me this at the time when I was Minister - that if Victoria wanted a standard much in excess of the Australian standard, then that was a matter for Victoria to pay for, that they couldn't expect the rest of Australia to pay for it. And the difficulty we are now faced with is Victoria is bankrupt and how then do you sustain the amount of expenditure that you have been able to afford in the past? And that is a very difficult issue. Now I am not suggesting the way through that issue is simply to crash through. It is certainly one method but it is not the method that I would prefer. I think you have still, at the end of the day, going to have to negotiate, and if for example, there is a program for koori education, you are going to have to demonstrate that the quality of that program will continue in whatever other setting that you are putting it.

MICHAEL CAREY: Leaving aside the methods that the Kennett Government is now using to bring in these changes, is the level of rationalisation that they are looking at in line with what you and your advisers saw as logical?

IAN CATHIE: We certainly saw that some rationalisation was necessary because of some of the financial difficulties, but we also saw that it could only work if it was done on the basis of getting a better curricula.

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: Former Victorian Education Minister, Ian Cathie.