Spending big: Economist Saul Eslake assesses Liberal, Labor, Green education policies

School time: Ecomonist Saul Eslake said political parties often put forward policies that extend beyond the political term to provide breathing room for mid-term projects and improve perspectives on their financial outlay.
School time: Ecomonist Saul Eslake said political parties often put forward policies that extend beyond the political term to provide breathing room for mid-term projects and improve perspectives on their financial outlay.

Teacher numbers, grade 12 retention, early learning and infrastructure: all key components of education policies rolled out by Tasmania’s political parties in the lead-up to the election.

The Liberals are vaunting a $324 million ‘record spend’ in the sector; Labor is focused on creating communities of regional schools, and the Greens are seeking to address trauma and its effects on learning.

Considering the three education policies, economist Saul Eslake said the Liberals’ 2013 mandate of extending grade 12 to regional schools was something he strongly supported, with the promise to extend all schools a major part of the party’s new policy.

While Labor has insisted extending all state schools will crush Tasmania’s college system, Mr Eslake said that he saw the potential end of the colleges as “a good thing”.

“The Liberals ought to acknowledge this rather than pretend we can sustain both systems,” he said.

Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff has insisted the Liberals fully support the college system working cohesively with the extension schools.

Labor and the Greens have both pledged a review of the extension school policy to assess if it is effective in retaining students and offering more opportunity: Mr Eslake said while assessing policy was always worthwhile, the success and availability of the college system should also be reviewed.

“The thing that surprises me about the Labor party’s resistance [to the extension policy] is it’s clear they’ll accept extension in regional and rural, but you can tell by the way they talk about it that they don’t like it,” he said.

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The strong push in both Liberal and Labor’s policies to increase spending for and create more opportunity in early childhood learning, Mr Eslake said, was welcome.

“There’s a lot of evidence from around the world … that the early years are incredibly important,” he said.

“And in Tasmania because we have a higher proportion of families who, for whatever reason, aren’t as well placed to create an optimum learning environment for very young children … it’s probably even more important here for the government to be investing in that sort of thing.”

However, Mr Eslake said it was “disappointing” the Liberals were not seeking a mandate to reintroduce their plan to lower the school starting age, this time taking into account the vulnerable business model of Tasmania’s childcare sector.

The final question is cost.

“We don’t have a budget surplus any more,” Mr Eslake said.

“While the election’s not over yet and none of the parties have handed in their fiscal strategy, the question people ought to be asking at some point is how are we going to pay for this?”