Gonski School Funding Row Demonstrates The Importance Of Plurals

Gonski School Funding Row Demonstrates The Importance Of Plurals

The Coalition government has taken a severe credibility hit after switching its policy on Gonski school funding from “we support it” to “actually, we don’t support it” (AKA lying right before the election). Whatever your politics, it’s a textbook example of how being accurate with your language usage is important.

Picture: Getty Images

Here’s what Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne had to say about Gonski funding prior to this year’s election (via the Conversation):

You can vote Liberal or Labor and you will get exactly the same amount of funding for your school.

Note: “your school”, a single entity.

And here’s another comment from Prime Minister Tony Abbott that emphasises single schools:

As far as I’m concerned, as far as Christopher Pyne is concerned, as far as the Coalition is concerned, we want to end the uncertainty by guaranteeing that no school will be worse off over the forward estimates period; we will honour the agreements that Labor has entered into; we will match the offers that Labor has made; we will make sure that no school is worse off.

But this is how Abbott explained the change of policy over the weekend:

I think Christopher said schools would get the same amount of money and schools — plural — will get the same amount of money.

Sorry, Tony, but that doesn’t fly. There is no sensible way of interpreting either quote that involves schools, collective. The sentence was “no school is worse off”. If you meant “schools”, you would have said “schools are not worse off”.

We spend a lot of time at Mind Your Language discussing very minor differences, often no more than a single letter. This example shows why that kind of fine-grained detail is important. If you want people to trust what you say, accuracy matters. (Update: the latest backflip on this issue suggests the Coalition agrees.)

Lifehacker’s Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


  • Pyne has no wriggle room.
    On August 21, 2013 he issued a media release which included the following: Tony Abbott and the Coalition have confirmed that they will commit the same amount of federal school funding as the Government over the forward estimates. Every single school in Australia will receive, dollar for dollar, the same federal funding over the next four years whether there is a Liberal or Labor Government after September 7.
    (my emphasis)

  • >We spend a lot of time at Mind Your Language discussing very minor differences

    Do you mean “Mind Your Langugage”, or “Yes Prime Minister”. There’s a BIG difference. “Yes Prime Minister” is the text book on the behaviour you’re talking about. Spin, double-talk, etc.

  • Yep – Backflip. Looks like Abbott and Pyne realised that they credibility had been damaged too much after being attacked from all sides of politics. A good thing for public schools and common sense.

    Also a likely insight into the mean spirited nature of Tony Abbott. We’ll remember how you tried to weazle out of this one.

    • But weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals….Except the weasel

  • This is just another example of how the internet holds politicians to account. Anyone can find out what they said with just a simple Google search. IN the old days they could have gotten away with it … but not now.

    …. unless they start deleting their speeches from their websites.

  • I personally have no problem with the concept of a ‘backflip’. I think politicians should be able to change their minds when the facts change. I’d rather they do the right thing than the promised thing. The Gonski rejection was a problem because there were no reasons provided, just a weak ‘oh, you all misunderstood!’

    The problem with this second backflip is that it doesn’t require a contribution from the states, which means the schools won’t get as much money and the students will be worse off after all. My money says that the states involved won’t reduce school funding (that would look bad), but that the funding level they provide will be frozen for a long time, until we’re back to square one; but with the federal government paying a higher proportion. Which is exactly what I believe the initial Gonski deal was striving to prevent.

    • Yeah but they aren’t saying they changed their mind. They are blaming the Australian public for taking them at their words. Saying we are some how in the wrong for listening to what they said. That it’s not what they said. Even when quotes clearly show it is what they said.

      That’s the level of dishonesty these bastards have.

      They were either lying to the Australian public then, or they are lying to us now. Seems like both.

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