Back in December 2008 in Encouraging Indonesia-Australia involvement I reported, following a lead from Neil Whitfield, on an ambitious Howard Government program to help Indonesian education. This program aimed, among other things, to:
- establish 2,000 fully operational new and one roof junior secondary schools and madrasah
- creation of at least 330,000 formal school places
- increase the proportion of junior secondary students from the poorest 20% of the population from 49.7% to 65%.
The program was extended by the Labor Government. Now it appears that the opposition would, subject to a review, defer the program saving $250-$400 million to help get rid of the proposed flood levy.
The Howard Government introduced the program to help reduce the influence in schools of radical Islam while aiding Indonesian development. Mr Abbott states:
...the Indonesian schools program could be reconsidered if it turned out to be something of high value.
"But with so many schools destroyed or damaged in Australia, we do think that charity begins at home."
It was important to prioritise Australian government spending appropriately, Mr Abbott said.
This is silly policy. In fact, its almost meaningless in a flood context. Mr Abbott appears to be saying that we defer spend, but reinstate if it were of high value. How, then, can it be counted as a saving pending that review?
There is, it seems to me, a selfish and also short-sighted tone to Mr Abbott's comments. If, as I have argued, Indonesian development and our strategic relationship are central Australian strategic concerns, then trading off gains from the schools program to help avoid a one-off tax for certain Australians does not make a lot of sense.
It may be that Mr Abbott has information suggestion problems in the program. In that event, by all means push for a review. But, as phrased, it's just dumb.