THE Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has gone into damage control after telling an education forum that the high level of public funding public schools receive is an injustice.
Addressing a meeting of the Independent Schools Council of Australia yesterday, Mr Abbott stressed the Coalition's opposition to the Gonski review's recommendation to overhaul school funding.
''Overall, the 66 per cent of Australian school students who attend public schools get 79 per cent of government funding,'' he said. ''The 34 per cent of Australians who attend independent schools get just 21 per cent of government funding.
''So there is no question of injustice to public schools here. If anything, the injustice is the other way.''
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who promised yesterday that new arrangements would increase funding for all students, leapt on her opponent to claim the Coalition would slash funding. ''I was very, very disturbed, in fact I can say angry, by the approach the Leader of the Opposition has taken,'' she said.
''Today it has been revealed that every public school in this country is on an opposition hit list and is slated for a reduction in funding,'' she said.
Mr Abbott rejected her assertion ''as just another lie from Julia Gillard'' and said he had no intention, if elected, of slashing public school funding.
Labor strategists believe Mr Abbott becomes accident prone under pressure and were buoyed yesterday when he became the first opposition leader since John Howard, 26 years ago, to be thrown out of Parliament. It is believed today's Newspoll would show Labor's primary vote is holding up after a five-point surge a fortnight ago.
He had accused Ms Gillard of lying in a response to a carbon price question and failed to withdraw without qualification when ordered to do so. He had flouted several similar warnings last week.
The Gonski review recommended an annual $5 billion rise in funding to all schools. But the largest part should flow to government schools because they had a disproportionate number of very disadvantaged students.
''Over 80 per cent of students who did not reach the level required for proficiency to participate in society in reading and mathematics are in government schools,'' the report said.
''The concentration of this problem in government schools is evidence of the need for a greater increase in resources in those schools in particular.''
But Mr Abbott said the Gonski process was in part generated by the thought that the government neglected public schools.
The government's final response has been delayed several weeks amid concerns from the states and non-government sectors that modelling showed more than 3000 schools would lose out if the model was applied strictly.
Ms Gillard praised independent schools for their support for government reforms and tried to dispel any notions of class envy.
''I've never looked at a big independent school in an established suburb and thought 'that's not fair','' she told the same forum. ''I look at a big independent school in an established suburb and think 'that's a great example'.''
Ms Gillard said government support for a child's education - no matter at which school - was an entitlement of citizenship and Labor would increase the funding of every independent school.