Dave O'Neil

Dave O'Neil is a comedian and parent.


I See Rich People

In their shameless sucking up to private schools, Gillard and Abbott have given up on fairness.

So Julia Gillard sees an independent school in a well-established suburb and she sees a "great example". Hmmm, an example of what? How four-wheel-drives can clog up a street in Kew?

I, frankly, see rich people. I see people who send their children to a prestige school that says more about them than their children. I see Hogwarts. And I've always believed if you send your child to a school that looks like a castle, they are going to leave thinking they're a wizard. With magical powers, like getting into that law degree or picking up the phone and getting a job in banking. And not in a branch, that's for mere muggles.

I also see hard working people who work several jobs to put their kids through these schools. I see them abusing me right at this moment. And I see other people who work just as hard, it's just that they don't earn enough money to send their kids to private schools. It's simply beyond their grasp.

Oh yeah, but we have scholarships. That's always said by someone who has no idea how a low-income earner lives and exists. Believe it or not, dropping off their kid to Wesley to do the entrance exam is not a priority. Getting a meal on the table and keeping the kids off the street is.

So I see inequality. I look at Melbourne Grammar's Junior School, then I look at my kid's government primary school. I see a school that has a gym with a swimming pool, a hall for concerts and a school where all year 5 and 6 students have a notebook computer! Hoorah for them. Then I see a school that has a hall that doubles as a gym and performance space, and a school that is allocated $1200 a year for its complete computer budget. That's not enough for one notebook computer! Just get a few Commodore 64s and learn to adapt, kids.

I see the Prime Minister as the head of our schools in Australia. Her government is in charge of the public schools. But she's basically telling people that private schools are the better option. I see it in very simple terms. I see a person who's running a fish and chip shop, but telling the customers the sushi next door is much better. Oh yeah, but only if you can afford it.

It's your shop, Julia, you should have pride in your product and try to make it the best in the world. If people want to go next door and buy the sushi, that's their choice and their money.

Education (not fish and chips) is so important, it's where people get their start in life, it's where the disadvantaged can get the help they need. Poor people don't go to private schools, they go to government schools.

I see a school like the one I went to slowly disappearing. I went to Mitcham High, which has been renamed Mullauna College in a token attempt to compete. It was a great school, the centre of the community. You either went there or the tech down the road. All sorts of kids went there: poor kids, rich kids, Greek kids, Vietnamese kids, Chilean kids. You only have to look at my HSC photo to see the diversity.

Sure, the top private schools have diversity, as my friend who went to Scotch said: "We had migrants, we had Americans and Brits!"

I see Tony Abbott thinking, "Gillard's stolen my words!" So now he has to go even further, saying that there's "injustice" in education all right. Yeah, those private schools don't get enough! Oh Tony, surely even you don't believe that. Nowhere else in the world is the private school system propped up so much by taxpayers' money. It's simple, if you want to go private, you pay.

I see this Gonski guy just shaking his head. All that effort, all that time spent writing a report into education funding and what does it get turned into? Politics. A base on which to try and "reassure" people that their school won't be affected. A starting point for pollies to argue their points. We need changes, or else the drift to private will continue.

Another thing I see is re-election. I see a Prime Minister who's scared of getting voted out, who's trying to get votes wherever she can. I see none of her cabinet standing up to her. I see Bill Shorten secretly happy because he can go to his Xavier reunion and not get totally paid out by his alumni. I only hope this is some kind of magic trick where the former Unley High girl will say: "You were too busy watching this hand while I was fixing up all those rundown buildings and getting class sizes down with my other hand." But, sadly, I don't think it's going to happen.

Lastly, I see my children. They're lucky in a sense because they live in the inner city where parents and teachers are well resourced and band together to make a great school. I see kids on the fringe of society just falling off. And what will it be like in 10 years?

School is the place where everyone should be equal. I see the rich, I see the poor. I see the gap getting bigger and bigger. And yeah, I still see Julia Gillard. And mind the gap, Julia, you might just fall in.

Printed in THE AGE on 26th August 2012