He’s the Nat who gave a Gonski. In charge of schools in New South Wales from 2011 to 2017, Adrian Piccoli was a sometimes-lonely conservative voice championing needs-based school funding. Whether his stance was inspired by the experience of representing a rural seat in the state’s southwest, or by a Catholic sense of social justice, or simply by a temperament inclined to consensus, it’s almost impossible to imagine the Gonski reforms without him.

Consider two critical moments in the unfolding of school funding policy this decade. The first is in 2013. The Gillard government is in its dying days and the shadow education minister, Christopher Pyne, is attempting to sabotage the prime minister’s signature reform by calling on state Coalition counterparts not to sign Gonski funding agreements. Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory heed Pyne’s call. Victoria wavers. A national initiative with just South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory on board won’t amount to much.

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