At their Federal conference, Australian Education Union’ leaders and activists welcomed the commitment made by the Labour party to greatly increase funding for public education, and reaffirmed their determination to ensure that the upcoming federal election focus on education issues.
“Delegates, be assured - 2019 will be the education election. This is the year,” stressed Australian Education Union (AEU) Federal President Correna Haythorpe, addressing the AEU Federal Conference, held from 22-24 February in Melbourne. “Our union, the mighty Australian Education Union, is strong, united and committed to achieving our objectives for public education and for our students. We are a powerful collective force, working towards building a socially just and fair society, and that is evident here at our conference today.”
“The choice is clear,” she added. “While the Morrison government has cut $14 billion from public schools, Labour, in government, will restore that funding. While the Morrison government has cut our public technical and further education (TAFE) system, Labour, in government, has guaranteed at least two-thirds of vocational education and training funding to TAFE. While the Morrison government won’t guarantee pre-school funding for four-year-olds, Labour, in government, will guarantee ongoing preschool funding for three and four-year-old children.”
Haythorpe asserted that “we wholeheartedly welcome Labour’s announcement to restore $14.1 billion into public school funding over the next decade”. She explained, “Labour’s commitment to an immediate injection of $3.3 billion into public schools in the first three years of government is especially welcome, and a game changer for schools that have been waiting for these funds. Add to this Labour’s commitments of $300 million for students with disabilities, investments in school leadership programs, changes for initial teacher education, and the restoration of our rightful place at the policy table.”
These funding commitments made for public schools, preschools and vocation education for the federal election were confirmed by Labour Party leader Bill Shorten in his remarks to the Conference.
Haythorpe also underlined that “our 2.5 million public school students can’t wait,” as “their schools need that funding now”, and that “justice will also prevail for public education. We will win this campaign because we are fighting for our children and for their future. “That gives us all the courage to stand up against injustice in all its forms, and to fight for a better future for our students. I have stood before you and made a commitment and I will say it again. We will never give up and we will never give in. We will win, and then we will never take our eye off our funding goals. Any politician who stands in the way of securing a better future for our children will be held accountable at the federal election.”
Highlighting that the AEU membership is growing and community support is strong, she insisted that “our public school communities are the heart of the Fair Funding Now! campaign. It is these parents and school staff who we will work with as we head out across the nation on our Fair Funding Now! Van Tour to make this federal election the ‘education election’.
“Thanks to our campaigns,” she noted, “these past few months have seen some outstanding public education announcements by Labour and The Greens, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. There are strong challenges that we face, but they are challenges we will overcome. We will not fail in our efforts to put public education first, and to ensure that political parties do so as well.”
Haythorpe recalled that, in Australia, “public education has experienced severe headwinds in recent years. Our public schools have had budgets slashed. Our TAFE system has been devastated by the privatisation agenda of governments, and our preschools are unfunded by the Commonwealth past June this year.”
Also acknowledging that “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have a fundamental right to receive a high quality and fully-funded public education,” she severely condemned the fact “the Morrison government’s $14 billion cuts to school funding have hit hard in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the nation. This is an appalling indictment of the Morrison government, which has ignored the impact that this funding inequity will have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.”
Speaking about the status of the teaching profession in her country, she was adamant that “teaching is often challenging yet very rewarding. However our jobs are made much harder by wholesale education reforms implemented by governments without consulting and working with the teaching profession,” she deeply regretted that trend, stating that “this is our profession. We must lead the debate when it comes to education policy. When teachers are frozen out of the consultation process due to political ideology, it is our students who are ultimately impacted.”
“We need to claim our rightful place with respect to professional and industrial issues and our rights,” and “demand our rights to lead education policy and legislative processes. We will demand our rights to work with governments, with communities and social partners and we will speak out to protect the teaching profession from those who seek to divide us.”
Haythorpe also commended Opposition Spokesperson for Education Tanya Plibersek, also present at the event, for agreeing that “the most important factor in a child’s progress at school is their teacher” and having the AEU initial teacher education position adopted as Labour policy.
“The threats to fair funding of public education do not respect borders,” she also warned, pointing out that “the global education sector is worth an estimated $5 trillion with private for-profit ‘Edu- businesses’, doing their utmost to syphon off as much as they can”.
Recalling that AEU members are “partners with Education International in the campaign to stop this, ” she detailed that “these private providers are symptomatic of a wider trend of outsourcing school curriculums, lesson plans and teacher professional development to for-profit companies. We will be vigilant and relentless in our fight to stop them from infiltrating public education in Australia”.
She completed her intervention by stressing that “this year offers both challenges and opportunities for those of us who support public education in Australia. On the one hand, we have the Morrison government, which has made it clear that public education is not its priority. On the other hand, this is an election year. It is a time of political promises, of a sense of hope and optimism about what may be on the other side of the ballot box.”
Haythorpe told delegates that “this federal election is a chance to correct the funding mistakes of the past”.