ANNUAL FEDERAL CONFERENCE OF THE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION UNION
FRIDAY, 21 FEBRUARY 2014
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Thank you for this chance to speak at your conference again.
They say a week is a long time in politics – six months is a lifetime.
Six months ago we were on the cusp of national consensus on a way forward for the future of our country’s schools.
All schools, public and private, Catholic and Independent, city and country.
We had a commitment from the biggest states in the country to invest billions of dollars in new funding to dramatically improve resourcing for our schools.
We had a six year plan to boost investment for every school and every child in Australia.
Now we are on the precipice.
Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott have ripped their education ‘unity ticket’ to pieces.
Their cynical games are rapidly unwinding hard-fought reforms that took years to develop and design and a national consensus that all of us worked so hard to build.
Already today you have heard from
Emeritus Professor Alan Reid, and Dr Ken Boston.
Ken sat on the Gonski Review Panel, and helped build the policy case for a needs-based funding model.
A model that has, at its heart, an emphasis on improving outcomes for vulnerable children, and better resourcing schools in areas of disadvantage.
A funding model that bridges the divide between government and non-government schools.
One that provides funding certainty for six years.
In Opposition, as in Government, Labor believes this is a national priority – a matter of moral obligation and policy necessity.
Rest assured, the Federal Labor Party is not giving up the fight.
We won’t be walking away from Gonski – not now, not ever.
And we are honoured to have you alongside us in this struggle.
Today isn’t just about primary and secondary education.
This morning I was in Geelong, talking about the jobs of the future and the challenges Australian manufacturing is up against.
In these times of economic change, it’s more important than ever that our TAFE system and our TAFE teachers have the support and resources they will need to build up Australia’s skills base.
I firmly believe that Australia can choose to get smarter, or get poorer.
TAFE education is an essential part of us being a smarter and more prosperous nation.
It’s vital that we support TAFE students and teachers, so that we can have a high-skill, high-tech globally competitive economy.
I know the Australian Education Union has always been an important voice and passionate advocate for teachers, principals, and support staff in public education.
As Education Minister, I saw firsthand that the AEU’s advocacy begins from the selfless belief that we must work together to provide the best standard of education for Australian children.
Especially those who are being left behind by a funding model that is broken and a system that is failing the most vulnerable children in our society.
This selflessness, this strength of purpose, has been clear in your refusal to buy into the cynical diversions Christopher Pyne has sought to engineer.
You haven’t been distracted by the tired public v private debate, or the shameless ideological posturing over the national curriculum review.
Or the fatally flawed review into teacher training that is just a smokescreen for funding gaps.
I admire your restraint.
I know how infuriating it must be when the man who is supposed to be Minister for Education has no ideas for teaching and learning apart from refighting the history wars and lecturing hardworking teachers about their performance.
It’s important for us all to stay focused, and resolute.
Because as irritating as these political games are, we cannot let them obscure our main objective.
We have to hold Tony Abbott to his promise to implement Labor’s Gonski reforms.
We have to ensure that the commitment is honoured for the full six years, with state and territory governments also committing their full share of the agreements.
We should never underestimate what we achieved through the Gonski reforms.
A policy where schools will be truly resourced according to their students’ needs, with an extra $15 billion for all schools over six years.
The Gonski reforms spanned political party divides.
The Gonski reforms took us beyond the public vs private school debate.
For the first time, we hold in our hands a national consensus across almost every major stakeholder in the education space supporting a funding model that will deliver more resources to the students who need it most:
Children with a disability or learning difficulty
Children in remote communities
Children from low socio-economic backgrounds.
The alternative - a deal that Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott cobbled together in between press conferences – does nothing to alleviate inequality or address these funding gaps.
The ‘deal’ they announced was just a wad of no-strings-attached cash.
It is a meaningless agreement – one with the sole purpose of provoking another round of the blame game to distract from the vandalism being done to the education system.
Because without the reform framework and conditions that Labor created, there is nothing to stop the governments of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia ripping money out of education.
Let’s be clear - anything less than a commitment to the full six years of funding promised under the Gonski reforms is selling short the future of 3.6 million Australian school children.
It is a betrayal of thousands of teachers around the country who need more resources, more funding so they can deliver the best education for our children.
I believe governments need to revere the power of education – and the special role of teachers.
Governments need to do more than pay lip service to great teachers.
They need to recognise that teachers need support, they need resources and they need flexibility so that they can respond to the individual needs of children.
Society must ensure that teachers are paid appropriately for the value of the work they do.
Our doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers are paid reasonably.
And our teachers commit every day – physically, intellectually and emotionally.
Yet I do not believe their pay reflects the value of that commitment.
I’m worried about this new ‘review’ into teacher quality.
I think it’s another distraction.
Another attempt to walk away from the detailed framework and the mandated continued investment of the Gonski reforms.
When Labor hears mindless platitudes like this from Minister Pyne:
“A quality education system must be underpinned by quality teachers.”
We’re awake to the sinister subtext – the attempt to lay the blame for the effects of funding cuts and ideological games at the feet of hardworking teachers.
Teachers know first-hand the struggles that disadvantaged children face.
They know the role that school resources and location, a student’s family circumstances and language skills play in education outcomes.
Teachers shouldn’t be made the scapegoats for Tony Abbott’s broken funding promises.
Or be made to wear the blame for the problems that will flow from a cut in education support.
The Conservatives have form on this point.
Think of the damage they have done to Labor’s early childhood education regulatory framework.
They have destroyed the quality controls we created and jeopardised the learning of children at the formative period in their education.
A cowardly, short-sighted decision that they snuck out at five minutes to midnight before the election.
This is why I am troubled when we see hardline ideology masquerading as education policy.
Look at Christopher Pyne’s hastily-assembled review of the National Curriculum.
A back-of-the-envelope inquiry being run by right wing zealots.
A rush job that threatens the years of hard work that governments, educators and experts put into developing a comprehensive national curriculum.
A curriculum that provides families certainty and clarity around what their child is learning, and provides schools and teachers with guidance around what they teach children all the way up to year 12.
It was in 2008 that the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians was agreed to by all Australian education ministers.
This Agreement committed all jurisdictions to supporting:
“all young Australians to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens”, and it provided the scope for the development of the Australian Curriculum.
That’s six years of work now at risk because of the Abbott Government’s conspiracy theories about the Australian Curriculum.
Many of you in this room have been involved first hand in the implementation of the Curriculum in your classrooms.
To have that work, and the independence of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, in any way diminished or undermined because of the Coalition’s petty, partisan opposition to the Curriculum would be a travesty.
Similarly, Labor will defend its legacy on giving schools more authority.
Make no mistake, what Christopher Pyne is plotting with his plans on school autonomy goes well beyond local decision-making.
His slapdash plan to create a two-tier public education system ignores the initiatives put in place under Labor and threatens the level playing field that the Gonski plan is designed to achieve.
Pyne’s scheme goes well beyond the evidence of what works.
Even the NSW Minister for Education doesn’t want a bar of the Pyne idea.
It’s a plan to force schools to choose what they go without in the short term, and cut funding over the long term.
If local school decision making is what the Coalition Government wants to achieve, then we have that in the Gonski Education reforms.
If the Government cares about improving student education outcomes.
If the Government cares about improving support for Indigenous students.
If they want to improve outcomes for rural communities, and laying the foundations for an education century.
Then they need to join us in supporting the Gonski reforms – like they promised they would.
This year’s Budget will show us what the Coalition really thinks about education.
There will be nowhere to hide.
No political smokescreen to distract or conceal.
The Budget papers will show us the truth.
We’ll see what level of funding they allocate for what would have been the fifth year of Labor’s plan.
Any reduction on Labor’s commitment will be a cut to education.
Any reduction will be a broken promise from Tony Abbott - and a short-sighted betrayal of our schools, teachers and students.
In the meantime, Labor will keep the pressure on.
We will keep asking questions.
We will remind every parent in the country, every teacher and every child just what is at stake.
Because the opportunity we still have in front of us comes along only once in a generation.
It’s too important to play politics with.
The choice before the Government is simple.
Will we have a better and fairer model of school funding?
Or a failing system where disadvantaged schools fall through the cracks?
Will our children be taught by great teachers in great schools?
Or will overworked staff be forced to go without the resources and support they need?
Will Australia get smarter – or poorer?
We’re counting on you to stand with us.
To make the case for the right course.
To speak up for students, teachers, support staff, principals schools and parents.
To stand with us, as we stand up for the Gonski reforms.
I know we can count on you – and I thank you for it.
MEDIA CONTACT: LEADERS OFFICE MEDIA UNIT 02 6277 4053
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