Bill's Speeches

AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION UNION FEDERAL CONFERENCE 2016

MELBOURNE

 FRIDAY, 26 FEBRUARY 2016

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I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and I pay my respects to elders past and present.

And when Labor people and union people do that acknowledgement, those words come with the promise that we will close the gap.

I acknowledge all of you, passionate members of a very remarkable union.

You represent educators from the early years to schools and TAFE.

You have organised, you have campaigned, you have worked so hard these past 2 and a half years to keep the flame alight for the Gonski principles of funding for our schools in Australia.

To be blunt, you haven’t just given a Gonski – you’ve given your all.

And that is all your members can ask from delegates and representatives of the union: that you leave nothing on the table when all is said and done.

You understand as representatives representing teachers and people working in education that you don’t always win every battle.

BUt I would say to the AEU there is nothing more that you could have done to this point than what you already have.

Congratulations and thank you.

I want to acknowledge the next Minister for Education in Australia, Kate Ellis.

As you might remember, I spent about 80 days or 1,920 hours as the Minister for Education.

That’s not exactly an ‘era’ – though the way Malcolm Turnbull is churning through Ministers – it’s looking more impressive by the day.

I knew that when I was given this privilege of the education portfolio, that I might not be there for long.

So I vowed not to waste a single minute.

Your members deserve nothing less from Labor representatives.

In those scarce weeks – criss-crossing the country negotiating our needs-based funding agreements.

Co-operating with your union, with representatives from different sectors, with different State and Territory Governments.

I applied in that time the same principle I’ve stuck by my whole working life. 

From my time as a union rep, to helping organise more recently the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

A simple principle, but one that never lets you down: listen to the people on the frontline.

Trust the Australians who work every day in the field you’re talking about.

Empower people.

You understand as union representatives that empowered workforces, treated with respect that their experience, their passion and emotional commitment have earned, will always steer you in the right direction.

In my experience, people who are empowered in the workplace invariably deliver better outcomes and have more satisfying work.

They exceed expectations.

They discover a new sense of themselves, they have a new faith in their capacities.

That’s what my mother taught me about education, about teaching.

She taught me that teaching is the ultimate act of empowerment.

Teaching opens doors, it gives people a new and greater sense of what they can do and what they might be.

No-one can change a life for the better quite like a great teacher.

Nothing is more important to the future of Australia, than the teachers of Australia.

And nothing is more important to building our national prosperity, unlocking opportunity and reducing and abolishing inequality than education.

It is why I have put education at the very top of Labor’s policy priorities.

If people ask you one thing about the Labor Party; what does it stand for? You can confidently assure them, it stands for education.

It is why we’ve outlined our principles on quality, accessible, affordable early childhood education, those important years where so much of a child’s brain develops.

It is why we are backing public TAFE – because the pendulum has swung too far to dodgy private providers, and a Shorten Labor Government will change that.

And why I began this election year by announcing our plan for the most significant national investment in education in two generations.

Labor’s fully-funded, fully-costed policy is called: Your Child. Our Future

A fully-funded, $37.3 billion investment which will see every child in every school receive fair funding on the basis of need.

We are investing more money, to achieve better learning outcomes – not more of the same. 

We use the word investing quite deliberately.

Labor doesn’t see education as a cost. We don’t see students or teachers or TAFE or early childhood education as a burden to the budget.

We understand every dollar put into education, delivers an economic and social return for our nation.

And that’s not just a gut feeling – or an ambit claim, or a Point Piper after dinner-party lecture. 

The OECD has found that if Australia can equip all our secondary school graduates with the basic skills needed for the global economy by 2030 - that is the equivalent of adding 2.8 per cent to our GDP.

If we do nothing else in this country, but fund our schools properly - we will grow the economy. Education is an economic strategy, it’s a growth strategy.

Now I appreciate that I am talking to the AEU, where you have driven this policy in rain, hail, sun and whatever other inclement conditions.

Through state governments of all persuasions who sometimes get it - sometimes need to be reminded.

But what I also know is that you appreciate the fundamental truth of what I’m saying.

That a return for investment is the carefully designed formula at the centre of the original Gonski plan: maximum educational value for the resources provided.

But when the Liberals cut money from schools, from TAFE, from early education, from universities – they are selling out our nation and selling our future short.

The Liberal party mock spending extra resources on our kids.

They ridicule our policy Your Child. Our Future, of course they do.

The same Liberals who have cut $30 billion from Australian schools.

They say: “Oh, money won’t solve the problem.”

The only people who use that argument are people for whom money has never been a problem.

Let us just remember this.

The people who tell you that your schools don’t need extra money are people who sit in positions of power and represent the vested interests - they have never needed money for a poorly funded school themselves.

They lecture people, but they do not practise what they preach.

Kate, myself, the Labor team, we understand that educators in Australia face a lot of challenges.

We know government cannot solve them all. 

But when you visit a school where Gonski funding is in place – you can’t maintain the fiction that extra resources don’t make a difference.

At Roma Mitchell Secondary College in South Australia, Principal Sandy Richardson explained to Kate and myself how the Gonski funding had allowed her to bring on board a new speech pathologist and literacy coordinator.

Students who were struggling before now no longer talk about passing Year 12, they’re aiming higher for TAFE and indeed University.

Or at Frankston East Primary School, right here in Victoria.

Where additional funding is being used to keep class sizes down, to guarantee a teacher’s aide in every classroom.

To assist students from low-income families so that they don’t have to pay for excursions and other school activities which they would otherwise miss out on.

I do not know and I have never met a parent who thinks that their children are worth less funding, or less resources.

The case is very clear, I submit this: every parent in Australia will have a very clear choice at the next election. Do they want the child they love to have less resources and less support  - or more resources and more support.

For Labor, the question of our investment in schools is as straightforward as this:

If we don’t provide our students with the individual attention and targeted learning they need to excel, we are limiting their opportunity. 

If we do not provide our schools with the resources and support to be great schools, we are harming our prosperity.

And if we don’t give our teachers, your members, the training and recognition they deserve - we are undermining a group of people who are essential to opportunity and prosperity in our community.

Without a world class education system, we will not achieve the productivity we need require to grow our modern economy. 

How on earth can we be exciting, innovative, agile, nimble, you know the clichés by now, if we are cutting education?  

How can we be an innovative nation – if we’re not teaching our children the skills and language of the digital age. The coding skills and computational thinking they need.

Coding isn’t just a new skill-set – it’s a whole new mindset. The difference between our children growing up playing with technology – and actually designing it.

We cannot seize the jobs and industries of the future without a strong TAFE sector, training and re-training our workforce for success.

The skills taught in TAFE will be the difference between Australian workers operating and refining the industrial machinery of the future, or being replaced by it.

And we can’t be a scientific nation – if we are not investing in our school science labs and our school science teachers.

We cannot expect to make world-class breakthroughs in research – if we’re not encouraging the next generation of Australians to fall in love with science, technology, engineering and maths, from the very early years onwards.

And we cannot continue to be the creative, artistic, cultural country  that we've grown into – if we don’t support learning beyond the basics. We must encourage Australians to explore their imaginations and expand their horizons, at every age and at every stage of their education.

Chloe and I have three children – a boy and two girls.

Like all parents, we love them equally – and like all siblings they are very different.

They have different abilities, they prefer different subjects, they enjoy different activities inside and outside of school.

And of course they're always different in the timing of when they've got problems, there's never a time when there isn't an issue.  

What matters to Chloe and I is what matters to every parent.

Are our kids happy? Are they safe? Are they resilient?

Are they being encouraged to take an interest in the world around them and the life of the mind?

Are they enjoying school - are they being taught to respect knowledge, and respect their peers?

While we’re on the subject of respect, there’s been a lot of crazy talk about the Safe Schools program this week.

it's been called Marxism, it’s Socialism, it’s Cultural Relativism, it’s ‘Hetero-phobia’ – just when I thought the Liberals couldn't teach me anything. It’s been called part of the ‘Rainbow Ideology’.

Let’s be clear.

Safe Schools is not about imposing an ideology, or an ‘ism’. It’s just about teaching our kids to treat people equally. To understand and not judge.

This is a program designed to prevent bullying and intimidation. 

To let children who are grappling with questions of identity know that they're not alone, they can seek help.

You know how important this is.

I’m sure all of you have taught children who’ve suffered from one form of bullying or another.

You know this can be particularly intense and cruel for children who identify as gay.

I do not understand why the Liberal Party are so obsessed with people's sexuality. It's just weird. 

You must be so lucky having the right wing of the Liberal Party in there in your classroom every day, giving you free advice. They worry about this but they're willing to cut $30 billion from your programs.

Your job really does roam so far beyond the ‘three Rs’ – that's why so many parents trust you with the greatest decision they make about the welfare of their children, they trust you with the welfare of their children. 

I can tell you this.

When it comes to respect, when it comes to celebrating diversity, when it comes to keeping kids safe from bullying and self-harm and worse…

If I have to choose between the teachers of Australia or the right wing of the Liberal Party – I'm going to choose you every time and Australian teachers every time.

Friends

There's a lot of people who get paid to make politics sound more complicated than it really is. 

Experts load us up with analysis and commentary, they examine every sentence, they try and flesh out a party political position. 

When it comes to education though, in this election year, the philosophical and policy difference is cut and dried. Black and white.  

What separates Labor from our opponents is that we don’t only care about a great education for our kids.

We believe in a great education for everyone’s kids.

From the early years, to schools, to TAFE and indeed to universities.

And we will back our words with concrete and certain funding decisions.

The last Labor Government showed the vision and the leadership to undertake the biggest review of education in four decades – and the next Labor Government will see that work through.

As Julia would say: we will get it done.

We will make TAFE and Vocational Education a national priority.

Creating jobs in our regions, skilling young people, re-training mature-age workers and modernising our industries.

And we will do more than deliver the final two years of the Gonski agreements, we are locking in a decade – a decade - of funding certainty, so every Australian school can plan for:

  • A focus on every child’s needs
  • More individual attention
  • More support for students with special learning needs
  • Better supported, better resourced and better trained teachers

I want every school to be able to maximise the potential of every student, of all ages and all abilities.

Offering more subject choices and more extra-curricular activities.

More remedial literacy and numeracy support – and more extension classes to challenge bright students.

More early interventions – to stops kids falling too far behind.

Greater access to specialist health support – like speech pathologists and occupational therapists.

It should be easier for teachers to tell us what works – and what doesn’t. And when you tell us, we should listen.

Our policy is sector-neutral, because drawing-up education policy is not about pitting one group of schools against another in a fight for resources.

If we are an education nation, we mean it and we find the resources. 

You tell the Government and a political party by their priorities.

You can tell the difference between parties by what they are willing spend scarce and important taxpayer money on.

This policy is not about telling teachers to do more with less and less. It’s about supporting every teacher in every school, your members, to deliver a great education for every student.

Doesn't matter where you work or where you live.

In our cities and suburbs, along the coast and the country towns, government schools, catholic schools, every schools.

Every child, in every school, every opportunity.

Right now, we know Australia is falling short of this vision.

Worldwide – our national performance is slipping.

You know the numbers better than me. In the year 2000, only one country outperformed Australia in reading and maths.

In 2006 only two countries outperformed us in science. 

Today, 16 countries outperform us in maths.

Nine countries outperform us in reading and seven countries outperform us in science.

In the Beijing Olympics in 2008 we finished sixth in the medal tally, in London 2012 we slipped to tenth.

There was a national outcry.

If they could have found a union - there would have been a royal comission.

There were people demanding investigations, new coaches, new academies – an entire review of what was working and what wasn’t. 

We need to bring a greater sense of urgency to education. A greater sense of national purpose to elevating education.

And lifting our performance depends upon allocating resources to where the need is greatest.

Right now, students with disability are missing out on opportunities that are taken for granted by other students.

  • One in five students with disability does not attend school full time
  • One in four students with disability has been denied school enrolment

Students with disability are less likely to go to school – and less likely to finish school. One in four do not stay past year 10.

That has lifelong effects on job prospects and opportunities to pursue further learning.

There are the challenges of poverty – challenges of geography too.

You have spoken, I'm sure in your teaching careers to parents and students of disabilities and you have been put in an untenable situation. You know if that child was given more support they could do more. But there are scarce resources. And you have many students.

We want to take away that emotionally draining conundrum of how to allocate time and indeed love to these students by giving you more resources.

This country is smart enough, we are rich enough to make sure that our kids with special learning needs are treated as equal Australians - and we do that through the allocation of extra resources in schools.

Some of the other criteria, the challenge is magnified for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Ninety-three per cent of Australian students in year five are achieving the national benchmark for reading.

But for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, it’s only 63 per cent.

In remote communities, 22 per cent.

When politicians and leaders and policy-makers talk about the ‘gap’ between our nation’s first peoples and the rest of the country.

When we tell the story of restricted opportunities, higher unemployment, violence, poverty, disgraceful rates of incarceration that diminishes the lives of so many of the first Australians – the story starts with a fact that in education we're not providing sufficient resources to these kids.

Indeed, the kids who live in the bush generally, they don't get the same opportunities, they're not getting the same outcomes, despite the best efforts of the existing resource base.

So now we need to reinforce the effort in country schools for more resources - and we know that poverty affects educational outcomes. 

It doesn't mean that a child is less bright when they come from a working class suburb - it just means they get less support from the system. 

The teachers in some of our schools, in some of the hard-up suburbs of this nation are doing remarkable things.

But you just need some reinforcement now. 

You need a Labor Government backing you up with properly-funded schools, so those kids who are as bright as any other kids can achieve equality in this Australian society.   

We will have the important needs-based loadings, you know the list, you helped us understand them.

  • Students with disability
  • Students from disadvantaged families
  • Students with low English proficiency
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
  • Regional, rural and remote schools – and small schools

Under Labor’s plan, implemented by Kate Ellis and myself – over $2 billion in federal funding will be dedicated to the loading for Low Socioeconomic Status students.

That will mean over $1000 per student, per year in dedicated support for 1.8 million Australians students who need the most help, and have the most to gain. 

Friends

Everywhere I go in Australia, I speak to parents who are worried about what the future holds for their kids.

In country towns and suburbs, Australians are worried about where the jobs are going to come from - they’re anxious about where growth will come from and what their children will do for a living.

When they say to me: “What’s your plan?”

I say: education. 

Education is the key to prosperity, to our productivity.

It's the key not only for our economy to grow and for Australia to compete. It's the key to the individual students who are your chargers having fulfilling and meaningful lives.

You are essential to building the economy and the society we live in.

I understand very clearly that along with this commitment for education funding, it is upon the assumption that education and teaching is an honourable and important and esteemed vocation.

I understand and again I learnt this from my mother who was a teacher for so many years. The status of teaching to the last quarter of the last century didn't keep pace appropriately with other industries. 

And I understand completely that what we need to do is value our teachers. 

When we talk about education policy we do not sneer about the role of the union, or the teachers’ union, in helping us form good policy. 

Because to sneer at the education union, is to sneer at teachers. And to sneer at teachers is to amongst the most ignorant prejudices that this society has developed. 

Teaching once upon a time was a way out of the working class for bright young men and women.  It was an opportunity to fulfil an esteemed career.

The same with the nature of the schools we were building . We used to build schools from scratch which showed the value that society placed on them.

And then something happened. 

Somewhere along the line, the respect for teaching in our community didn't keep pace. 

But in the meantime this nation has relied upon teachers to do the heavy lifting of so many different expectations of our society.

One of the easiest lines for lazy politicians to say is: “We'll just get them to teach it in schools. Leave it to the teachers.”

Teachers in this country have been left to do a lot of things.

You're expected to look after the welfare of the child, the emotional wellbeing of the child.

You’re expected to cope in many cases with inadequate resources. 

You're expected to cope with less than the pay which teachers deserve. 

A Shorten Labor Government, will do more to make sure the position and the respect of teaching gets the proper, long overdue support in terms of the estimations of the community.  

This country cannot survive without its teachers and its educators.

My team and I will never sneer about putting more resources into schools.

We will never sneer about putting needs-based priorities as the way in which scarce public resources are allocated.

And we will never sneer about the work of the AEU. If any of my children become teachers, the first thing I will tell them to do is to join the union.

Now I understand that this election, Labor is the underdog. I understand that.

But what I also understand is that when Mr Turnbull  replaced Tony Abbott it was on a platform that he would be different.

And the nation breathed a sigh of relief that Mr Abbott was gone. And, you lost Mr. Pyne.

But six months on, I think Australia is realising that Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t changed the Liberal party - the Liberal party has changed Malcolm Turnbull.

What Labor will do is, we will press on with our policies.

We are willing at this election to offer Australians a real choice: on fair taxation, on Australian jobs, on a properly-funded Medicare, on renewable energy and central, and arguably most important - on properly-funded education.

We need every bit of help you can give.

There is no case being made by the current government that any person who is interested in education should vote Liberal at the next election.

We need all your help and if you do that, we will deliver you the schools, the resources, the opportunity, the overdue recognition of teaching and the best outcome for our kids we’ve seen in two generations.

Thank you

ENDS


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