Bill's Speeches

ADDRESS TO THE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION UNION - MELBOURNE - FRIDAY, 23 FEBRUARY 2018

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I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of land upon which we meet and I pay my respects to elders both past and present.

I'd like to acknowledge the leadership of the union, the national leadership in Karina and Susan, Maurie’s up there. I also want to acknowledge our Mary who leads the Victorian Branch.

I want to do something which I don't think Malcolm Turnbull will be doing anytime soon, I want to thank my Deputy Leader for all the service she does and will continue to do.

And whilst it's not the focus of my speech, obviously there's been some developments in the soap opera which is called the Coalition Government in Canberra. 

The fact that that matter has dragged on for sixteen days, damaging both the government and the nation, means both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister deserve condemnation. 

That the Prime Minister could leave this mess unresolved shows an atrocious lack of judgment.

One, having a secret agreement with the National Party, which lets the National Party have 100 per cent say in who could be the Prime Minister of Australia, it's not on. 

And the second thing is this Coalition agreement must be made public, whatever arrangements and deals, whatever non-transparent events are unfolding that we never get to see. 

But enough about them, I want to acknowledge you, all the delegates. One thing which, if any of my children choose to become teachers, one thing I will always tell them to do from the very first step, join the union. 

You're a good union and you deserve support and you do speak up for your profession so I am very happy to be in your company today.

I mentioned the next Minister for Education, Tanya Plibersek earlier. Let’s face it, she is formidable. The fact that she has pushed so hard, the fact that we are so early in the electoral cycle, yet we have already nailed our colours to the mast. 

The fact that she, amongst a political party who supports teaching and properly funding our schools, the fact that she has secured support for $17 billion dollars is in no small part due to her champion advocacy within the ranks of the Labor Party.

But I do think that if we look at who is here and we look at what has been happening in Canberra, there are other events that remind us perhaps much more importantly about the role that education plays. 

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a famous activist who helped save the Everglades, so they named a school in Florida after her - Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

And unfortunately now, across the world, that school won't be known for the person it was named after but for the fact that seventeen people were killed by a gunman with an assault weapon, more than Columbine, fewer than Sandy Hook. 

We’ve all seen that continuous loop of shaky iPhone footage, those helicopter, birds-eye views of the TV crews and the screaming, the shots, the shouts, then of course the candlelight vigils. 

I am sure that every one of us had a basic human moment or two, not just of shock, but the thought of how lucky we are to live in Australia. 

And when you look at the roll-call of those that were killed, there was Scott Beigel, he was a geography teacher. He was shot when he went into the hallway to usher terrified students into the safety of his classroom.

There was Aaron Feis, the school's assistant football coach. He ran towards the sound of the gunfire, he threw himself in front of the bullets to save the lives of several children. 

We talk about how much teachers love their students all the time - and I do believe that. But these actions give proof to the work which you all understand at your very core. 

Risking and the losing their lives to save children in their care.

I cannot speak for those two men who died last week, but I know they didn't get combat pay or danger money.

I bet they never imagined their teaching job or coaching football would put them in the line of fire. Yet when that moment of deadly danger came they didn't hesitate, they did what teachers do, they put their students welfare ahead of their own.

This is the profession and the tradition to which you belong and you represent and you champion.

Now, at the moment our Prime Minister is in the United States meeting with President Trump.

No doubt we'll hear upon his return, the need for Australia to adopt "Trump-style" corporate tax cuts, to look after the top end of town.

You know, it's interesting, when it comes to company tax rates our opponents spent a lot of time lecturing us about the need for international competitiveness.

They say that unless we give away $65 billion to the top end of town, Australian will fall behind the rest of the world.

Never mind that a lot of big companies don’t pay any tax at all.

Never mind that dividend imputation means that cutting the company tax rate will mean that most of the benefit of this reduction will go to overseas shareholders.

Never mind the $65 billion price tag, when the Liberals have tripled the deficit.

Apparently all of these problems are secondary matters when compared with the importance of 'international competitiveness'.

But where’s that attitude come when we talk about education?

Where’s the determination for Australia to have not the lowest corporate tax rates, but the world’s best education system?

Where’s the focus on Australia rising in the global rankings for literacy, numeracy and STEM?

Because if we really believe in being internationally competitive it starts with education, and it starts with our commitment to fund education, and it starts with our commitment to respect the profession of teaching.

How can it be in 2018, when South-East-Asian nations and China, India, Korea are investing more money than ever in Higher Education – this government is cutting billions from universities?

How can it be, that in the last five years, our nation has seen a reduction of about 140,000 apprenticeships, when we're battling skill shortages?

How can it be that we cut money out of TAFE and training?

How can it be that when we know more than ever before about the importance the first 1000 days of life – that the Liberals are putting child care out of reach for  many families, those most in need and denying early childhood educators the pay rise they so richly deserve?

How can it be that for all of their appropriation of their old school chum ‘Gonski’, that the Liberals have still failed to grasp the need for needs-based-funding in the schools.

It’s not just the $17 billion in cuts to schools – disgraceful as that is.

it appears that this is Liberal policy is aimed at deliberately designing to revive the dreary old argument between government and non-government than the focus on needs.

This Hunger Games scenario where schools fight each other for a shrinking share of Commonwealth budget.

There can be no winners in this scenario – but we all know it’s government schools that pay the heaviest price.

86 per cent of the Turnbull Government’s cuts to school funding will fall onto government schools.

86 cents out of every dollar of the $17 billion dollars being ripped away, comes from public education.

Children growing up measure their priorities by the priorities of the adults in their world. So surely if that is the truth then what must they make of it when government schools, the measure of our society's priorities, are being cut.

When we as a nation support the cutting of funding to government schools, we are telling our next generation that is the priority of the adults in their world.

Government schools represent what education should be: open to everyone, free and universal.

I don’t know the teaching backgrounds of all of you which has brought you to be here, but I am sure that many of you will know that government schools educate the most disadvantaged children: kids born into poverty, kids whose home life is overshadowed by violence, or a parent’s battle with addiction.

So when you cut money out of government schools, you are cutting hope out of these kids’ lives.

We are better than that as a nation. We are smarter, richer and we should be more generous.

Now it's the fifth year of the Abbott-Turnbull Government era and in that time we've seen two clear approaches to education.

We have Tony Abbott's flat-out caveman approach, he resented the idea of funding education, he had a strategy of open conflict. But sometimes the crazier you are, the easier it is to defeat that view. 

But there is a second approach to public education and funding of government schools. This is the Turnbull doctrine: it is one of indifference.

This nation cannot afford to turn six years of attack and indifference into nine years of indifference.

We all know that Mr Turnbull's approach on education is to shut it down. He does not look at education as being all of the noble propositions which motivate you to work in education, he sees it as a political problem. 

He needs to be clever, he needs to be seen to be doing enough so that it's not what he gets marked down for.

We have an indifferent Prime Minister. He is indifferent to the debates which motivate and animate the future of our education system.

His overarching policy objective, I submit to you this afternoon, is to get school funding, TAFE funding, university funding, early years education funding off the national agenda.

How clever he must have thought himself when he said: ‘I will get my friend David Gonski to do another review’.  

Same person’s name on the book cover means it must be the same book behind it.

You can just tell he was very pleased with his cleverness, you normally can.

He wants to make education the lowest -issue at an election and that is the key word: cost.

When conservatives look at education they see cost, not value. 

When Tanya and I and my colleagues look at education we see investment, we see investment in individual potential and social harmony and community resilience. 

We see an investment in our future. 

Education, skills, training unis, the early years - they are the luck we make ourselves as a nation.

Education transforms lives no doubt about it. All of the rolls of honour in this building are about people who understand that education transforms lives.

We see education as being the way that people gain greater control over their own lives to higher skilled, better-paid work, a greater understanding of their own capacity.

For Labor, education is the main game. 

We are going to reverse the $17 billion of cuts, we will absolutely reverse the latest round of Liberal TAFE cuts, we'll invest money to rebuild the TAFE campuses in the regions, we will keep opposing cuts to universities, increases in fees and increases in the interest rates of repayments. Because getting a degree at university should be about how hard you work, not how rich your parents are.

And we will make sure that our early years childhood educators get the priority they deserve. That first 1000 days of a child's life is precious and invaluable to the development of the adult who will emerge thereafter. 

Tanya has announced today that we will hold a once-in-a-generation national inquiry into vocational and higher education to ensure that all of the strands of post-secondary education are preparing Australians for the future and jobs of the future. 

Tanya said my mum was a teacher, my dad was a fitter and turner and then a seafarer. 

But they both said to my brother and I that we could get a degree or learn a trade, there was no view that one was more meritorious than the other. We were taught that TAFE and university were equally valuable, equally important. 

I'm proud that Tanya is driving universities and TAFE, putting them on an equal footing.

And on the research institute that she mentioned we've announced very recently I want you to understand we get the message loud and clear. It's to be research driven by teachers, for teachers, with teachers - not telling at teachers. 

And when we talk about resources in education it's not just about capital improvements or the quality of facilities. Resources and education is much more than just the headline number or the bricks and mortar.

It's about the training and support that we provide teachers in the future and on the front line.

It's not about empty lectures about telling you how to lift your standards. It's about real investment in the capacities of teachers. 

It's about making sure that every school can get additional classroom help, the individual attention to the kids - be they struggling or stretching, extending the kids who are looking for the stretching and extension.

It's about us prioritising the value of the profession and the vocation of teaching. It's about demonstrating respect for the profession of teaching. 

It's not about blaming teachers for the decline and fall of western civilisation. It's not about burdening you with the expectations you'd be Mum, Dad, dog walker, and teacher of every child that comes into your care.

Don't you feel like slapping your forehead sometimes when everyone says: ‘Well if they could just teach it in the schools, everything else would be alright.’ 

It's a bit like saying if the Internet providers could just manage their content better, we'd all be fine.

Labor does not look at education and teaching and say that if we could just get teachers to have less holidays, or demand that you do more with less, or you know all the other usual clichés which are so frustrating.

But I also think that demonstrating respect for teachers isn't about a pat on the back and a few well-chosen words of thank you.

I don't think that we can say that teaching is rewarding and assume that somehow that is reward enough

I do think it is about time we had a fair-dinkum national conversation about paying teachers properly.

I get it is a state issue and I understand all of that but I understand that we need to decide that we either value a profession or we don't.

I know that when I became Minister for Education in an 80 day period - which is now looking like an era - I did ring my mum.

I wasn't sure if I was half embarrassed but I said, 'I'm the Minister for Education, mum'

She was a teacher and then she was the graduate Dean at Monash Uni education faculty.

I thought, this is not right, she should really be the minister and I should still be doing some work.

But she did make this very clear to me and it is a view I have been raised with and it is in every part of my DNA when I talk to you today

In the 50s and 60s, teaching was a way out of the working class, it was respected calling - and for a lot of us, it still is a respected calling.

But somewhere along the line, the wages didn't keep up.

Somewhere along the line, we stopped valuing the profession of teaching in the same way that stock markets, or brokers or financial services moved along.

Now, I get that it takes more than a minute or a moment to change that debate.

But there is something fundamentally wrong with the system when, if you as teachers, to get the best pay have to stop teaching - that isn't what I think parents want.

We've got to work and support the union on how do we make sure that teachers as they develop skills get better remuneration.

Because, remember I said earlier, kids look at the values that adults priorities and take their own cue from it.

We spend so much time talking about the screens that kids can have or the shopping centres where kids go.

What about the schools we educate the kids in? And what about the value we place on teachers?

I spent all my time when I was a union rep representing shearers, gold-miners, offshore oil-rig workers, civil construction workers, concreters and netballers too, that was good outcome.                                                                                                                                                                                      

But by and large, the people that I represented didn't have to have carry a degree of emotional engagement in their work.

Every day, young people come into your classrooms, and adults, and they're trusting you to help them learn.

And your membership has to be ‘up’. It not easy to be up all the time. But you have to commit fully.

And again, I just don't think society has kept up with the role that teachers do. The importance and respect the profession deserves, the importance it has and also, the nature of the work that your members do.

So I understand, and my team understand, that we must do better when it comes to a conversation about the remuneration for teachers.

Now, I don't have all the answers but I respect and understand what you try to do on behalf of the broader teaching profession.

When the government hear that Tanya and I have spoken to the AEU, they'll call out some sort of Labor-union conspiracy.

But I'll tell you what we will do back: we will call them out on their hypocrisy.

I don't want any more conservatives nostrums and platitudes and pats on the back and saying, aren't you wonderful people.

What teachers have a right to do is say what are you doing for the kids?

What are you doing for the profession and what's your plan for the future?

I genuinely believe and I am confident and optimistic that our plan is a better plan.

We are not going to increase the taxes on people who earn less than $87,000 - that this government is currently proposing.

We are not interested in an argument which says that unions shouldn't have a right to bargain or to be able to represent workers.

We don't believe that the success is merely defined by being in the top income tax bracket - and they're the people that Mr Turnbull is reducing the tax for.

My view is that if you are a teacher in a school helping a child hanging-in there in the education system when they have got all sorts of problems at home - you are a success.

My view is that when you're a special needs teacher making sure that a child somewhere on the autism spectrum disorder is gaining knowledge - you are a success.

My view is that if you're someone who has emerged out a teaching degree and you start on your first contracts, willing to go regional Australia, far away perhaps where you live or your family are from - you are a success.

My view is that if you work at university lecturing students - you are someone who is contributing to the success of the country.

If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of underpaid early year childhood educators - you are a success.

If you work at TAFE and you're facing the cuts, the slashing, the privatisation and you're still in their teaching people seeking a second opportunity, to gain a new trade - you are a success.

When I come to this conference and the reason I was so pleased to receive the invitation to speak alongside Tanya, I just wanted to say to you this:

I respect your profession.

I respect the importance of what you do.

I respect that you choose to belong to the union.

I respect that you are looking after our kids.

I respect you are helping to retrain adults.

I respect what you do.

And the best way that I can indicate my respect is if I am elected Prime Minister:

We will properly fund education.

We will restore the profession of teaching to the position of respect it should hold in this community.

And we will do it with you, reflecting your experience.

Thank you.


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