For everyone Australia deserves better

AEU Victoria president Meredith Peace

The Morrison government has shown nothing but contempt for Australian workers and for public education, choosing to ignore the obvious link between a lack of funding and the unnacceptable rise in inequality.

Twelve months ago, I wrote here about the need to maintain momentum for change. This was off the back of the March4Justice rallies around the country, which highlighted the concerns and anger about the prevalence of gender inequality and violence against women, not only in our federal parliament but also in the wider community.

Around the same time, the AEU launched our Rebuild with TAFE campaign and the national schools funding campaign, Every School Every Child.

This edition of AEU News features some of our regional campaign hubs, initially set up to connect members living in the same area to take local action in support of the VGSA campaign. The proposed Schools Agreement – recently endorsed by the majority of schools members – shows just what what we can achieve when we act collectively.

Now, these campaign hubs will be turning their attention to the upcoming federal election.

In recent years, Australians have experienced some of the most significant challenges we’ve ever faced – fires, floods, a global pandemic, along with skyrocketing job insecurity and cost of living pressures. The Morrison government has done nothing to show it understands, let alone cares, about the difficulties many Australians confront each day. With the election only weeks away, it is time to make sure that momentum for change is magnified.

“The Morrison government has actively favoured the private sector on every front, wilfully neglecting the needs of our public school, TAFE, disability, and early childhood sectors.”

In responding to the Respect at Work Report, the Morrison government has been all talk and no action. They were missing in action during and after the bushfires, more focused on trying to divert attention away from their dangerous inaction on climate.

From the outset of the COVID pandemic, Morrison was all for opening up as quickly as possible, but failed to order enough vaccines and rapid antigen tests, or take any other adequate measures to protect the most vulnerable. Throw in sports rorts, carpark rorts, Robodebt – not to mention a general penchant for blame-shifting, cost-cutting and generally avoiding responsibility for any crises we confront – it’s difficult to feel any confidence in this government’s capacity to lead.

When it comes to the issue closest to my heart – public education – the Morrison government has actively favoured the private sector on every front, wilfully neglecting the needs of our public school, TAFE, disability, and early childhood sectors. 

Looking back at my column from the start of 2021, I was reacting to the then federal education minister Alan Tudge’s claim that the “so-called funding wars” were over. Repeatedly, Tudge levelled the blame for a drop in student outcomes not at a lack of adequate funding, but a lack of teacher quality, seeking to launch schemes to attract more “talented people” into the profession. 

No real surprise, then, when acting federal education minister Stuart Robert went one step further, openly exposing his government’s ideological position at a recent independent schools conference.

According to Robert (the man responsible for Robodebt, while racking up a $38,000 debt himself for illegitimate claims for home internet use), Australia’s declining student results are not the fault of independent schools, who do not accept “dud teachers”, but the “bottom 10% of teachers dragging the chain” in the public system, where they are protected from being fired. “Trust me, they didn’t come from your schools”, he told the conference.

“The Morrison government wants to convince us all that it is up to the states to do the heavy lifting, while they pour billions of dollars into non-government schools.”

As AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe told Guardian Australia, “Public school teachers have always been an easy target for politicians like Minister Robert, who think that a cheap and easy headline that attacks teachers about declining educational outcomes will let his government off the hook for their failure to prioritise public education.”

The Morrison government wants to convince us all that it is up to the states to do the heavy lifting, while they pour billions of dollars into non-government schools, continue to push a privatisation agenda for vocational education, and refuse to acknowledge the mountain of evidence supporting the importance of two years of preschool education.

At every turn, they have chosen to ignore the obvious link between a lack of government investment in public education and the unacceptable rise in inequality between our most advantaged and disadvantaged students.

As outlined in this edition of AEU News, the federal Labor opposition has made a number of important election commitments regarding public schools, TAFE, the NDIS, and climate change. There is still much more to be done, but what is clear is that we cannot afford three more years of a government that has shown no leadership, no vision for a sustainable future, and no willingness to invest in something as precious and fundamental as our public education system.

It is time for change. We deserve better.

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    As we gear up for a state election, the AEU is focused on holding the Andrews government to account when it comes to fair funding for public education and a plan for addressing staff shortages that respects and values the profession. Read more in our Term 3, 2022 edition of AEU News.

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