The election result gives us much reason for optimism – but we won’t stop campaigning until public education gets the full support it needs.
In many respects, this year’s state election has been like no other. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given this long-running pandemic and all that we have experienced recently as a profession and as a community.
The two major parties offered an array of promises during their election campaigns, but the process was marred by a level of vitriol, mud-slinging and gutter politics – particularly from extreme parties and the Murdoch media – that we haven’t seen before in a state election. No doubt this prompted Premier Andrews’ comment in his acceptance speech that: “Hope beats hate all of the time”.
It is useful to reflect on this at a time when too many members are having to endure toxic behaviours in the workplace – something that stands in stark contrast to the values we teach our young people in kindergartens, schools and TAFE. It makes the work that our members do all the more challenging when students observe a lack of respect from parents and the wider community – often fuelled by the media – and have to combat the lies and conspiracy theories being pedalled by many who should know better.
In the AEU’s election analysis, our focus was on public education and the track records and policy commitments of the major parties. We urged members to put the Liberals last, based on Matthew Guy’s reckless grab-bag of limited promises and the devastating actions of previous Liberal governments. Matthew Guy was ominously silent on all the key issues for public education, including funding for schools, TAFEs and kindergarten – and the Victorian community has sent a clear message that they want to live in a progressive state.
Our focus now turns to holding the Andrews government to its promises for public education, and to our ongoing campaigns to secure further, much-needed investment across all of our sectors.
Congratulations to the many AEU members who participated in our election activities, including campaign hubs, state-wide public education forums, handing out how-to-vote cards, writing to MPs, phone banking, and sharing union posts on social media.
There is nothing more powerful than hearing directly from the profession.
The voice of AEU members is a trusted one in the community, making your stories critical to our campaigning. There is nothing more powerful than hearing directly from the profession about your day-to-day work and the resources that you need to give students the education they deserve. At polling booths, voters took a strong interest in our message about the need for fairer funding for public education. This should boost our confidence in the ongoing fight for greater investment in our workplaces and our profession.
Early years learning was Labor’s lead promise in education. Victoria will see fee-free kindergarten for all three- and four-year-olds from 2023, with the rollout and expansion of these programs over the next ten years; plus, increased investment in scholarships and incentives to attract and retain teachers and educators in the sector.
We should not underestimate the significance of this commitment to fully fund preschool programs. AEU members campaigned for this long and hard – and this win is testament to the determination of our early childhood members over many years. The challenge now will be to attract and retain the workforce needed to provide increased hours of kindergarten. With a minimum of 15,000 additional teachers and educators needed across the sector, this will require ongoing investment from government.
Our long-term advocacy to see TAFE firmly at the centre of the vocational education sector has also paid off, with the Andrews government’s commitment to legislate for 70% of total government VET funding to be directed to TAFE. However, more investment is needed to attract new teachers, including financial support while they gain teaching qualifications. Overall funding for TAFE also remains inadequate. TAFE courses must be funded to cover the actual cost of delivery. We’ve had many reviews recommending an overhaul of TAFE funding, and it is high time the government acted.
In schools, Labor has committed to invest in new school buildings and upgrades – essential to keep up with student growth and to ensure access to modern learning facilities. We welcome this investment. But we will keep up our pressure on Labor to ensure that public schools are funded to 100% of the resource standard set by the federal government, as a matter of urgency. Public schools must be funded fairly, and this must be achieved in the forthcoming negotiations for a new national schools funding agreement.
Workforce issues also remain critical for both state and federal governments. In the AEU’s Ten-Year Plan for Staffing in Public Education, we said government had to be bold – and we will maintain this message until we see enough secure and qualified staff employed in all of our schools, kindergartens and TAFEs. The Andrews government must heed that message and act now.