For everyone From your president: Maintaining the momentum for change

AEU Victoria president Meredith Peace

The disturbing reports of sexual abuse and ongoing evidence of a toxic culture in our federal parliament are a shock but not a surprise. Sadly, too many of us have experienced or witnessed such behaviour in our daily lives, including in our workplaces. 

I joined thousands of women and allies in Melbourne at the March 4 Justice rally in March. This powerful, nationwide event has encouraged deep conversations and it’s vital that we maintain the momentum for change. We know that listening to those affected is a vital first step in acknowledging trauma, repairing damage and achieving positive change. 

On that front, the AEU has welcomed the Andrews government’s announcement of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, in partnership with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, marking the beginning of a long overdue conversation and a genuine commitment to reconciliation. Among the truths shared on the impact of colonisation, we expect to hear about incidents in Victoria’s education system – and hope that recognising this history will help us to better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into the future.

TAFE has transformed the lives of millions. One in three Victorians cite a VET qualification as their highest level of learning.

In February, union representatives gathered in Canberra to launch #RebuildWithTAFE for a positive future, calling on governments to recognise and support TAFE’s essential role in meeting the needs of students, industry and the economy.

TAFE has transformed the lives of millions. One in three Victorians cite a VET qualification as their highest level of learning. And yet, the Morrison government has completely neglected this vital sector. We need AEU members from every sector to get behind this campaign to pressure state and federal governments to invest in a sector that provides an essential pathway for students – and that is critical to our economic recovery.

On 23 March, the AEU also launched the next phase of our national schools funding campaign, Every School, Every Child. This campaign continues our long-term push for all governments to fund public schools adequately and fairly. The fact that we have to keep campaigning for something so basic and essential is a national disgrace. But until we win, the current gap in student achievement will continue to widen.

In a recent speech, new federal education minister Alan Tudge declared the “so-called funding wars” over. Clearly, Tudge has chosen to ignore the obvious link between the level of government investment and the major gap in equity between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

At this rate, new research shows, by 2029 public schools will be underfunded by $60 billion; private schools overfunded by $6bn.

The latest Report into Government Services shows that private school funding per student grew 2.7 times faster than public school funding per student over the past decade. In Victoria, at most, public schools will only reach 93% of the schooling resource standard by 2023 (the officially recognised amount needed to meet student need), while all private schools are either already at 100% or will be
by 2023. At this rate, new research shows, by 2029 public schools will be underfunded by $60 billion; private schools overfunded by $6bn.

When governments refuse to address this reality, they are in effect accepting the notion that some students don’t deserve the same opportunities as others, simply because of their circumstances.

Every School, Every Child will focus on what it would mean for schools if they received full funding: extra teachers, more support for students, smaller class sizes, extra support staff, better facilities and more one-on-one support for kids who need it. In addition, this investment would help alleviate the unsustainable workloads of staff in schools – also the main focus of our Schools Agreement campaign.

While in Canberra, we also met with Minister Tudge and Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek to reinforce the need for secure, ongoing early childhood funding and for government investment to enable two years of preschool education for all children.

As you have probably heard, the union movement has won a major battle against the Morrison government’s latest attack on the rights of workers. While its ‘Omnibus Bill’ passed the Senate on
18 March (the Morrison government doing a deal with crossbenchers in Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Centre Alliance Party), it was effectively gutted due to the successful lobbying of unions, with only one of the five main elements passed. Unfortunately, this element gives employers even more power to designate a worker as a ‘casual’, with fewer rights than permanent employees, even if the work performed is regular and permanent, and reduced liability for employers who deliberately misclassify casual workers.

All of these political events highlight the critical importance of people working collectively to achieve change – something that is central to the union movement. We are living in volatile times, and our capacity to unite will be critical to our chances of creating a more inclusive and equitable society and to delivering better outcomes for AEU members. I look forward to standing with you throughout 2021.

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The common theme for Term 1 has been the power of connection. Meeting each other face to face. Listening and being heard. As educators, your voice is a powerful tool for change. We hope you hear your voice reflected here.

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