For everyone From your president: The way ahead

AEU Victoria president Meredith Peace

What a term it has been. With COVID-19 and the flu leading to staff shortages across the education sector, it’s been a challenging and jam-packed nine-week term.

In the midst of it all, we’ve experienced a change of government. This was an important victory for the union movement and the broader community, with Australians sending a clear message that they want strong action on climate change, equality and political integrity.

At the AEU, our attention has now turned to ensuring that the Albanese government not only implements its pre-election promises, but also commits to ongoing reform across all our sectors. We look forward to working with the Labor ministers who have responsibility for education, along with the Greens and the new independents, two of whom are from Victoria.

The AEU federal executive met in mid-June to identify the union’s critical goals and map out our strategies to achieve them. In schools, we want Labor to follow through on its commitment to securing a new funding deal that sets every Australian public school on a clear path to reaching 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) as a matter of urgency.

The longer our students wait for fair funding, the longer they are denied the resources they need.

It is a disgrace that students in Victoria’s government schools are only funded to 90.4% of the SRS, whilst all non-government schools are already at or above 100%. Currently, Australia has one of the most inequitable education systems in the world – and the longer our students wait for fair funding, the longer they are denied the resources they need.

The National Schools Reform Agreement, which determines funding arrangements between federal and state/territory governments, is due for renewal next year. The AEU will be working with both levels of government to make sure Victorian schools get a fairer deal.

The Andrews government has expressed a long-held view that the federal government should increase its contribution to the SRS from 20% to 25%. We expect them to maintain this demand as a minimum in next year’s negotiations. With a state election in November, we will also be calling on the Andrews government to increase their current contribution of 70.4%. For public schools to reach at least 100% of the SRS, we need both the state and federal governments to lift their contributions.

Nationally, TAFE has been neglected by successive Coalition governments, all of whom favoured the privatisation of vocational education. The new government provides greater optimism for a sector that has endured years of funding cuts. While there has been welcome investment from the Andrews government, Victoria’s TAFEs are still not funded to cover the full cost of course delivery, putting them in a precarious financial position.

Labor has committed to direct at least 70% of vocational education funding to TAFE, ending the privatisation by stealth under previous Liberal governments. Albanese has promised a $1.2 billion skills plan, including 465,000 fee-free TAFE places; $100 million for New Energy apprenticeships; and a $50 million TAFE technology fund for upgraded facilities. The National Skills Agreement, shelved prior to the election, will be critical to ensuring TAFE resumes its place at the centre of vocational education, and on a more secure financial footing.

Following years of campaigning by AEU members and early childhood advocates, the Victorian government has pledged to invest $9 billion to expand four-year-old preschool to a new ‘pre-prep’ program over the coming decade, as well as making three- and four-year-old kinder free. We will continue pushing the federal government to contribute to the cost of three-year-old kinder, and to develop a national strategy to ensure we have the workforce needed to deliver on these important initiatives.

The Commonwealth plays a critical role in providing necessary funding, as well as safeguarding the quality and consistency of approaches to education across the country. For these reasons alone, it is essential that we continue to raise the voice of our profession. Far too often, those with vested interests – and little direct experience or understanding of our profession – seek to control how we do our work and the resources required.

It is pleasing to have a federal government with a much greater commitment to public education than we’ve seen over the past nine years – however, the work of the AEU remains critical to ensuring that all students get the education and support they deserve.

I want to acknowledge the work and commitment of members in Term 2, which has been an especially difficult period in all of our sectors. I hope everyone finds some time during the break to rest and recover. I look forward to meeting with members again in Term 3, as we work to ensure that public education gets the resources and investment promised by our new federal government.

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