As we head towards a federal election, campaign hubs will play a starring role. LOUISE SWINN speaks to some of the movers and shakers about the kick they get out of being involved.
For the past couple of years, the AEU’s regional campaign hubs have been getting active and leading the way on important causes. Through these hubs, active members have banded together at the local level, taking part in activist training, lobbying MPs, and recruiting hundreds of new members to the union.
During the campaign for a new Schools Agreement, the hubs were focused on achieving better working conditions for school staff. Bentleigh campaign hub leader Robyn Donoghue – who is a library/IT technician, AEU sub-branch rep and ES reference group leader at Tucker Road Bentleigh Primary School – believes “stepping into activism” is essential to improve working lives, safeguard better conditions, enhance student learning and outcomes, and push for increased funding.
For Robyn, more money would mean smaller class sizes, better technological resources, and new furniture. “A library should have a team, but I’m supposed to run the library in two days a week.”
Since the in-principle VGSA 2022 was reached, the Bentleigh hub has been working through the outcomes, seeking clarification on the new clauses and feeding this information back to their local sub-branches.
“We discuss range reviews and procedures, work out TIL policies, help with consultation, give feedback to the ES Dimensions of Work when there are grey areas,” explains Robyn. “For example, when you have dual roles, what range are you on? What does ‘under supervision’ or a ‘small group’ mean – little things with big consequences as far as pay goes. These are things that have been tidied up in the new Agreement.”
“Because a lot of people live in the area, they can take their activism directly to the politicians they’re voting for.”
More broadly, the group shares ideas on campaigning in the workplace, says Robyn. “We talk about what we can get away with when campaigning. Can we put signage up at school and wear union colours? You get a sense of someone’s way of communicating to their sub-branch – what works and what doesn’t work in their school.”
Now, many are turning their attention to the upcoming federal election. As the election looms, Robyn’s group is looking at the core community values of education, healthcare, the environment, aged care, refugees, and equal pay for women.
“Having a local focus is important, and this is where hubs can be powerful,” says Robyn. “Because a lot of people live in the area, they can take their activism directly to the politicians they’re voting for.”
These issues are also front of mind for Oberon Primary School teacher Henry Crofts, campaign hub leader for the Geelong region. “Opportunities for future generations to have gainful employment, affordable housing, and access to healthcare – those are the core issues,” he says. “Social services are the reasons we pay our taxes. The children will be the ones who take care of us in our old age, as a society, when the time comes. They’ll be calling the shots eventually – and I’m sure they’ll have long memories.”
“When people have an emotional connection with something they feel passionate about, they are more likely to be an agent of change.”
For Henry, who is also sub-branch rep, regional executive member and AEU branch councillor, hub meetings involve a dozen or so people through WhatsApp. The local focus helps. “Geelong has a proud history of unionism, from the wool industry to the Ford factory. Because we are considered a marginal seat, we can make an impact on this election.
“There are lots of areas of Geelong that are heavily disadvantaged, and those students are basically punished for a postcode. Workload is the number one issue. This VGSA will be ratified, I hope, because it’s a good one, and then we can focus on the ‘Every School Every Child’ campaign.”
A natural collaborator, Henry sees the importance of inspiring others to get active. “Many hands make light work. When people have an emotional connection with something they feel passionate about, they are more likely to be an agent of change.”
Because numbers talk, Henry and his hub colleagues printed out data sheets showing how much more money would flow to schools if funding met the agreed benchmark. “The figures are stark. Students in the Corangamite and Corio electorates lose out on $1,971 for every child each year, which equates to $25,623 over their schooling life. I have young children about to start school and that’s what I think of.”
In Henry’s hub meetings, members have also discussed the proposed Schools Agreement and the ratification process. “We ask members to turn up at the ratification meetings. In Geelong, there is the tyranny of distance and teachers are all so busy. To leave work early on behalf of their sub-branch is a big ask logistically – but we want to encourage people to have their voice and a say in what’s happening.”
“One of the big areas in our school is student wellbeing. We need funding to provide more support for kids.”
The hub means there’s a diversity of voices, including ES as well as principal class members. “This gives us a chance to realise things we might not be aware of. Sharing perspectives gives us a new view on things, so we can take different things into consideration. You get a sense of the bigger picture.”
For Fiona Finnegan, AEU rep and home economics and science teacher at Ballarat High School, the chance to meet with members from other schools gives the campaign hubs their strength. “Our main issue is workload – just having time in your day to get everything done. It’s a chance to have a voice about teacher and ES issues.”
The Ballarat group is also focused on gaining more support for students. “In our hub, we ask ourselves what would more funding mean? One of the big areas in our school is student wellbeing. We need funding to provide more support for kids.
“Our year level co-ordinators are run off their feet dealing with student support, wellbeing, and anxiety around COVID. Now we are dealing with the gaps caused by COVID. Kids with good home systems and support systems are OK, but the others, the ones we didn’t see for weeks at a time, they have gaps in their learning, and these gaps are not going to be fixed immediately.”
Regional campaign hubs have become a crucial element of the AEU’s activist base – allowing members to make connections, support each other, and find meaningful ways to campaign in their local context. This year, with voting on the VGSA 2022 underway, and both a state and a federal election approaching, these hubs will be more important than ever.
Join your local AEU campaign hub
What? Campaign hubs are (online and in-person) meetings where members in a particular region link up, share ideas, support each other, and lead the way on important causes.
Why? Our strength is in our numbers. The more members involved, the more we can collaborate, share resources, and leverage each other’s campaign ideas.
When and where? Each hub decides on the location and frequency of their meetings, which will ramp up closer to campaigns.
Who? Any rep or member can join their local hub!
How? To get involved, email our Recruitment, Training and Campaigning team: [email protected].