ANTHONY ALBANESE – SPEECH – ADDRESS TO THE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION UNION NATIONAL CONFERENCE – FRIDAY, 21 FEBRUARY 2020
THE HON ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
ADDRESS TO THE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION UNION
FRIDAY, 21 FEBRUARY 2020
When we look back on our childhoods, there are always a few figures that loom a little bigger than everyone else.
A select handful that stand like giants in the memories of our formative years.
Typically it’s our parents. Our sisters, our brothers. A best mate. That special cousin. An amazing auntie.
And always among those giants are a couple of teachers.
You know the ones. The special few, who were the magic in your education.
The few who made such a difference – not just to the path of your life but sometimes even to your understanding of yourself – that you can still picture them clearly decades later.
The clothes they wore. The way they spoke.
Their strengths and their little quirks.
Even the way they entered the classroom or walked up to the blackboard – they all had their own signature style.
Maybe you still remember the way you felt when you put up your hand and they picked you.
The way they opened up the world for you.
The way they let you in on the biggest secret of all: that you could do it.
Maybe you can even remember the shock you had in your earliest school years when you realised your teacher had a first name – and it wasn’t Miss or Mr or Mrs.
For that brief, intense time, you spent almost more time with them than with your own family.
Our teachers are there for us.
From those very early days when we’re still learning to tie our shoe laces and trying to come to grips with our ABCs.
All the way to the dawn of adulthood.
And those who teach us at TAFE, to the dawn of our working lives.
This is who our teachers are.
They’re educators and guides. They give us wisdom and inspiration.
This is the spirit that guides you and your fellow 185,000 members of the Australian Education Union.
This great family of teachers, allied educators, principals who are the backbone of our schools and our TAFEs.
Of our corrections education system, helping people get back on track.
Of our adult migrant education services, strengthening our multicultural society that so defines us as a nation.
And of course in early childhood education centres.
It all adds up to what should always be one of our great pinnacles as a society: public education.
I’m proud to say my son, Nathan, has just had a public education.
For me, his experiences were a powerful reminder of the crucial difference a good teacher and a good principal can make.
Together they make up a system that, at its best, is a system in which no one is held back, and no one is left behind.
Public education can embody the best of who we are as Australians.
Public education is equality and opportunity.
It’s what cuts the old anchor chain of social class and makes sure the circumstances of our birth do not dictate our destiny.
But it is not an invincible system.
And when ideologues are in power, we begin to see how vulnerable it is.
The hardcore of the Liberal and National Parties have sown their ideology, and we are now reaping its mean crop.
They are not the conservatives they claim to be.
What we are seeing is the actions of reactionaries and radicals bent on weakening a system that has been built painstakingly over generations – a system that is the enemy of the entrenched privilege they champion.
In Brisbane earlier this week, I delivered the fourth of my Vision Statements. I spoke about older Australians and the imperative we have to make sure our later years are good years.
We have to do it for older Australians now, and the older Australians of the future – us.
But one of the big obstacles we are up against is a Government without a plan.
A Government that stirs from its inertia once in a while to wage war on older Australians.
Whether it’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg calling them an “economic timebomb” …
… or Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck unleashing the conscience-free forces of the market on older Australians just as are about to enter aged care …
… or Scott Morrison attacking the age pension every chance he got when he was Treasurer.
Is it any wonder Scott Morrison prefers Australians to be quiet?
Just as this Government wages war on older Australians, they also make it harder for our youngest Australians – and their teachers.
It’s been going on for a while now.
Given how surprised and unprepared they seem to be on the Government benches, you would be forgiven for forgetting that the Liberal and National Parties are actually in their seventh year of power.
And instead of a plan to strengthen public education, all we have got from them is hostility and cuts.
No one understands this better than you.
Labor stands with you.
But clearly not everyone is on our side.
When you look at Government funding, what you see is complete favouritism towards the private sector.
And it is bewildering.
Take for, example, their decision last November to hand over $10 million to schools in drought-affected communities.
But only to private ones.
I’ll turn to what your President, Correna Haythorpe, said at the time.
“We have thousands of government schools – more than 80 per cent of students in rural and remote areas are in public schools and they are deeply impacted by drought. To privilege one sector over another is to further entrench a level of inequality.”
I think Correna was admirably restrained under the circumstances.
Of course it is great that there are schools in stricken communities getting some extra funding.
But what about public schools?
Public schools parents and families are struggling, too.
What is the Government doing to help them?
It’s what we have come to expect from a Government that is uncomfortable around anything until it has been safely privatised.
It’s not just schools. Last year, the Government cut funding for TAFE and training by a staggering $326 million.
An almost 11 per cent drop.
Over the past five years the Liberals spent nearly $1 billion less than they promised on TAFE, training and apprenticeships.
The Liberals have already created a skills crisis in Australia. These cuts will only make things worse.
Labor sees an alternative future.
A future of opportunities that we can plan for with care, hope and optimism.
My first Vision Statement last year was about Jobs and the Future of Work.
It will be a new national partnership to drive improved outcomes in the vocational education and training sector and to strengthen workforce planning, particularly in the growing sectors of our economy.
And it will be a genuine partnership across all sectors – unions; education providers; business leaders; State and Territory governments; and those who understand particular regions.
It will be based on a proven model of collaboration.
It will ensure that the Commonwealth works genuinely with the States and Territories to ensure that our VET system delivers the trainees and apprentices that our country needs.
The TAFE system is the cornerstone of the Australian training system. It can be complemented, but never replaced.
At the other end of the education spectrum, you’ve got early childhood educators.
When you’ve got all the boxes ticked there, it gives parents peace of mind.
It gives them confidence that their children are getting a good start in life while they go to work.
This is a government that does not believe in the benefits of early education.
There is no other explanation for their baffling refusal to fund our preschools.
All we get from the Liberals are short-term funding extensions to the national preschool program.
There have been six funding agreements in six years of this government.
In their last budget, just before the last election, they rolled over funding for another 12 months, obviously just to get them through the campaign.
It was another budget con from a government with no plan.
Parents, educators and experts have campaigned for years for permanent funding for four-year-old pre-schoolers, and to extend the program to three-year-olds.
The Liberals refused to listen and instead only provided another 12 months of funding for four year olds.
The funding runs out at the end of this school year. The clock is ticking. 350,000 four year olds and their families are in limbo, once again.
They it just isn’t possible to fund preschools for longer because he claims there are problems with data and attendance rates.
They have used this line for three years in a row.
How long do you need to prepare a plan? They’ve had a plan for a plan for three years now.
A Government down on education and unions
The problem is fundamental.
This Government is filled with members who view education with suspicion.
We’ve long been the beneficiaries of all that flowed from the Enlightenment.
What we’re facing is the opposite – maybe we could call it the Endarkenment.
We are seeing a turning away from knowledge. A rejection of science, reason and facts.
A world in which opinion ever more frequently has the upper hand over proof.
It’s an attitude that was exemplified recently when Liberal Senator JIm Molan was quizzed on Q&A about his views on climate change. He replied, “I don’t rely on evidence.”
It’s exemplified by Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly nearly every time he opens his mouth.
Then you have Gerard Rennick, one of the latest Coalition additions to the Senate.
Senator Rennick thinks the Bureau of Meteorology is fiddling its figures as part of a global warming agenda.
These are people look at science – which represents the accumulation of centuries of education, knowledge and curiosity.
They look at science and, from inside the impregnable fortress of their own certainty, denounce it as a religion or a cult.
I can only imagine their old teachers must shake their heads.
But we cannot shrug our shoulders and hope that this just an aberration, a little blip in history that will sort itself out.
Earlier today I have spoken again about climate change and the need to take action.
Real, meaningful action.
It’s not something we can expect from this Government and its disingenuous talk of carry over credits. Cooking the books isn’t going to cut it when the planet is heating up.
I spoke about Labor’s plans to tackle climate.
We don’t simply believe in climate change. This isn’t a matter of gut feeling or going on a hunch.
We accept the scientific evidence and the need to act on the advice of experts.
And the usual suspects will speak out against it.
We are counting on you to arrest this rise of ignorance as you educate our future generations.
We are counting on you to fight.
You have certainly proven your ability to fight,
You are one of the biggest unions in Australia.
And like every other union in Australia, this Government has you in its sights.
According to them, the regular law that applies to everyone else – including corporations and, yes, even politicians – somehow isn’t enough for you.
They look at the union movement and they do not see women and men working hard to make lives better for our fellow Australians, they see an enemy.
This Government wants to push down the very union movement has lifted us all up.
That’s what their Ensuring Integrity Bill is.
A separate law that will apply to you as if you are a separate species.
A law that is about integrity only in name.
A law that in practice is only about ideology.
A law that ignores the clear evidence that the laws we already have are more than up to the job.
As we’ve seen repeatedly – not least during our recent bushfire crisis – evidence just isn’t one of their things.
But when it comes to integrity, it’s worth pausing for a moment and reminding ourselves just where it is that this Government stands.
This is a Government that has been consistently loose with the truth.
A Government that still has Angus Taylor on its frontbench.
When you consider everything Angus has been involved in – or at least involved suspiciously near – you’d have to open your mind to the possibility that he is the world’s first Teflon-based lifeform.
A Government that tried buying its way back into power by rorting on an industrial scale, dudding the hardworking volunteers in community sports clubs into believing this Prime Minister’s rhetoric.
That if they had a go, they’d get a go.
What happened instead is that when they had a go, they got done over.
There was never any level playing field – there was just rorting on an industrial scale.
The spending of public money for purely political purposes.
A cynical scheme that went all the way up to the Prime Minister’s Office.
And they want to talk about integrity.
And when, under pressure, these beacons of integrity finally admit that they just might have done something that isn’t quite right, what do they do?
They commission one of their own to write a report that no one else is allowed to see.
The thought of them – of all people – wanting to police someone else’s integrity is quite something.
It’s like the members of AC/DC turning up on your doorstep and asking you to turn the music down.
They don’t understand the union movement because they don’t want to.
The power, strength and effectiveness of collectiveness is anathema to their sterile ideology of individualism.
What they are rejecting is the Australian instinct to come together for the greater good.
Our innate understanding that we are always stronger together.
That is the core essence of community, what is a union but a community?
You came together in the election campaign.
You talked the talk. But even more importantly, you walked the walk.
Before the last election campaign, you put in the dollars – significant dollars – and you campaigned hard.
You made nearly 38,000 phone calls to members in marginal seats and had nearly 7500 conversations.
You talked with parents at public schools in marginal seats and let them know what a difference a Labor government would make to their school.
Your targeted online campaigning saw you reach more than 200,000 people every day on social media.
You put out half a million flyers.
What you showed us was energy, dedication, stamina and focus.
And you showed us what solid commitment to a just cause looks like.
The last election might not have turned as we hoped, but I am optimistic about the future.
For Labor, you will be an important part of the policy process.
There is a road ahead. It’s a long one and the going won’t be easy
But we will be on it together.
And you will make a difference – because that is what you do.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.