AEUNT 2016 Conference Report

Reflecting on the year and preparing for the challenges ahead.

Our annual conference held from 20-22 May at the Darwin Airport Resort was a great success, with 62 delegates from 50 sub-branches participating.

In an election year, our union is seeking commitments from politicians about their plans for public education. To that end, the leaders of the major parties were invited to speak.

Chief Minister Adam Giles attended along with the Education Minister, Peter Chandler. Unfortunately the Chief Minister used his allotted time to read a long list of his government’s achievements rather than engage with the real concerns our members have about cuts to staffing, workloads and the future of remote education, to name just a few.

Opposition Leader Michael Gunner’s pledge to restore more than 160 teaching positions cut under the CLP Government was well received, as was his commitment to stop the current Indigenous Education Strategy in its tracks and give power back to Indigenous people through a Community Led Schools initiative.

The Department of Education (DoE) Chief Executive, Ken Davies, addressed delegates and talked about his commitment to promoting more permanent employment opportunities for contract-based staff. This is an area of great concern for the union and we have made it a major priority.

A highlight for many delegates was the fiery speech by John Falzon, the CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society, who talked about inequality and the importance of fighting for social justice.

The central theme that emerged from the motions received from sub-branches was how cuts to school budgets have impacted on the learning conditions of students and the working conditions of staff. For students, it means less support for those with high needs such as vision and hearing impaired kids. For teaching staff, it means crushing workloads and erosion of workplace rights such as non-contact time.

A major problem we face in getting people active in the union is fear that they will be targeted by managers or fall foul of the code of conduct. James Burke from Hall Payne lawyers delivered a very useful seminar on the rights of public sector employees and union members to make public comment and participate in political activity.

Overall, there was a real buzz from delegates, with many saying it was the best AEU conference they had attended. There was a strong feeling if unity after some difficult years for the union, and many delegates reported that they felt this event positioned us well for the year ahead, with federal and Territory elections coming and then another phase of enterprise bargaining.

In his report, Branch President Jarvis Ryan emphasised the need for the union to grow to become stronger industrially and financially. Conference endorsed a review of the union’s membership fee structures to look at ways of making membership more attractive to groups currently underrepresented, particularly principals, support staff and assistant teachers.

Branch Secretary Anita Jonsberg talked about the work the union had undertaken throughout the previous year, in particular negotiating over various matters with the DoE and providing advice and assistance to more than 400 members.

A bittersweet moment was recognising the incredible contribution of Nadine Williams, who is retiring at the end of June after an incredibly dedicated career over more than 30 years as an educator and unionist in the Territory. Nadine was unanimously endorsed for life membership of the AEU. This will be formally endowed at our federal conference in February next year.

Nadine’s retirement means there will no longer be a dedicated organiser for Central Australia. Instead the union will appoint a Darwin-based officer with a mandate to focus on recruitment and servicing of members across the entire Territory. The Full-Time Officers will develop a remote travel plan to ensure all remote regions continue to be supported by the union.

The annual Quality Educator Award was won by Sarah Calvert at Darwin High School. She will receive a $1000 JB Hi-Fi voucher sponsored by Fleet Network. Sarah will receive her prize next week. We received a small number of nominations but the quality of those received was extremely high.

We’d like to thank our sponsors for their generous support over the weekend: Fleet Network, Hall Payne, Teachers Health, Teachers Mutual Bank and ME Bank. Thanks also to the DoE for releasing delegates to attend on the Friday, and to Storm Cell TV who filmed much of the Conference – we will be making further videos available in coming weeks.

Next year’s conference will take place in Alice Springs on a date to be determined. Our annual conference is an important forum for members like you to have a say about the direction of our union. So why not consider attending next year? All sub-branches (workplaces) can send a delegate and the cost of travel and accommodation is fully funded by the union.