After the federal election – where to from here?

There are tough times ahead for NT education, meaning it’s more important than ever to stick together, writes Branch President Jarvis Ryan

In a surprise result, Scott Morrison and the Coalition have been returned to government. We are now confronted with a political reality that few were expecting.

The AEU is proud of the campaign we ran across the country for Fair Funding Now. AEU leadership advocated for a change of government because we believed it was the only way for public education to receive the recognition and resourcing required to close the substantial achievement gap between rich and poor in this country.

Our campaign still has widespread community support. This election result was not in any way a repudiation of our push for genuine, equitable, needs-based funding of schools, and renewed investment in early childhood and vocational education.

Clearly though, education alone wasn’t enough of a vote changer to change the government.

Where does this leave us? With a conservative Morrison government, there will likely be no improvement to current funding arrangements for schools, preschools and VET. We can almost certainly expect further attacks on unions, and in the case of the teaching profession, further attempts to undermine professional autonomy, such as with the introduction of a national standardised phonics test for 5-year olds.

For Northern Territory public schools, the future is grim. Under legislation passed by the Morrison (then Turnbull) Government in 2017, federal funding for public schools is now capped at 20% of the agreed resourcing benchmark, the SRS. NT public schools are currently funded at 23% of the SRS by the federal government.

The bilateral funding agreement the Gunner Government signed in December locks in 10 years of cuts from the Commonwealth.

Due to the tough economic and fiscal situation in the NT, it is highly unlikely the NT Government will be willing or able to pick up the slack, meaning our schools are likely to tread water at best. The latest NT Budget provides only a 1.7% increase in funding to public schools for 2020 – that’s a cut in real terms, once 2.5% salary increases are factored in.

Despite continuing heroic efforts from teachers and educators, without the necessary funding to invest in additional teachers, upskilling of staff, quality programs and evaluation, and so much more, NT education outcomes will likely remain sub-par, feeding into ever greater levels of spending on incarceration, welfare and health.

It’s a vicious cycle all too familiar to educators and many Territorians.

Also of concern on the local front is the potential for further austerity from the Gunner Government. The recent announcement that teacher housing subsidies in Katherine would be reduced could be the tip of the iceberg.

Michael Gunner and his cabinet have endorsed every key recommendation of the recent Langoulant budget repair report, which includes proposals to overhaul public sector employment conditions and industrial relations, including a ban on back pay in future negotiations and a foreshadowed pay offer of just $1000 per annum for all public servants (less than 1% for a CT9) in our next round of bargaining in 2021.

The current situation is challenging to say the least. But we will not give up. That’s not what teachers do. That’s not what unionists do.

On the positive side, our salaries and many of our conditions are protected in an industrial agreement for the next two and a half years. We have strength in numbers – with more than 2000 members, and we are growing stronger all the time – and the ability and willingness to mobilise in support of our objectives.

In tough times, it’s more important than ever that we stand together – to defend what we have, and to continue to fight for our vision for an inclusive, well-funded education system as the bedrock for a fair society.

The AEU will never give up on this vision.

This article appeared as an editorial in the Term 2, 2019 edition of the Territory Educator magazine.