Clear choice on education policy

ALP leader Bill Shorten announces his school funding plan with AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe, Victorian Branch President Meredith Peace and ALP shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek

Recent announcements by the Labor Party on schools funding, early childhood and TAFE highlight differences between the major parties, writes Jarvis Ryan

Education is once again shaping up as a federal election battleground. The Morrison Government has nailed its colours to the mast with a cash splurge for private schools and not an extra cent for public education.

By contrast, Bill Shorten and the Labor Party have provided hope that a change of government will lead to improvements in education policy and funding.

Shorten announced in October that a Labor government would inject an additional $14.1 billion into public schools over the next decade.

This funding commitment includes $3.3 billion in the first three school years (2020-2022), the equivalent of 8250 extra teachers. Mr Shorten also committed to smash the Liberal National Coalition’s arbitrary 20 per cent cap on federal funding for public schools, and to work with state and territory governments to bring all public schools to 100 percent of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS).

By comparison, the Morrison’s government cut public school funding by $14 billion, including by $1.9 billion in 2018 and 2019. Recently Prime Minister Morrison announced a $4.6 billion special funding deal targeted solely at private schools.

Labor’s SRS commitment is especially important for Northern Territory public schools, currently funded at 24 per cent of the SRS by the Commonwealth, but facing a decade of cuts under the Coalition model.

Early childhood
The schools funding announcement followed a commitment to extend funding for universal access to preschool for four-year-old children to three-year-olds, at an estimated cost of $1.75 billion.

The importance of children under the age of five getting the best start in life in social, emotional and cognitive development is well-established in research, with up to 90 per cent of a child’s physical brain development occurring in these crucial years.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds will benefit most from earlier access to education programs, giving them a greater chance to close the gap with peers from wealthier backgrounds.

Australia currently ranks 23rd in spending on early childhood education (ECE) among OECD nations as a proportion of GDP, behind countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Russia.

An important component of Labor’s commitment is providing a longer-term commitment to ECE funding, as opposed to the Coalition, which has only guaranteed funding for 2019.

Shorten has promised to rescue Australia’s ailing TAFE system, which has been decimated by cuts and deregulation since the early 2000s, saying that employers have become reliant on foreign labour as a cheaper option than training workers.

“I think we’ve got about 1.6 million people in Australia at the moment who have a visa that gives them temporary work rights. That is addictive to the Australian economy and it means we’re not training up enough of our own young people – and some not-so-young people too,” Shorten told Fairfax media.

“I think the system is sprawling out of control – I think that there shouldn’t be a temporary labour worker from overseas a day longer than we can take to train one of our own… We are always going to have some guest labour from overseas but I think the pendulum has swung too far.”

In his Budget reply speech in May, Shorten pledged that Labor would scrap upfront fees for 100,000 TAFE students. He has also said that at least one in ten workers on any federally-funded project should be an apprentice.

AEU members can be proud of the efforts of our lobbying. Now it’s time to get the message out to voters about the importance of education and equity! 

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* This article was written for the Term 4 edition of our Territory Educator magazine.