The ACT education agenda for the next four years

The AEU is not affiliated to any political party, but based on our assessment of the various parties’ policies, we welcome the re-election of a progressive government for the ACT. We will look on with interest as Labor and the Greens negotiate their parliamentary agreement, trusting that the education promises made prior to the election will be reflected in that document.

We congratulate the ACT Greens on signing our six-point pledge. Labor could commit to four of the six points on the pledge, and made some encourage statements on the other two.

Both Labor and the Greens pledged to deliver at least 15 new psychologists for the public school system over the life of the Assembly. In fact, Labor went further by promising 20 new school psychologists for the system over the next four years (at the rate of 5 new positions per year). This is vindication for the policy position of the AEU, which has campaigned relentlessly for a significantly increased number of school psychologists since the delivery of Professor Tony Shaddock’s “Schools For All” report in 2015. We look forward to welcoming these new school psychologists into our schools.

Both the Greens and Labor committed additional tens of millions of dollars to upgrade ageing public school infrastructure, and we expect heating and cooling solutions to be an urgent priority. We wait to see if the additional money will sit aside from the Directorate’s routine capital upgrades budget, or if it will bolster that budget line as proposed by the Greens. The AEU will be seeking clarity on these matters, making no secret of the fact that the rollout of a similar 2012 election promise from Labor left much to be desired. This time, the capital boost must be delivered without equivocation.

Given the Turnbull Government’s propensity for mischief regarding the signed Gonski deal the Commonwealth made with the ACT, it is reassuring to know that both Labor and the Greens have promised to advocate actively for the continuation of needs-based funding in the Territory’s schools. As long as we have a federal Coalition Government, Gonski will be under threat, but we will have a local government that will stand up and fight for what is fair and right.

The Greens will take into its negotiations with Labor a commitment to guarantee that at least 70% of all government Vocational Education and Training (VET) funding will go to CIT, and that contestability is therefore capped at 30%. Currently the scenario is actually better than that in the ACT, but we must establish funding floors to future-proof CIT from the enormous damage wrought on the VET sector in other jurisdictions by some shonky private training providers taking advantage of appalling government policy. Labor promised to guarantee that at least 70% of ACT Government funding follows that path, but we will need them to put the same parameters on the money the ACT receives from the Commonwealth.

It was pleasing to see both the Greens and Labor commit to ensuring sustainable school teacher workloads through continuation of the funding provided in 2015 following enterprise agreement negotiations. This excellent investment equates to around $3million per annum and ensures teachers can focus more easily on their core role and spend less time on administrivia. Further, the Greens have pledged to support the union’s policy position on maximum class sizes and we will be looking for them to drag Labor across the line in this regard.

The union acknowledges that we have a government that has pledged to put public education first – to recognise that when it comes to education at all levels, a government’s primary obligation must be to public education. To their credit, both Labor and the Greens stood firm under intense lobbying pressure from the Catholic Education Commission and its support groups to step outside of the signed Gonski needs-based funding deal and splash extra cash at non-government schools. Such opportunism would have been rewarded by the Canberra Liberals, who promised $17.5 million of additional funds to students in private schools, despite the fact that non-government school students already receive their funding under the National Education Reform Agreement (or NERA). This proposal would inevitably have seen less government investment in government schools and, thankfully, it has now died alongside the electoral ambitions of the Canberra Liberals. 

The Canberra Liberals obviously calculated that they could win government without the support of thousands of the ACT’s public educators. A commitment to a boost in infrastructure spending, whilst laudable, was never going to be enough on its own. The Liberals said they heard us loud and clear about the need for additional school psychologists, but they promised to deliver not one. They spoke supportively of our campaign in 2014 to secure workload protections for school teachers, but their silence in recent weeks indicates they were happy for that crucial investment to be stripped away. They were tellingly silent on Gonski needs-based funding, instead promising sweetheart deals and double-dipping with elements of the private school lobby, just proving that they really don’t believe in the work of David Gonski and his eminent panel. They didn’t even mention CIT, one of the Territory’s most treasured institutions. In 2020, the Liberals will no doubt want to talk to AEU members about their priorities. Perhaps they will do more than nod politely.

For a union like ours, electoral politics is not everything, but it is certainly something. And as the result of the promises made by the victorious parties in this election, the future of public education looks brighter.

Glenn Fowler

Australian Education Union ACT Secretary 

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