In opening the 112th Queensland Teachers’ Union State Conference, and in the spirit of reconciliation, I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Jagera and Turrbul peoples, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and future, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Indigenous Australia. We must remember that under the concrete and asphalt, the land, sea and waterways were, and always will be, traditional Indigenous land. 

I also acknowledge and pay respect to those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, members of Australia’s first nations, who are present in the room as delegates and guests.

Life members of the QTU, my fellow Senior Officers, QTU Executive members and Trustees, past QTU Presidential officers Lyle Schuntner, Mary Kelly AM, Ian Mackie, Julie-Anne McCullough, Steve Ryan, Julie Brown and Lyn Winch, past QTU General Secretary John Battams, the Honourable Yvette D’Ath MP – Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for Training and Skills, Ms Tracey Davis MP – Member for Aspley and Opposition Education Spokesperson, Senator Larissa Waters – Senator for Queensland and co-deputy leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Anthony Chisholm – Labor Senator for Queensland, Ms Susan Lamb MP - Member for Longman, leaders of our comrade unions and peak bodies, Dr Jim Watterston – Director-General of Education and Training, Ms Patrea Walton PSM – Deputy Director-General of Education and other senior officers of the Department of Education and Training and TAFE Queensland, leaders and special guests from our kindred and associated organisations, QTU staff and Officers, and most importantly, delegates and observers. 

The QTU is 128 years old. The 2017 QTU Conference is the seventeenth I have attended since becoming a teacher and my third QTU Conference as President. For many of you this will be your first conference and you may not know what to expect. Over the next three days, the elected delegates to this supreme decision-making body of our Union, will ponder many weighty topics and set the strategic direction of our Union for the next two years. We will build on the strong democratic traditions of our organisation to discuss, debate and decide the issues that matter to teachers and leaders in schools and TAFE. You will have the chance to meet friends old and new and to build strong networks that will stay with you on your journey through your teaching vocation and your life in our Union family. We will remember those we have lost over the past two years. We will honour those who have gone above and beyond to dedicate significant personal and professional time to the work of our Union. And, despite what the General Secretary usually says, we will even have a little fun along the way.

Let me make this clear, you are part of something big. You are one of more than 44,000 members of the QTU. You are one of the nearly 200,000 members of both the Queensland Council of Unions and the Australian Education Union. You are one of two million members of the mighty Australian union movement and one of thirty million members of Education International, our world education union. I bet you didn’t know you had so many sisters and brothers in union. And, despite the relentless efforts of conservative political and social forces and often unquestioning media to say otherwise, you are part of a movement that acts ethically and morally on altruistic motivations to leave the world we live in a better place for those who come after us.

As a leader of our great union, I have the privilege of working across Australia and in other parts of the world with dedicated teacher unionists who are living with and challenging some of the same issues that you see every day. We should also be aware that around the world our sisters and brothers in the teaching profession face unimaginable hardships. We are acutely aware of the exploitation of teachers and principals and students and their families at home and abroad as corporations mobilise to reap megaprofits from education – shamelessly purloining public money to line the pockets of shareholders while delivering shoddy education or indeed, no education at all.

The theme of this 112th QTU Conference is blazoned all around you: "Where industrial meets professional". In passionately pursuing our purpose of promoting and protecting public education, we, teachers all of us, enjoy a unique blend of absolute commitment as a professional educator with a belief that collective action through our industrial organisation delivers a superior opportunity to positively influence our working lives as teachers and leaders and the learning conditions of the students we teach. With the mixing of those two powerful ways of working, our Union is greater than the sum of its parts. This conference will contribute to the long and expanding list of examples of how effective we are in winning with members.

So, after those few opening remarks, let me get to the substance of my address today. I will speak about two issues of importance in our industrial and professional lives: school funding and rebuilding TAFE.

Over the past few weeks, the school funding debate in this country has been turned on its head. In a plan of apparent evil genius, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and federal Education and Training Minister Senator Simon Birmingham sequestered the Gonski brand that had spearheaded our campaign with the Australian Education Union to achieve a fair, needs-based, sector blind school funding model for all Australian children.

Many of us held real fears that the move represented a fatal threat to our decade-long campaign, a threat that had the potential to squander the hopes of a generation of students and their families, hopes also shared by teachers and school leaders, that the federal government would deliver a share of funding for schools commensurate with its capacity to raise revenue.

With hollow rhetoric about the Turnbull plan for school funding being needs-based, fair and equal (note equal not equitable), the Coalition federal government splashed out on a massive push to sell its new deal for schools. However, as is so often the case when a thing is done out of ill-intent, the Turnbull plan quickly began to decay. The Catholic Education system was stung by the Turnbull plan and reacted with vehement repudiation of the plan and the government that hatched it. State and territory governments, of both political persuasions, joined forces to attack the plan for breaking long-standing contracts, denying massive amounts of money to schools that could least afford it and attempting to subvert the constitutional role of the states to administer education.

Political parties were also stirred to action. Federal Labor and the Australian Greens ultimately opposed the passage of the Australian Education Act Amendment Bill through both houses of federal parliament. They have consequently reinforced their credentials as strong supporters of public education.

We need more time to fully understand what Frankenstein’s monster has been created from the merging of the original Gonski and the Turnbull school funding plan, but you should know that it presents the potential for an economic and constitutional crisis. 

We know that amendments to the original Bill provided for:

  • acceleration of the extended transition period for federal funding to reach 20 per cent of a school’s SRS by 2023, rather than 2027
  • Queensland must contribute at least 75 per cent of SRS by 2023 – the state estimates it will need to spend more than one billion dollars extra on education to access two hundred million dollars extra from the federal government
  • potential for bilateral agreements and differentiated targets, effectively making a lie of the “nationally consistent” theme the Turnbull Plan was founded on
  • establishment of an independent national schools resourcing body
  • a $50 million transition package for the Catholic sector and non-government schools in 2018
  • a special assistance package for the Northern Territory that will lift the Commonwealth share of school funding to 25 per cent of SRS.

It is not clear what, if any, conditions will be applied to the schools funding available through this new legislation. Our great fear regarding the imposition of the “Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes” regime floated by the federal Coalition at the last election is not assuaged. Several of the cross-bench Senators who sided with the Coalition to pass this legislation did so in the context of outbursts of teacher bashing and offensive comments about students with disability. We may yet have another battle on our hands to defend our profession and the students we teach from some misguided politicians.

The known consequences of this new federal school funding legislation are few but significant. You might remember that under the original Gonski plan, the federal government took responsibility for providing two dollars for every one dollar put in by the state. By 2023, additional funding delivered to Queensland state schools will be at least five state dollars for every one federal dollar. This effectively cost-shifts much needed increases in education funding from the level of government that raises most revenue to the level of government that must spend most on education and health.

I look forward to reporting further on this issue tomorrow.

Let me take a moment now to speak to you about the proud institution that is Queensland’s very own TAFE. In doing so, I want to again acknowledge the presence of the Honourable Yvette D’Ath MP at our opening session today. The Minister has been a strong advocate for TAFE and the important role that training and education plays in Queensland’s social and economic future.

In the two years since our last conference, we have seen major positive developments in TAFE, which you will hear about later in the Conference. The QTU has been working hard with the Queensland Government and TAFE Queensland to do our best to build TAFE anew in the aftermath of the corrosive effects of marketisation, begun under federal Labor a decade ago, and the ill-disguised attempts of the previous state LNP government to deliver a killing blow to one of this state’s oldest institutions. Under that government, attempted asset sales, splitting TAFE to create a dual sector university in central Queensland, massive job losses, funding cuts and the imposition of a profit driven philosophy on TAFE very nearly did that job.

The challenges of the environment in which our shared rebuilding quest is undertaken cannot be underestimated. Contestable funding has seen TAFE’s share of the market fall by half to an all-time low of about 35 per cent. The regular failure of dodgy for-profit private providers across Queensland has stranded students without qualifications they have paid for and with massive personal debt that will dog many of them for years to come. Many of these students will come to TAFE to complete their qualifications and TAFE will deliver for those qualifications without recompense, as the money allocated has been pilfered to line the pockets of share-holders.

In this environment, TAFE continues to strive to provide high quality, ethical training and education that nurtures students from immensely diverse backgrounds. TAFE provides the training you can trust. Our campaign, mirrored in all other states and territories, will continue through an expectation that the next state government will match the spirit of commitments of the Labor party federally and in New South Wales and Tasmania, to guarantee that 70 per cent of every dollar raised by the state for education and training will be quarantined to TAFE. 

My focus on these two pieces of QTU work with members has been to make this point. Our industrial might intersects with our professional motivations, care for students, education as a public good, absolute respect for human rights and embracing diversity, to create an irresistible force for change for the better. As we know, with great power comes great responsibility. It is not always possible to negotiate our way to a sensible outcome. When necessary, we stand ready to harness our collective industrial will to our professional purpose to promote and protect public education.

I now declare the 112th State Conference of the Queensland Teachers’ Union well and truly open.

Kevin Bates
QTU President

Voices Rising by Phil Monsour was commissioned by the Queensland Teachers' Union for the GA Daughtrey Art Collection.


QTU Conference Statement 2017

Strategic direction

 The Queensland Teachers’ Union (QTU) aims to be the most democratic and representative voice of the teaching profession in Queensland on industrial and professional matters and in support of public education and training.  

The values of the QTU have been developed to support the Union in its endeavours. the full statement here

Life member awards 2017