State of education in Australia

Education is in turmoil in many parts of Australia as state governments slash education budgets and teachers’ enterprise bargaining negotiations stall.

Reports continue to come in from AEU branches across the country that public schools, TAFE institutes and the staff who work in them are under increasing pressure to deliver more with less, often in a context of industrial uncertainty.

Following is a roundup of issues affecting our professional educator colleagues in other states. Our various states’ elected representatives need to seriously consider now how much it will ultimately cost Australia to continue down the education budget slash and burn path, particularly in light of the federal government’s reluctance to adopt the Gonski report recommendations.

South Australia

The South Australian branch of the AEU is fighting a government decision to close 21 junior primary schools, amalgamating them with other primary schools despite strong objections in 19 of the 21 affected school communities. The move will save the South Australian government $6million – but indications are the money will go into Treasury funds and be lost to education, along with 21 principal positions and many specialist staff positions. It is worth noting that these are not small schools with shrinking enrolments that are considered unviable, but larger schools with robust enrolments, some in the most disadvantaged regions of the state.

Victoria

The AEU in Victoria is battling the Baillieu government over massive cuts to TAFE funding, including a joint rally with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the National Tertiary Education Union on 10 May to fight for that state’s TAFE system, where up to 1,000 jobs are at stake. The first round of funding cuts last year saw 300 teaching jobs shed, and government funding for courses including business, hospitality and retail has been slashed from between $6.50 and $11 an hour to less than $2.

In the school sector, hundreds of millions of dollars have been cut, with major impacts on vocational training, literacy and numeracy specialist staff and Indigenous support positions, and the Victorian government has refused to honour its election pledge to commit to a $1.7billion school building program.

AEU members have been forced to apply for protected industrial action through Fair Work Australia after the government failed to make any progress after eight months of negotiation.

Tasmania

Tasmanian teachers’ industrial agreements have traditionally operated on a nexus arrangement, related to pay increases and conditions in mainland states. The Tasmanian branch of the AEU has moved to a bargaining arrangement (such as that in Queensland) but has come up against a government trying to circumvent the independent industrial relations commission through legislation.

The TAFE system faces a tripling in diploma course fees in the wake of COAG reforms, unless the state government delivers significant extra funding to the public provider.

New South Wales

Colleagues over the border continue to be hammered by the O’Farrell government’s determination to push through its “Local Schools, Local Decisions” policy, which will devolve responsibility for 70 per cent of school budgets to principals – while the government is cutting $10billion from the state budget over the next four years. The New South Wales Teachers’ Federation also continues to be hampered in its wage negotiations by legislative changes that oblige that state’s industrial relations commission to limit wage rises to government policy; that is, 2.5 per cent per annum. A further 0.5 per cent can be awarded based on real cost savings, but only after changes have been made and savings audited.

Western Australia

One of the few pieces of good news for teachers comes from Western Australia, where a new agreement was registered on 29 March. WA teachers remain the best paid in the country at the top of the incremental pay scale, with annual increases of 3.75 per cent, 4.0 per cent and 4.25 per cent.

Kevin Bates
President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 4, 1 June 2012, p8