Opening address to the 2019 QTU Conference delivered by QTU President Kevin Bates on 1 July 2019.
In opening the 113th Queensland Teachers’ Union State Conference, and in the spirit of reconciliation, I acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land on which we meet, the Jagera and Turrbul peoples and pay my respects to the 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 people 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 Ray Costello, Lyle Schuntner, Dr Ian Mackie, Julie-Anne McCullough, Steve Ryan, Bob Fifoot, Tony Christinson, Molly Kreidl, Julie Brown, Lyn Winch, past QTU General Secretary John Battams, past Deputy General Secretaries Arch Bevis and Steve Knudsen; past AEU Federal TAFE Secretary and Deputy Federal Secretary Pat Forward, leaders of our comrade unions and peak bodies, Jeff Hunt – Deputy Director-General of Education and other senior officers of the Department of Education, representatives of TAFE Queensland, leaders and special guests from our kindred and associated organisations, our Conference sponsors, QTU staff and Officers and, most importantly, delegates and observers.
The 2019 QTU Conference is the 18th I have attended since becoming a teacher and QTU member and my fourth and last QTU Conference as President. For many delegates, this will be your first QTU State Conference and you will be wondering what to expect. Some of you exceed even my own experience and might think that you know what to expect. This 113th Conference will be unlike any other you have attended. It will hopefully provide new and thought-provoking experiences and a deeper understanding of the democratic traditions honed over our 130 years.
An innovative program has been designed for this year’s Conference. In addition to the governance issues and Union business the rules require us to deal with, the Conference, and each of the three days, has been structured around themes. The overall theme of the Conference is ‘Our meeting place’. Many times I have listened to the wisdom of Aboriginal Elders who have graciously welcomed us to their country. In addition to the poignant personal stories of the power of education, those Elders have often shared the story of the importance of this part of Meanjin as a meeting place for Aboriginal people, and we are proud to be a part of that tradition dating back millennia.
In line with those traditions, our meeting place must be a safe space for everyone to be. Our rules, standing orders and expectations of behaviour all contribute to creating that safe environment. I look forward to your respectful and constructive contributions to the debates we will have. I ask that we set an example, that we stand together to eliminate sexism, racism, bigotry, homophobia, transphobia and any other form of discrimination from our lives and our community.
The theme for day one, today, is Reconcile, Remember, Celebrate.
Later this morning, the conveners of the QTU’s Reconciliation Action Plan Working Party will present the Union’s freshly minted Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) to the General Secretary. A vital part of our Union’s commitment to reconciliation with Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people, the Innovate RAP will build on a proud history of leadership by our Union and contribute to the national campaign for Voice, Treaty and Truth.
Today we remember that on 9 January 2019, the QTU celebrated its 130th anniversary. Tonight, at the welcome reception, we will celebrate the Union’s birthday in style. On the topic of birthdays, I pause to make special mention of one of our venerable Life Members who celebrates his 87th birthday in just a couple of weeks’ – happy birthday Keith. I had the honour of following Keith as the South Queensland Organiser on 4 July 1994, just prior to his retirement, and that started my 25-year journey with the QTU, a longevity that I am proud to say is about to match Keith’s own. Many of you will never have met Keith, and those of you who have will no doubt remember your encounter. Keith was the first full-time officer of the QTU, appointed as an Organiser for the whole state in 1969. We have certainly come a long way in the 50 years since. Our General Secretary, Graham Moloney, also celebrated his birthday last week, so please be sure to wish Graham and Keith a happy birthday when you see them over the next few days.
As a teacher of history, I am acutely aware that so much of our history is determined by the words on a page and focused on the great and powerful, when in fact the history that matters most is the lives and memories of the extraordinary ordinary people. Our celebrations continue this morning, when we will invest an esteemed group of eleven QTU members with Life Membership of our Union. The stories of the lives and contributions of each of these individuals are set to humble and inspire us all. Of the many, many tens of thousands of members who have been proud to be a part of the QTU over our 130 years, only 175 have been awarded Life Membership. Our history is writ large in their lives.
We cap off day one with a celebration of our achievements as a campaigning union, celebrating the people and the campaigns they have led. I am told that there is also a little surprise planned for this afternoon in the spirit of celebration.
Our theme for day two is ‘Setting the agenda’.
Our agenda has been clear for 130 years: to promote and protect public education. We are the professional and industrial voice of teachers and principals in the state school system in Queensland. We are #QTUProud.
So often in education we find ourselves distracted by responding to the agenda set by others, usually those outside the profession like politicians, business people or social commentators. The positive and assertive frame for day two is about being at the forefront of the education debate and the change agenda. Using our collective voice, we can influence our community to embrace trust for, and respect of, teachers and principals, especially our professional judgement and professional autonomy.
The overseas education systems to which we are so often compared have a common approach to these issues, which is less about politics and more about education. That approach focuses on the students that are at the core of our moral purpose as teachers and principals, it recognises education professionals as esteemed members of the community, it empowers those professional teachers and leaders to teach and lead in the best interests of their community, and it celebrates education partnerships with parents and carers.
All four concurrent sessions will provide opportunities for your direct input into solutions to problems of practice that will serve to set our agenda.
For example. the question of autonomy has dogged us for decades. Whether it is disguised as devolution, school-based decision-making, ‘Leading Schools’ or Independent Public Schools, the attempt by systems to impose changed practices on schools through legislation, policy and procedure underpins the obsession with managerialism rather than professionalism. During day two, we will seek to progress an alternative position, that, with further development, will become the QTU’s position for the future.
A huge shout out to our sisters and brothers in TAFE. Across the nation, TAFE is resurging. Its market share of student enrolments has grown on the back of renewed state and territory government investment directly into TAFE as the public provider of the training you can trust, in every jurisdiction except Queensland. We languish at just 31 per cent of student enrolments and the state Labor government persists with a policy of funding settings whereby 100 per cent of funding is subject to competition. No other jurisdiction has maintained this policy position. We have much more to do to set the agenda in this space if TAFE, a 138-year-old Queensland institution, is to survive.
Finally, our theme for day three: ‘The power to make it happen’.
Traditionally, and under our rules, the QTU Conference sets the policy of the Union and the strategic direction for the next two years. The 2019 Conference continues a trend over recent time of focusing on areas of change, thus reducing the time spent debating established, relevant policy. Policy does much to set our goals, but policy is incapable of making change happen. The day three theme is about taking our agenda from policy to practice by winning with members.
Since the 2017 Conference, we have continued to grow membership at an impressive rate, thanks to the hard work of members, Union Representatives, honorary officials, Union staff and Officers. We reached a new milestone for the QTU, surpassing 46,000 members for the first time, but I will leave the details of that to my Senior Officer colleagues from the Secretariat to report.
In the QTU, we live and breathe the mantra that recruitment is everyone’s business. Our membership is the source of our power as a union. In each campaign we set realistic goals, we work with our allies, we commit the resources needed to deliver and we celebrate our successes.
We can and do make a difference because we responsibly and ethically use our collective strength to achieve real change for the better.
I now declare the 113th Conference of the Queensland Teachers’ Union well and truly open.