AEU Federal Conference 2022
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 127 No 3, 14 April 2022, page no. 10
In the crucial weeks in the lead up to the federal election, the Australian Education Union (AEU), held its first face-to-face conference in two years, with more than 120 delegates from across Australia discussing the vital issues facing public education.
New Federal Secretary Kevin Bates advised conference that membership of the national union has increased to 198,000, with First Nations membership of the AEU in Queensland increasing by 22 per cent.
Here are some of the conference highlights.
AEU Life Membership was awarded to former QTU General Secretary Graham Moloney and former QTU President Kevin Bates (awarded prior to his election as Federal Secretary). Conference gave a standing ovation to Susan Hopgood, the outgoing Federal Secretary of the AEU, who will remain the President of Education International.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus addressed the conference proclaiming her disbelief that Scott Morrison cut $559 million from public schools in the recent federal budget. She stated that workers’ rights have withered on the vine under the Morrison government, with its focus on encouraging employers to casualise the workforce, resulting in an increase in workforce insecurity. There has been no real wage growth in eight years, and workers’ rights have been suppressed. Sally emphasised the need for all workers in Australia to join the campaign to strengthen wages and conditions.
Dr Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre for Future Work, spoke about building a different way of working. He noted that, despite the pandemic shock, the economy is thriving, with unemployment at a historically low level, but that this is due to a high quantity of low “quality” jobs. He also noted the significant injection of public funds into the economy via Job Keeper and other support programs, which was vital to keeping the economy afloat. He indicated that the inflation rate for the March quarter will likely be 4.5 per cent, which will increase cost-of-living pressures. To rectify this, wages must keep up with productivity.
Georgie Dent, the Executive Director of “The Parenthood”, argued that despite the notion that Australia is “the Lucky Country”, we fail to provide opportunities for children to thrive. Their research shows that families need four key supports: one year of paid parental leave; universal access to two years of high-quality early learning in preschool; health and wellbeing support during pre-natal and beyond; and paid carer’s leave.
Alex Fuller, Director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, outlined the need for a safer, fairer, and more sustainable future for young people and the need to the change the climate narrative. This should not be framed as a choice between “food on the table” and a renewable future. Alex explained that listening to and working with young people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples would result in a long-term change to climate change policies. Currently the Australian Youth Climate Coalition is focusing on increasing young peoples’ understanding of how their vote can create a better future.
Alison Pennington, Senior Economist for the Centre of Future Work, addressed the collapse in enrolment numbers for apprentices and traineeships, which have decreased by 173,000 since 2013. Although some funding has been provided, it has been directed to typically male-dominated industries, with little being provided to the education and care sectors. While there are incentives for employers to take apprentices in some industries, there is no oversight of the program and no requirement for apprentices to complete the training. To improve TAFE outcomes, there needs to be significant structural change, including strong pathways, accredited qualifications, and a minimum of 70 per cent of public funding allocated to TAFE.
Annie Butler, Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, identified the challenges her members faced during the pandemic. Their role was to keep the community safe and protected, but a lack of forward planning, funding and political leadership has seen members burn out. Key issues for this feminised workforce are better health funding and support, including gender equity and childcare.
Teela Reed, First Nations barrister and former teacher, encouraged delegates to participate in the Uluru Statement of the Heart campaign on “Voice, Treaty, Truth”. She asked delegates to encourage their schools and communities to join the campaign.
By Leah Mertens, Deputy General Secretary (Member Services) and Natalie Montague-Clarke (Acting Research Officer)