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Issue #1610      September 11, 2013

Community rally in support of public education

On a cool and wet day on the steps of the Western Australian parliament the State School Teachers Union (SSTU) held a Community Rally in support of public education and against the recent proposed cuts to education spending and teaching support staff

(Photo: Richard Titelius)

The three main unions with members in the public education sector, SSTU, United Voice and Community and Public Sector Union/Civil/Service Association (CPSU/CSA), had called the rally after the troika of state Liberal Premier Colin Barnett, Treasurer Troy Buswell and Education Minister Peter Collier announced cuts in the state budget on August 8. They included reduced funding to public education and 500 job cuts, including 250 K-2 education assistants, 100 anaphylaxis education assistants and 100 central and regional office positions.

The proceedings kicked off with a lunchtime rally of education assistants, 1,500 of them who had walked off the job to attend the rally.

The MC for the SSTU rally was state secretary Tony Mullen who stated, “These cuts are undemocratic and authoritarian.”

The first speaker was SSTU’s state president Anne Gisborne, who was an almost daily figure on the evening news in the build up to the rally.

Gisborne called on the government to invest properly in education and reverse their proposed cuts. Gisborne also lamented the forgone funding of $671 million which would have come to WA schools if Premier Colin Barnett had signed up to the former Labor government’s Gonski education reforms.

Instead the Barnett government wielded the axe three times on education; once with the Gonski plan, secondly with the state budget and thirdly with the 500 job cuts to public education jobs. In 2015 this would be followed by a freeze in teacher hiring.

The TAFE system was also not spared, Gisborne continued, as the government planned significant fee increases at TAFE centres to make it difficult for our children to up-skill – like in Victoria where the cuts have led to a proliferation of private providers.

David Lee from the WA Primary Principals Association said funding was being cut to programs that had proven effectiveness such as a modelling program for young children to help them with learning difficulties.

This view was also reinforced by WA Council of State School Organisations who said that cuts to some of these school support programs risked leaving children behind, also putting more pressure on parents to educate or pay for support of their children with special needs such as autism or Tourette Syndrome. In some cases parents had to withdraw their child and home school them instead. These cuts also affect marginal groups in our community such as Indigenous people, Non English Speaking backgrounds and low socio-economic groups: the cumulative effects will be felt in classrooms across the state.

United Voice union secretary Carolyn Smith, said that staff were angry about the cuts to their jobs and to their functions and when members called the union office they were more concerned about what would happen to the children they supported.

Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association Assistant secretary Ricki Hendon spoke of the brutality of an employer where education assistants and education support staff found out about the fate of their jobs through the media. Hendon added that there would be cuts to programs as well as to the staff that run them.

One of the most telling aspects ideologically was that the government expected schools to dip into money saved in audited school bank accounts to fund school teacher salaries. The government released to The West Australian a list of the 100 schools with the largest bank balances.

The vice president of the SSTU, Pat Byrne, concluded the rally by saying that the union’s campaign needed to show the government they had made a big mistake and that all sides of politics are shocked by the impact of the cuts-cuts that would lead to jobs being gone by Christmas.

The Communist Party of Australia calls on workers, their unions and the community to support the SSTU and other unions’ campaigns to maintain and improve access to a quality, egalitarian and affordable education from which all the community benefits.

Next article – Free Mordechai Vanunu – Anti-nuclear and human rights campaigner

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