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Australian Public Education Under Attack

Australian Public Education Under Attack

The federal secretary of the Australian Education Union says the public education system and workers in her country are facing a major attack from the Australian federal government.

Susan Hopgood today told 400 members of New Zealand's largest education union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, that the 165,000 members of the Australian Education Union are looking to NZEI members for solidarity and advice as they face "the most concerted attack on the rights of workers and on public education that we have ever seen by any Australian Government."

Speaking at the NZEI Te Riu Roa Annual Meeting in Wellington, Ms Hopgood said the Australian Federal Government lead by Prime Minister, John Howard, has passed school funding legislation that pumps millions of dollars of taxpayers money into private schools while public schools are struggling for funding.

"Around 70% of funding from the federal government goes to non-government schools who educate around 30% of Australian children," Susan Hopgood said.

She said as a result private schools, that charge thousands of dollars a year in fees, have received a windfall of millions of dollars, money they do not need, while public schools are crying out for resources.

She said the Howard government claims its schools funding legislation will make private schools more accessible because they will be able to lower their fees. "In fact they have in most cases increased their fees making their schools even less accessible for Australian families."

Susan Hopgood said states and territories in Australia have also been forced by the federal government to implement national standardised testing and by 2008 there will be compulsory literacy and numeracy testing of school students in Years 3,5, 7 and 9. "The Government has even suggested that in the future they may introduce testing of children in early childhood education."

She said the Howard Government has also introduced reading vouchers for primary school students who have not met the literacy benchmarks in the Year 3 and 5 tests "Parents can use these vouchers to purchase tutoring from private providers who may have no teaching qualifications at all." Susan Hopgood said the federal government is using national testing to force schools to compete with each other, which does nothing to enhance student learning. She said the nationalised tests, the schools funding legislation and vouchers are part of the Howard Government's "long term agenda of achieving a user pays education system."

She said the working conditions of teachers and other members of the Australian Education Union are also under attack as massive changes are planned to the employment relations frame work in Australia. These echo the changes made in New Zealand in the 1990s under the Employment Contracts Act with workers being forced to negotiate individual contacts without union support. There are also moves to drive down pay rates and working conditions of Australian workers by taking away the right to meal breaks, public holidays, sick leave and extra payments for shift work.

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