LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Pointing all one way on Safe Schools

I look to the Federation to live up to the mission of a teacher to be tolerant and fair and to consider all viewpoints. Alas.

It was only on hearing of concerns about Safe Schools content that prompted me to check the site out. The concerns are valid and comments by Federation representatives Maurie Mulheron and Mel Smith odd, to say the least.

Mel Smith applauds the AEU Federal Conference for condemning the government. What did the government do wrong? It responded to the concerns of people in “the broader community”, thereby doing its job. I note the last issue of Education does not address those concerns; it merely labels them as “misinformation” and an attempt to “demonise” the Safe Schools program.

I don’t think comments like that make “all members of the school community feel respected, included and supported”.

The Safe Schools program, likewise, has negative labels ready for anyone who does not agree with LGBTIQ initiatives or comply with LGBTIQ demands. This is a typical and extraordinarily discouraging starting point by a movement that says it aims to create schools that are safe from bullying and ready to embrace diversity.

Why Federation would question the right of parents to give consent before their children (not ours) participate in a program about sexuality is also perplexing (“sexuality”, incidentally, is mentioned 41 times in All of Us, “bullying” a mere seven). So we say, “Get behind us for Gonski” but “Get out of the way for Safe Schools”. Nice.

I don’t buy the rhetoric, Maurie and Mel. You sound like politicians, not teachers.

Paul Treacy
Denistone East PS

President Maurie Mulheron and Trade Union Training Officer Mel Smith reply:

The article, “Safe Schools: Baird must step up” (Education, March 28) focused on two primary issues:

1. The Turnbull government’s announcement did not reflect the recommendations of the review of the Safe Schools Coalition program and went beyond the recommendations made.

2. The use of parental power of curriculum to challenge teachers’ professional judgements is in contrast to the current practice of student withdrawal.

Parental consent was also a concern raised by the National Children’s Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Megan Mitchell, who stated that “there does need to be careful consideration of the impact of the government’s proposed parental consent measures on children struggling with sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status”.

Commissioner Mitchell said, “While we recognise the rights of parents to be informed and engaged in their child’s education, it is important to ensure children who have not yet ‘come out’ to their family can still access the program and its resources.”

The journal also contained another article about Safe Schools and why it is important to adopt safe and inclusive practices. It reported that Australian research has continued to find that young people who are same sex-attracted and gender-diverse face homophobic and transphobic abuse and discrimination that prevents them from engaging in their learning, thus preventing them from `achieving their potential.Research also indicates that much of this behaviour is happening at school, from other students, teachers and from the school structures themselves. Therefore, steps to address this are necessary.

Under federal and state legislation, the policy and frameworks of the federal and state departments of education, and a fundamental sense of doing what is best for students, teachers must fulfil their responsibility to create safe and supportive learning environments for all students – especially those who have higher rates of suicide, higher rates of absenteeism and non-completion of school due to the unwelcoming environment of the school or classroom in respect of their gender, sex or sexuality.

Addressing bullying can be done in a proactive and positive manner that acknowledges diversity and promotes inclusivity. Addressing homophobia and transphobia is similar to addressing racism or sexism.

It involves developing a knowledge of the issue and strategies to educate students and the wider community. The Safe Schools Coalition Program seeks to do this. Schools may, however, use this approach or a range of other available resources to create the safe, welcoming and inclusive environment that all students are entitled to when they enter their local public school.

Greens have got it right

Education should be high on the list of priorities at the forthcoming election so it is worth reflecting on a couple of diabolical decisions made by the two major parties in the past.

The Menzies Liberal government introduced grants to private schools in 1964. In the past 50 years, this funding has been continued by both major parties. It has now reached obscene proportions and has become a major contributor to social inequality in Australia.

The Hawke Labor government introduced HECS in 1988. This measure restricted access to higher education for many students in lower socio-economic circumstances, particularly in rural areas.

In the 2016 election, I know that the Federation will be encouraging members to vote for the Labor Party as it is obviously part of the union culture, but I would urge everyone to visit the Greens Party website before you make your final decision. You will discover that the current Greens education platform emphasises that school funding should be provided on the basis of equity and need and that there should be free university education for Australian students.

A visitor to the website may also discover that other Greens policies are largely based on common sense and not the threat to society often claimed by the major parties.

Brian Jeffrey
Retired

Federation President Maurie Mulheron replies:

Throughout its entire history, the NSW Teachers Federation has never been affiliated with any political party. Nor has the Federation ever donated any funds to any political party.

We value our independence as this allows the union, on behalf of its membership, to assess the policies of parties on their merits, particularly their impact on public education, and to advocate for policy change where it is necessary to do so. We are beholden to nobody except the views of the membership, as expressed through democratic decision-making structures within the union.

Indeed, we have been highly critical of the policies of every political party at different times, depending on the issue.

In the forthcoming federal election we will assess the policies of all parties and key independents and provide an analysis to our members.

We had been hoping for bipartisan support for the Gonski funding model in the lead-up to the May Budget.

While the ALP and the Greens and key independents such as Tony Windsor have come out publicly and supported funding the six-year transition model to ensure all schools can be brought up to the school resource standard, the federal Coalition, as can be seen in its recent Budget announcement, will leave schools with a $3 billion shortfall.

The Federation believes Gonski is the most urgent and critical issue in the forthcoming federal election. Depending on the outcome of the election, the funding policy will affect for the better or worse, the lives of millions of Australian children, with that impact following through to adulthood.

The social and economic ramifications for our nation are simply huge.

For this reason, during the election campaign we will be encouraging our members and the community to support parties and candidates that are committed to seeing the architecture of the Gonski model preserved and for it to be fully funded.

In short, we are advocating a vote for the children of Australia.

Privatisation threat to disability group homes

As parents, we all want the very best for our children. For most of us, our children become independent as adults and make their own way in the world. For parents of a disabled child this is not the case. Our beloved child ages but can never live independently. Many people such as she need full-time care and help to eat, bathe, dress and stay safe.

My greatest fear for my daughter is what will happen to her when I die.

Up until late last year, I thought I had that reasonably sorted and that my daughter’s future was secure.

My daughter currently lives in a group home run by NSW Ageing, Disability and Homecare (ADHC). The home is part of a statewide system of homes run by ADHC with the resources and expertise to meet the needs of people who are the most vulnerable in our community.

Late last year, I was informed that the NSW government is intent on privatising my daughter’s home in Port Macquarie and dismantling the statewide system of homes run by the ADHC.

In meetings with ADHC and an official from MP Leslie William’s office, I have been told that the homes are being privatised as part of the roll-out of the NDIS. The NSW government, in my opinion, is walking away from directly caring and having responsibility for protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

To date, details of the transition process are sketchy, other than it will happen by July 1, 2018.

Experience shows staffing levels, quality of services and maintenance suffer when privatisation occurs. The NDIS is supposed to bring choice and improvements to the lives of the disabled. The NSW government and Mrs Williams, my daughter’s representative in parliament, need to rethink their position and put the care of the disabled before ideology.

Wayne Webber
Retired

Fairtrade uniforms

Congratulations to Hazelbrook Public School, the first in Australia to introduce Fairtrade school uniforms. The school is now planning to introduce Fairtrade in other areas of the school, including the canteen and staffroom.

Fairtrade is about decent working conditions, sustainability, and economic security for workers and farmers in some of the most exploited communities in the world. Fairtrade helps to counter the injustices that discriminate against the poorest and weakest. Crucially for us as teachers and unionists, Fairtrade standards prohibit forced labour and child labour.

Unfortunately, there are still regular reports in mainstream media, highlighting not only underpayment of workers but child labour and even outright slavery in the tea, coffee and cotton and clothing industries, among others.

Let’s work together and try and ensure our own homes and workplaces are slavery-free.

Supporting fair trade is a good first step.

Jennifer Killen
Life Member

Lesson from Germany

A friend who belonged to Federation when he taught in NSW and is now a teacher in Berlin emailed me a couple of weeks ago and he had this to say:

“School itself has had its moments. My fifth grade class organises activities with the asylum-seekers staying in the sports centre across the road and gave an impressive presentation about international law to an assembly. Small things that have maybe contributed to them being more decent people but would essentially be a criminal offence in Australia.

“We also spent a pretty fun week in a castle learning magic, and me and some other teachers played a refugee fund-raising concert in the school hall that felt like old people doing battle of the bands apart from when the Syrian refugees got up on stage and danced the dabke to our Rolling Stones cover ...”.

Bernhard Huber
Dulwich High School of Visual Arts and Design

Airport fumes will hurt

It is disappointing to learn of Federation’s faint-hearted position on the Western Sydney Airport proposal.

If built, the airport’s air and noise pollution will affect thousands of teachers and students trying to work at schools within the western Sydney area. It promises to belch an extra 2.5 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2030, rising to 20 million tons per year in 2060, when it reaches Dubai size.

The trapped air of the western Sydney basin already causes higher than average respiratory disorders among children there. An extra airport will only make it worse.

Parents and citizens are holding meetings to try and inform residents of the danger, but campaign activity by Federation is practically invisible.

Federation has done nothing to reverse its support for a new airport at Badgerys Creek.

Once this union stood at the vanguard of crucial social issues, now it seems to be hiding and relinquishing its role. Pathetic.

Bob Treasure
Life Member

Smut-free corporates

We’ve heard recently that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is constantly reassuring us that corporate tax cuts are good for the economy because they create jobs. I only wish there was evidence to support that sound byte.

What we need to understand is that from the 1970s onwards all Western countries, led by the United States, with two alleged sides of politics — Left and Right — have worked tirelessly to reduce democracy and equality.

On the political Right in the US we had the Powell Memorandum (1971), which basically put the case to the business community to use its resources to wind back the democratic gains of the 1960s.

On the so-called Left of politics we had the Trilateral Commission (1973) release a document called “The Crisis of Democracy” that complained about an excess of democracy.

When people, such as occasional former Labor leader, now commentator, Mark Latham, talk about how funding special interest groups (social programs) blows out the Budget there is one group missing because its interests are conflated with the national interest — that is, corporations, which enjoy tax cuts and huge taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Criticism of corporates is nil in the business-as-usual media and also by the two major parties. This shouldn’t surprise anybody given the close relationship between the two major parties and corporations. In fact, the relationship is now so close that portfolios such as health and education are often not run by people with experience from these sectors but by graduates from business schools who are only good at cooking the books.

Robert Wrona
Casual