Federal budget begins long-term repair of broken education system

The 2023-2024 Federal Budget announced on 9 May is a positive start to beginning the long-term repair of a broken education system in Australia after a decade of neglect by the previous coalition government.

IEUA Federal Secretary Brad Hayes said the new budget rightly restores education at the centre of our nation’s policy focus.

“Our 75,000 members often hear about the importance of their work in schools, and it’s universally accepted there are major problems in education, including widespread staff shortages,” Brad said.

“Yet those with the power to act – employers and governments – fail to follow their platitudes with tangible change.

“IEU members welcome the commitments of the current federal Labor government which is prepared not just to listen to the problems but to act on their concerns.

“The previous coalition government’s neglect of schools and disregard for education workers will take time to repair, but the federal Labor government has taken important steps to restore early childhood education and schools as a national priority,” he said.

Key aspects of new budget

The Federal Government announced 5000 new government teacher scholarships will be funded in a bid to address teacher shortages and attract new staff to the profession.

“This is a good start, in conjunction with additional budget funding to support the Teacher Workforce Action Plan,” Brad said.

“We desperately need more teachers, and further government and employer action will be crucial to tackle teacher burnout as part of a long-term plan to stem the exodus of experienced teachers leaving the profession.”

In addition, $72 million has been allocated to support the skills and training of early childhood education professionals, a step that Brad said recognises the critical importance of the sector.

“Limited professional development (PD) opportunities and mentor support is a common complaint of IEU members working in small and often remote early childhood education centres,” Brad said.

“The Government’s additional focus on regional and First Nations early childhood education services is also long overdue.”

Targeted funding to close the gap in First Nations student attendance rates and educational outcomes in central Australia – along with more support for distance learning and boarding options for remote indigenous students – is another feature of the education budget.

“This has the potential to make a real difference for the educational outcomes of First Nations students living in remote locations,” Brad said.

$32 million in funding will be allocated for over 1300 schools to upgrade their infrastructure and equipment.

“As a result, thousands of students in state and non-government schools across Australia will benefit from new facilities, including air conditioning, safer outdoor learning areas, new technology and ventilation for cleaner air,” Brad said.

Wage growth and secure jobs

In a cost-of-living crisis, the budget will provide some additional relief to vulnerable Australians who are struggling to make ends meet, although more is needed to lift people out of poverty.

“The union movement welcomes the Government’s efforts to help vulnerable Australians by extending the single parent payment, increasing JobSeeker and rent assistance, providing energy rebates, cheaper childcare, cheaper medications and a historic investment in Medicare,” Brad said.

“It’s also great to see the Government’s efforts to ensure big businesses that profit from selling Australia’s resources and multinationals pay their fair share of tax.

“Delivering secure jobs, eliminating the scourge of wage theft and closing loopholes in industrial relations legislation employers exploit to suppress wages, are all urgent tasks ahead if we’re to lift workers’ wages,” he said.

Strong education workforce remains priority

Brad said although much is still to be done, the Federal Government’s budget announcements are a step in the right direction for education.

“The Government is to be commended for these early efforts; work must now continue on the next phase of priority reforms, including review of the National School Reform Agreement later this year,” he said.

“It is imperative that high-quality education and restoring a strong teacher and support staff workforce remain our national priority.

“Greater certainty and transparency in funding, reducing teacher workloads and targeted support for students suffering disadvantage are essential to securing an equitable and high-quality education system for our future.

“Many challenges remain, but our students and school staff deserve our nation’s complete support,” Brad said.