In his keynote address at the first day of Annual Conference, NSW Teachers Federation president, Maurie Mulheron, shone a light on what he called “neoliberalism’s powerful and insidious influence” on public education.
“Neoliberalism is an invisible ideology that has an impact on schools in our daily lives,” Mulheron said, adding that the reason he had chosen to speak about neo-liberalism at the start of Annual Conference was because he was concerned about its influence on public education and how it fed into the Gonski campaign.
“This is a really profound campaign,” he said.
“It’s not just about simply being able to pay for a literacy support teacher – it’s about workload, professional development, salaries – every single thing that comes out of recurrent funding.”
Mulheron pointed to the proliferation of influential think-tanks and foundations that are flag-bearers for the profits to be made from that ideology – specifically, the billions of dollars being made from schooling.
He said neoliberalism was driving the incursion of edu-business into all levels of schooling, from teaching to textbooks to testing.
“Why is education such easy prey? Because everyone has to send their children to schools. Schools are always there – it’s a gravy train for life,” Mulheron said.
“We will never do well at NAPLAN because Pearson [the edu-business giant which runs the tests] will lose in selling a product as a solution.”
Union to probe ‘reach of edu-business’
The NSWTF has commissioned a four-person team from the University of Queensland to study the reach of edu-business in Australia, and the President asked members to support this effort by participating in greater numbers in an information-gathering survey that will soon be re-launched after a poor pick-up rate the first time it was emailed out to members.
Mulheron said the ideology was behind structural changes “that remove the obligation by governments to make itself responsible for the welfare of public education”.
However, he added that Australia has been successful in “putting a fence around neo-liberalism” because it had seen its negative impact on education overseas.
“Neoliberalism supporters are powerful and very well connected – but last night [election night] proved that they don’t always win!”
Gov’t ‘does not believe in public education’
He pointed out that just 0.25% of the Budget was spent on education, contrasting it with the fact that the Turnbull government is prepared to spend more than 10% of the Budget on corporate tax cuts.
“The reason Malcolm Turnbull’s government didn’t bring spending on education to 1% of the Budget is because it simply does not believe in public education,” Mulheron said.
Neoliberalism is “private wealth, public squalor”, Mulheron quoted the economist J.K. Galbraith as saying; an OECD report has found that the gap between the rich and the poor is at its highest in 30 years, the years of neoliberalism.