Yesterday the NSW Teachers Federation Conference very kindly presented me with a Champion of Public Education award. In my speech I mentioned the Schools funding bill from 2017 and the way the Greens handled it.
Being made a champion of public education is an enormous honour and that the award is made by the NSW Teachers Federation adds to that honour.
My love of public education and appreciation of public education unions and all the teachers in public schools is immense. That’s because public education is about securing a fair and just future for everyone.
This is also a special occasion as my family share my excitement about this award. Some of my family are here with me today – three generations of the public school system.
My uncle Sam Lewis was a former president of the NSW Teachers Federation and one of the key figures involved in building the Federation into a democratic and progressive union. I am proud of that connection.
Public education was a major part of my work as a Greens MP. When I first stood for parliament in 1999 the Greens key election message called for government funding that goes to elite private schools to be redirected to the public education system.
Working with John Kaye we moved private members bills on funding and to Save TAFE and we joined with you at many rallies and picket lines. That work continued when I became a Greens Senator.
In 2017 public education took a heavy hit because of the Turnbull government. We saw the ugly side of politics. Some Greens MPs negotiated with the Liberal-National government on a fundamentally flawed bill that was about bringing greater financial advantage to the private education sector. And no amount of talking to government ministers or media appearances could change that.
I stuck with Greens policy which backs public education, and was vocal about opposing the bill. On 28 June 2017 I was expelled from the federal Greens party room. While it is a shameful time in Greens history there is also a very fine story here. Party members stood up for public education and stood up for me.
My expulsion was not supported by the party’s National Council. The party room attempt to nobble me and the Greens NSW was quickly over turned. And most importantly all Greens MPs voted against the Turnbull government bill.
The lesson of 2017 is that in the Greens when you stand up for public education you never stand alone.
One day the whole story needs to be told.
I appreciate this award so much.
And one final comment – one of the pleasures of my time as an MP has been working with members and officials of your union.