By Chris Spindler
ADELAIDE — Some 7000 teachers, teacher assistants, students, parents, fellow unionists and supporters gathered at a rally on May 24 to defend the public education system. Two hundred and thirty, schools were closed for the morning and over half the state's teachers were on strike. Many other schools were only nominally open — "child minding, not teaching".
Other rallies on the same day took place at Port Pirie, Port Augusta, Whyalla and Port Lincoln.
The government proposes to cut education funding by $139 million. It is targeting schools for closure and amalgamation, cutting teacher and assistants' jobs and increasing class sizes. The justification is that South Australia is above average in education standards.
A much broader assault is planned for the public sector in South Australia as evidenced by the talk given by Gail Gago, secretary of the Australian Nurses Federation.
Health is heading for a $114.5 million cut which aims at lowering hospital intakes, privatising some health services and cutting teaching services at hospitals.
Privatisation will affect many areas. Housing Trust rates will be at market value or the housing sold, E&WS (Engineering and Water Supply) will be corporatised, there will be fewer buses and trains, and police numbers will increase.
Clare McCarty, South Australian Institute of Teachers (SAIT) president, told the rally, "We're here to defend the high standards of education in the state, good country education and the public funding of education. Here today are teachers, parents and students."
McCarty detailed other support for the teachers, including the E&WS strike over the previous weekend, the strike of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance on the day and leafleting of every tram and train for two days by the Public Transport Union.
At the rally were CFMEU members, representatives from the metals conference, the Public Sector Association, the Australian Nurses Federation, the Printing and Kindred Industries Union and the Police Association.
A number of school representatives described what the audit commission recommendations would mean. At Aberfoyle Park High, 4.5 teachers would be cut, over 22 hours of ancillary staff lost and five to eight subjects not offered.
Elizabeth West Junior Primary has 152 students and so would be amalgamated. They would loose ancillary staff, specialist early childhood development programs, principal and deputy principal.
Other speakers included parent Janet Belchamber, Enfield High student Larissa Webber, SAIT vice-president Ken Drury and executive director of Education International Bob Harris.
In finishing the rally Janet Giles, SAIT vice-president, said, "By taking strike action we've increased the public awareness and debate on the issues. We don't want an education funded by McDonald's, Pizza Hut or parents but a publicly funded education. This is the beginning of a spirited campaign."