On March 15, the Canterbury/Bankstown branch of the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) held a speak-out at Labor Premier Morris Iemma's local electoral office in the seat of Lakemba. Iemma was invited to address the speak-out but did not respond.
The action, involving 30 people, featured on the front page of the local paper. Socialist Alliance upper house candidate and Indigenous rap artist Jakalene X conducted a welcome to country and performed a rap highlighting that public education must be a priority of any government.
Paul Patten performed songs about young people living in the inner city and, aptly, Janis Joplin's "You Don't Know What You've Got Till It's Gone". Lindy Nolan, a drama teacher from Wiley Park Girls High, injected some satire into the event with street theatre portraying the diminishing public education budget.
Greens upper house candidate John Kaye told the protesters that Henry Parkes, often described as the "father of Australian federation", would be "appalled today" at governments' lack of political will to maintain and develop public education. He explained that the Greens oppose the increased annual funding of the private school system.
Rob Cullen, vice-president of the NSWTF Canterbury/Bankstown branch, said that no private school — wealthy or not — should receive funding from the public purse, particularly those schools that discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and religion. Nola Edsall, president of the Canterbury/Bankstown branch, said that teachers struggling for better working conditions were doing so not just for themselves but also for their students. Edsall summarised some of the union's demands on the state government, including:
•Free, universally available pre-schools attached to public schools.
•English-as-a-second-language (ESL) courses to be provided in all schools, especially in the Canterbury/Bankstown area.
•Increased counselling services.
•Increased mentor provision and additional time allocation to new teachers to gain maximum benefit from teacher mentors.
[Noreen Navin is a NSW Teachers Federation state councillor.]