Australian Education Unionism in the Age of Neoliberalism: Education as a Public Good, Not a Private Benefit

Jeff Garsed, John Williamson


The shift to neoliberalism in socio-political thinking across the western world has seen the once widely held value of the public good of education replaced by the notion of its private benefit. The complexity of the roles that education plays in society; for example, developing human capital and economic productivity, social cohesion and opportunity for personal development, is deepened by the struggle over ideological agendas. In Australia, this ideological shift has been accompanied by: (a) claims of falling teacher quality and poor student outcomes as justification for greater accountability on schools; (b) local school management and changes in employment relationships that attempt to link pay with external, standardised outcomes; (c) the imposition of national curriculum and testing regimes for schools; (d) the adoption of ‘new public management' practices in schools; and (e) a continued government funding support for private schools. The 175,000-member Australian Education Union (AEU) has been the key voice defending the importance of public education as a public good and a cornerstone of democracy. Yet, despite the change to a social-democratic (Labor) Federal Government in 2007, neoliberal policies continue to drive the national education agenda. This article will describe briefly the current Australian political context following the election of a Federal Labor Government to show how policy from the former conservative government has been re-shaped to fit the new government's agenda in the area of testing, performance pay and new management practices, and to suggest how the emerging tensions between the education union and the government might be played out over the first term of government.


neoliberalism; teaching profession; teachers unions

Full Text: PDF

ISSN 1715-0094  Workplace