So why the global ed move, Angelo?
It certainly wasn’t an easy decision for me to make at the time, but in many regards the work that I’m doing now is an extension of the work that I’d been doing for most of my professional life.
The difference being that this is on the global stage ...
My entire professional life I’ve been driven/inspired/motivated by a fundamental belief in the transformative power of public education and what that means and can mean and should mean to each individual child, their family, their community and their country – large or small.
I’m also driven by the belief that a high quality public school in every community, setting the standard for high quality education, remains a precondition for a better world.
I say that because ultimately, whilst people can talk about choice as much as they like, the one guarantee that a child has when it comes to enrolment at a school is a guarantee they have in enrolling at their local public school – free, secular, universally accessible.
Now, over a period of time it was becoming very apparent that whilst we thought that education would be cocooned or immune from the excesses of the market ... what was becoming clearer and clearer, is that education is now in the sights of large global corporations that were intent, and remain intent, on commercialising education and feeding what I call an insatiable greed.
Education is currently valued at approximately US$4.5 trillion a year.
That’s expected to rise to US$7 trillion in just a few years time. Venture capitalists see this as an untapped market and they are trying to occupy that space.
They see our students as nothing more than economic units and they’re seeking to commercialise or monetise every aspect of education to satisfy their profit motives.
Is your landing of the EI role a big endorsement of the union movement here in Australia?
I think there’s no doubt the Australian union movement more broadly, and certainly the AEU, punches above its weight with respect to the international union movement...
It’s important to note that the current president of Education International is Susan Hopgood, who’s the federal secretary of the AEU, so Australia is very highly regarded...
How have you been enjoying the role?
It’s a tough gig. The world’s a big place and some of the behaviour of large global corporates is outrageous. I suppose one finds motivation in that, when you know what’s at risk, when you know that that great social enterprise of public education, of what that means, is at risk, that drives you.
What I do is work with teacher unions in many parts of the world, assisting them, working with them, to build national campaigns in defence of public education and in order to expose, halt and reverse wherever possible, however possible, profit making in education where it undermines the rights of every child to quality public education. It’s a tough gig but very motivating given what’s at stake.
How did you go adjusting to life in Brussels?
I don’t live in Brussels. I spend more time in airports than I do anywhere else. I’m transient.
Generally speaking I’ll travel for about three-four weeks around the world and then come back home to prepare myself for the next trip. I got back last Saturday and I’m leaving next week.
While I’m here of course I’m doing a lot of planning, a lot of preparation ... Next week I’ll be going to Nepal. From there I’ll be going to Brussels for a bit of planning for a week.
I’ll be going to Oslo and working with our union in Norway to build a campaign there and importantly build north/south solidarity, and then I’m off to Dubai to speak about our efforts. And then I go to Uruguay where we’re starting to build a national campaign, before I come home again...
Congrats on your OAM.
What did being awarded the medal mean to you?
It is humbling, and it’s a wonderful recognition of one’s work, but more importantly it’s a recognition of the tireless work of our (AEU) members and supporters of public education over the years.
I was, and am, only able to do what I do because of that support and that tireless effort on the part of our members. We can only reflect our members’ drive. I was fortunate enough during my term as the federal president to be inspired daily.
There was hardly a weekend for many years that I was not attending a function where our members were there yet again prosecuting the case for the Gonski funding reforms...
You were heavily involved with Julia Gillard and others at a high level putting together the Gonski recommendations – how does it feel to see where that’s at now?
Let’s just be clear, and I don’t think there’s any time to mince words, I think it’s a disgrace, quite frankly, that the Turnbull Government is failing to honour the full implementation of the Gonski reforms.
By their actions they’re turning their backs not only on our most disadvantaged students, but in fact on the educational wellbeing of all students.
Education is vital, not only in terms of what it represents to individual children and their families, but also for the future productivity and prosperity of the nation.
What is being played out in Australia right now is a disgrace and history will judge those who have obstructed the implementation of these reforms very, very harshly.
You started out as a high school teacher in Green Valley in NSW and quickly became involved with the NSW Teachers Federation as a senior leader. Why the union path?
I’ve always felt that as a teacher, and this is where teaching and our profession differs from many others, an education is so important in terms of broader social policy.
As a teacher from my very first day in the classroom ... it’s as true today as it was then, and that is we are not providing resources to the students that need it the most.
If we’re serious about making a difference, if we’re serious about education being that great enabler, that equaliser, well then we are only paying lip service to it for as long as we do not allocate the funding to where it’s needed most.
So from the very first moment ... what was also apparent was that if we wanted to make a difference, we had to do it through the collective strength of our unions...
A couple of things I really like to do in my downtime to relax, zone out, are… what downtime? (laughs)
If I wasn’t an educator I’d be a… I can’t think of what I’d do if I wasn’t working in education. This is the main game.
If I was on death row, and had to order a last meal, it would be… I don’t know, good Indonesian food?
As a child, my ambition was to… become a teacher. I was inspired by my teachers. In fact I still keep in touch with one of my primary school teachers. I was blessed to be taught by some wonderful, wonderful human beings.
One of my all-time favourite bands/artists would be… Jackson Browne.