National History Teachers’ National Conference 2023

I start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land you are meeting on today and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

One of the reasons I am here today is because of a man called Peter.

Peter was my history teacher. He taught me for six years.

Every day he took me in a Time Machine.

Back to the blood-stained fields of Passchendaele. Over the Marathon plain, strewn with fallen hoplites. Into Cicero’s Rome. And in pursuit of Alexander.

He also took me back into the distant past. Back more than 60,000 years.

He helped me understand the long history of this place that we call home and the people who have cared for it for all that time.

He taught me more than just happened. He taught me to think. To question. To analyse and interpret. To connect the dots.

He taught me that history is more than just one damned thing after another.

He taught me about the currents of history that move us, and the contagious power of ideas.

He helped me better understand the power of people to do extraordinarily good and evil things.

He made me believe that good people could change the lives of others for the better.

And he made me believe in myself.

Peter Valenti was my history teacher more than 30 years ago, but he is still my friend today.

Thank you for taking so many young people in that Time Machine that Peter took me in.

I am so grateful for what you do. For what all teachers do.

You deserve more than thanks, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be said.

This brings me to a famous quote, often attributed to Atatürk, the great field marshal, statesman and first President of Turkey: “A good teacher is like a candle, it consumes itself to light the way for others.”

I am sure you sometimes feel that way.

What you do is hard.

And sometimes it’s made harder than it should be.

The number of teachers resigning not retiring is proof of that.

Part of it is pay, and there was great news on this front recently in New South Wales.

Part of it is workload. The idea that teachers start at nine and finish at three is frankly rubbish.

Part of it is what we do right back at the start. At university.

A few weeks ago I announced some big changes to fix this. To improve the university courses and to improve the practical experience student teachers get.

In a few of weeks, we will also make good on a promise we made in the election.

To roll out new Commonwealth teacher scholarships. They’ll be worth up to $40,000 and they are designed to encourage more young people to become a teacher.

And just like the Commonwealth teacher scholarships of old, there’s a commitment that will come with it. In return for the $40,000, a commitment to teach for a number of years.

And finally, part of it is respect.

I want to change the way we as a country think about our teachers, and the way our teachers think our country thinks of them.

A recent survey of Australian teachers found only about 39 per cent thought the work they did was valued by the community.

In places like Singapore, that figure is more like 68 per cent, they’ve got a line out the door at university of people wanting to become teachers.

That says something.

I want more young Australians to want to be a teacher. To be like Peter. To be like you. To be to be that teacher.

That teacher that inspires, that changes lives.

And in a few weeks’ time, you’ll see a campaign online, on bus stops, on billboards and in shopping centres.

It’s intended to move and inspire and to make more Australians want to become a teacher.

So watch this space.

I also know how important it is to get out of the classroom and experience our historical and cultural institutions first-hand.

That’s why the Parliament and Civics Education Rebate Program (PACER) is important – and why the History Teachers Association is such a big supporter of it.

This year we are trialling an expansion of the Program to give more students from the bush and disadvantaged areas the chance to visit our nation’s capital.

The rebate amount for a student from a remote, disadvantaged school in New South Wales, 500-1000 kilometres from Canberra, has more than tripled to $157.50.

While for a student from a very remote, disadvantaged school in the Northern Territory, 3000 kilometres or more from Canberra, the rebate has increased from $510 to $2,040.

I want more Australian students, wherever they live, to get the chance to visit Canberra.

To see and feel our history at the War Memorial and Old Parliament House, and see it being made in the new Parliament.

That’s what this is about.

The end of this year, we will evaluate the changes we have made and see how they have worked, and what the Program should look like in the future.

But this doesn’t work without you.

Without teachers. So, thank you.

Can I also thank Cathy Baron, the President of the History Teachers’ Association, and her team, and the ACT History Teachers’ Association for their efforts in bringing you all together for this important conference.

Have a great couple of days everyone.

Thank you for everything you do.

For the lives you change and will change.

And for the history that you are making every day.