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Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:39): Happy Public Education Day to all of those across our communities who are working in public education institutions—some of whom might have to take some responsibility for some of us in here! So, happy Public Education Day.
It is an opportunity for our nation to celebrate the immense value of public education and the really significant achievements as a result of public education. Our public education system is a strong and very important part of the social infrastructure of all our communities. In this country we have a long tradition of and we place great value on people's right to access a quality education, regardless of their background or circumstances. That is the foundation of our public education system. It built our social and democratic traditions and, I would argue, it is the key to much of our country's economic success as well.
In celebrating Public Education Day today, we pay tribute to those who work in the system—obviously, the teachers for the work that they do day in, day out. As many of us know as parents, wrangling a classroom full of youngsters of any age is not an easy task; but to then also light the fire of a love of learning in them is an enormous achievement. Day in, day out, the teachers across our public education system dedicate themselves to that. We also acknowledge the executives of our schools; we know how important the leadership team in a school is. We also thank all the ancillary and support staff, who are such a critical part of the life of our schools.
On a personal level, I extend my own thanks to them, and I have two examples. Like all of us here, I am sure, I retain very strong, fond memories of certain teachers. I enjoyed my primary school days at Mount Warrigal Public School. I particularly remember one teacher, Mrs le Roux. Mrs le Roux had arrived from South Africa; she had moved here with her husband, who was a player for the Springboks. She was a fantastic teacher, but she also encouraged us not only to expand our academic achievements but to look for a creative outlet. I remember making candles, doing macrame—this is going to age me, I know!—and all the other fantastic arts and crafts that were around at the time. It was really a joyous experience every day to go to school.
For my high school years, I spent time at both Warilla High School, in Wollongong's southern suburbs, and Airds High School, in the suburbs of Campbelltown. At Airds High School, I had a teacher called Mr Reed. He was a science teacher but he specialised in geology. We were talking about doing science in the senior years—I took geology in years 11 and 12. It was not because I ever intended to go into the science field, to be honest; it was because he was so passionate about his field of study that it was a joy to learn with him. I think it is a great example of how, if you do a subject with someone who loves it—no matter what the subject is—and who can impart the skill of learning, you get great value out of it anyway. So my personal thanks go to all my teachers, with a special acknowledgement of those two.
Last Tuesday, I represented the Leader of the Opposition at the Sydney Town Hall, at the Public Education Foundation Awards Night 2015. This was a great night. One of our colleagues from the Senate was there as well, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, and the New South Wales minister was there, so it was a great cross-party occasion. There were lots of performances by public school students, and lots of students shining and getting awards. I want to acknowledge some local students. Isabell Thomas, from Corrimal High School; Laura Burling, from Dapto High School; and Masoumeh Yousefi, Fahimeh Azimi, Lena Adeli and Nesa Adeli, from Five Islands Secondary College, all got awards on the night.
It was a tremendous occasion that showcased what a great education can be had in our public schools across the country. It is a really good way to finish up the week in this place by saying: happy Public Education Day.