I came from a low-income family and, in my little pocket of the world, education wasn’t highly valued and opportunities were limited.
The only reason that I’m now able to fight for better schools and improved conditions for Australian educators in the Federal Parliament is because I had the support of dedicated and passionate teachers at my local high school.
Without the devoted guidance of teachers like Mr Harvey, my English teacher, I would never have come to appreciate the awesome power of a good education.
I am forever in their debt and every day I seek to repay them for their commitment by fighting for Australian teachers and students in the Senate.
I’ll always argue for more funding for our kids, because I understand that giving every child access to a high-quality education is the single most important way that we can create equality of opportunity in our society.
Not only is this fact regularly borne out through studies across the globe, I know it from personal experience.
Guaranteeing access to a valuable education is a complex business, but it must start with adequate investment from our federal and state governments across the country.
Over the last 12 months the Greens have played a crucial role in reversing the disastrous privatisation and deregulation of the Vocational Education and Training sector and worked to improve access to preschool and early education for all Australian families.
In this same year, the way our Federal Government distributes funding to public and private schools has been radically reformed.
This was a significant, complex change to the way schools funding works in Australia and it came with serious advantages and disadvantages that needed to be considered.
While the Greens approached this debate with one clear aim, namely to get the best possible outcome for Australian teachers and school children, it was disappointing to see the Labor and Liberal parties descend into a political bun fight.
It’s high time we put our differences aside and brought an end to the political point-scoring that has dominated Canberra for decades.
For too long, politicians have only wanted their own side to win, even if that has meant that teachers and students lose.
While the new funding package had its problems, which ultimately meant the Greens could not support it in the Parliament, I am proud of the principled approach our party took during the debate.
Looking forward, we must continue the fight to make sure that our education system is improved across the board and adequately funded, at both a State and Federal level, to make sure that it works for every Australian child.
What we need is a holistic improvement to how we approach education in Australia, rather than piecemeal fixes made to specific, individual areas.
There is no point in having one of the best university systems in the world, for example, if our high schools are being left behind.
Similarly, if we continue to put children through inadequate early childhood education but have the best funded schools in the world, it will be like putting a toddler behind the wheel of a Lamborghini.
Without a proper educational foundation, students won’t be able to get the most out of our schools, no matter how much money is spent.
It’s only by adequately investing in early childhood education, universal preschool, primary schools, high schools, universities and TAFE, all at the same time, that we’ll finally be able to fix our broken system.
To understand the importance of a holistic approach to improving education, rather than approaching different sectors separately, we should look at examples from overseas.
It’s no coincidence that Finland had close to 100 per cent participation in early childhood education as well as the best school outcomes in the world, according to the most recent PISA results.
On the other hand, Australia has chronically under invested in early childhood and preschool education for decades.
That has had a crippling flow on effect for student outcomes later in life and this year Australia ranked a very concerning 39th out of 41 wealthy countries when it comes to high school achievement, according to the United Nations.
Clearly, we must keep up the fight in 2018 and beyond to make sure we give all Australian children the best possible chance at a successful life.
Before wrapping up, I want to say a big thank you to the teachers that work so hard in our schools across Australia.
You often work in extremely difficult circumstances, making the most of increasingly scarce resources and, as a mother who wants nothing but the best for my own daughter, I struggle to explain how much that means to me.
Just like the teachers back in my small country town high school, you are the guiding lights for the next generation.
Never forget how important the work you do is or how grateful families across Australia are for the fact that you do it.