He runs a half-marathon a day, now he’s taken charge of WA schools: Meet Tony Buti (2023)



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Western Australia’s Education Minister, Tony Buti, didn’t just step into his new role. He ran a marathon to get there.

After a solid warm-up in high school Buti hit his stride during university, where he collected a degree in physical education then moved on to teaching. Buti backtracked to uni where he picked up a second degree, this time in law, travelling the same terrain to teach the subject at tertiary level.

Buti then made another lane change when he moved into politics, dashing up the steps of Parliament House to become the member for Armadale. That long and winding road has led him to the front of the field in education.

Holding down one of the busiest jobs in government, however, will not stop marathon man Buti, who finds time to run between 10 and 30 kilometres a day. He used to run to work but says he now usually saves the longest runs for the weekend.

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The 61-year-old is so dedicated to running that he flies round the world to run marathons when he can get the time off.

“Running is my way of managing stress,” Buti says. “I’ve been running on off for 40 years, but I’ve been running consistently for at least the last 20 years.”

Stress management is something he will likely need in the coming year, with education being one of the most multifaceted and demanding portfolios in government.


“I have found the role to be incredibly stimulating, exhilarating but challenging because of the breadth and scope of the portfolio,” Buti says.


“Nearly everyone has an interest in education ... and if you count teachers and gardeners and everyone, it is about a third of the public service.”

While his new role is daunting Buti is well-prepared after a long history in education. His two university degrees and a long history teaching at multiple schools and at tertiary level has given him a deep understanding of all facets of education.

“I’ve got three siblings, my parents never went above Year 10, so I value the utility, and the importance of education,” Buti tells me during our interview at Dumas House, where he and his team will shape the future of education.

“I really knuckled down to school in Year 11 and 12. The motivation was to ensure my marks were high enough to get into a phys-ed course at UWA,” recalls Buti, who, after graduating, went on to teach at Corpus Christi.

“The real highlight [to teaching] was when you actually saw a kid get excited about learning something new or achieving something. Seeing kids succeed or try their best is a real thrill.

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“I felt an incredible sense of responsibility that, as a teacher, I had such an important role to play in these kids’ development, and ensuring that I tried to live up to that was [the biggest challenge].”

He runs a half-marathon a day, now he’s taken charge of WA schools: Meet Tony Buti (1)

Despite his passion for teaching, Buti relishes challenges, and moved on to tackle an industrial relations masters before doing a law degree at the Australian National University in Canberra.

His legal and academic careers ended in 2010 when he was elected to parliament.

One of his driving forces for getting into parliament, Buti says, was to bring about change in the education sector.

“It is such an important issue for people, particularly in low socio-economic areas,” he says.

“Schools aren’t the panacea for all society’s issues, but they have a major part to play.”

Minister Buti


“There’s no doubt that being heavily involved in education in government and now being the minister is aligned very much with my passions.”

With term one starting on Wednesday the newly minted minster will need plenty of his marathon man energy and enthusiasm to deal with the enormous challenges facing the WA education system.

Taking a run at the big issues

“There are certain schools that are a little harder to staff ... but I’ve been assured, and I’m confident that we will have a teacher in front of every classroom from day one on Wednesday,” he says.

“There is a shortage of teachers worldwide, and we are actually in a better position than other jurisdictions.”

Buti says he wants to focus on getting lower socio-economic students engaged in school, through improving mental and physical wellbeing through sport.

“Schools aren’t the panacea for all society’s issues, but they have a major part to play,” he says.

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“I don’t think it’s possible to say that you can have a school environment that is stress-free ... but it’s about ensuring students have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress, to build up a level of resilience.”


Buti has a list of tasks he is hoping to complete, including visiting as many schools as possible in the coming year.

He is also WA’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister and wants to look at continuous improvements in Aboriginal education, particularly attendance rates.

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“I want to see what can be done in regard to improving the outcomes for Aboriginal students, and in the disability space, showing support is provided,” he says.

“My mantra, really, is that we need to create a system that allows everyone to reach their full potential.”

The great ATAR debate


Declining rates of ATAR participation has been an ongoing issue, dropping lower than any other state besides Tasmania in 2021. In 2022, just 9643 students achieved an ATAR.

Buti wants to address that decline, and says improved mental and physical health would likely help boost numbers.

“I’m not saying that every student should do an ATAR, but I think there are people [who] want to go to uni that are not doing ATAR, and I think that academic rigor remains the best preparation,” he says.

“I want to create an education system where kids want to strive to achieve their best. I’ve had this view forever. Results are of course important, but ... I want to create an environment where it is normal to seek to do your best, whatever that best is.”

He runs a half-marathon a day, now he’s taken charge of WA schools: Meet Tony Buti (2)

In his downtime, when he isn’t running the equivalent of a marathon or two a week, Buti has a love for writing. His books include biographies of the Mickelberg brothers, stolen generation man Bruce Trevorrow, Sir Ronald Wilson and his own daughter, Alkira. He has also contributed to numerous academic texts and wrote a column for WAtoday, Buti’s Call, in which he combined his love for the written word and sport, most especially AFL (he is, thankfully, a Fremantle Dockers fan).


“I have very little time to write nowadays, but I do find sitting down and writing enjoyable,” he says.

Buti’s multiple achievements, his well-honed philosophy of education and a drive and determination that pushes him through a running regime that would leave the rest of us gasping, bodes well as the school year begins.

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But he will need every drop of energy he can muster heading one of the most complex government departments. There are vastly different needs to cater for, depending on the student and the region their school is in, and families are deeply invested in the decisions made at the top.

Many will be praying he doesn’t stumble before the finish line.

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