Time capsule

Each issue, we delve into our Newsmonth archives to uncover what stood out in the union, the education sector and the teaching profession, as well as politics and culture. Here we wind the clock back 30 years to 1991.

As 1991 began, Bob Hawke was Prime Minister of Australia (Paul Keating became PM in December) and Nick Greiner was NSW Premier. Much was afoot.

In January, Australia sent troops to the first Gulf War and thousands marched in protest; Anglican Bishop Peter Hollingworth was named Australian of the Year; and the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel, arrived in Sydney to begin a national tour.

It was the International Year of Indigenous People. As the year progressed, The Silence of the Lambs took out Best Picture at the Academy Awards; Nigerian author Ben Okri was awarded the Booker Prize for The Famished Road; Midnight Oil’s Blue Sky Mining took out the ARIA for best album and the Penrith Panthers won the rugby league premiership.

At the Independent Teachers’ Association (which became the IEU in 1994) Dick Shearman was General Secretary and Patrick Lee was Deputy General Secretary. The ITA in NSW had about 15,000 members in 1991; in 2021 the IEU NSW/ACT Branch boasts 32,267 members.

Equal employment opportunities

“Towards the end of 1990, several women contacted the ITA disgruntled at having missed out on promotion once more, wrote then organiser and the union’s first women’s officer, Laura Wright, who is now CEO of NGS Super. One woman, who was unsuccessful in an interview for a promotion, was told she had been “too aggressive and overconfident”.

Wright disparaged the tiresome “entrenched attitudes” that rejected assertiveness in women but rewarded it in men. Award changes in 1989, a result of union pressure, put the onus on the employer to “provide necessary training to ensure that attitudinal bias does not interfere with appointing the best person for the job”.

Wright encouraged members to establish a committee at their school to examine promotions and ensure women were represented on all school committees. The union and its members were frustrated that this issue persisted in the 1990s. How is it tracking in the 2020s?


Thirty years ago, the federal Education Minister was John Dawkins then Kim Beazley, and Virginia Chadwick was the NSW Education Minister. The top pay rate was $39,000. Super was set at 3 percent; it has since been legislated to rise to 10 percent in July 2021. The US-led war in Iraq (predicated on Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990), led to rising intolerance in Australia, culminating in the firebombing of a mosque in Rooty Hill, in Sydney’s west, in January 1991. The union condemned the attack, and students and staff at Catholic schools sent a letter of support to Malek Fahd Islamic School. “We are confident that teachers in all schools, regardless of their religious and cultural affiliations, will promote tolerance and understanding,” General Secretary Dick Shearman said.

Teachers noted the “pervasiveness of war in the curriculum” and recognised their “special responsibility to inculcate values of peaceful resolution of conflict”.

We are confident that teachers in all schools, regardless of their religious and cultural affiliations, will promote tolerance and understanding.

Release from face-to-face teaching was unheard of as 1991 began but was high on the agenda. “A petition calling for this issue to be given priority by the CEO [Catholic Education Office] was circulated among primary schools and received near unanimous support,” wrote Organiser Jenny Hannah. The ITA campaign yielded one hour per week for Catholic primary schools. In the Work Place Practices in Primary Schools agreement 2009 to 2011, it was 90 minutes per week in 2009, increasing to 105 minutes in 2010 and two hours in 2011.

Enterprise bargaining was legislated in NSW. The ITA advised members to consult with it before negotiating with employers. “The ITA is not opposed to enterprise agreements as such,” wrote ITA General Secretary Dick Shearman. “However, it should be noted that some employers will attempt to use this legislation to remove long standing award provisions that protect our members’ salaries and working conditions. This must be resisted by union members.”

Early childhood education and care

Pay rises were on the way in a notoriously undervalued sector. Intense union campaigning led to a decision in late 1990: a 4 percent increase to three-year and four-year trained teachers with additional steps on the scale from February 1991; and a further 4 percent increase for long day care teachers from 1 October 1991.

“These increases for early childhood teachers represent a significant victory for the union and its members,” wrote the union’s then Vice President, Early Childhood Services, Mary Crimmins. “The increases mean that early childhood teachers in NSW will be the highest paid in Australia.”

In a separate column, Crimmins noted the “tremendous amount of work the officers and staff at the ITA” had put into these cases. “In order for the best programs to be implemented, it is necessary to have highly qualified staff and they must be paid accordingly,” she wrote.


In 1991, the English college sector was emerging from a turbulent year, wrote organiser Nareen Young. Plummeting enrolments meant many colleges closed or went into liquidation. The colleges blamed the Federal Government’s visa restrictions; the Federal Government said employers needed to lift their game and applied stronger regulation. Many students claimed the colleges were withholding money intended for their living expenses.

Little wonder 1991 was the year the union “consolidated its position as an industrial and professional force in the ELICOS industry”, having established the English Colleges Branch in 1990.

“We should enter 1991 in the sincere hope that the ELICOS industry will not continue on the same path that it was on last year,” wrote Young. “We hope it will stabilise and that at least teachers will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and get on with their careers safe in the knowledge that they are working in a secure, viable industry.”

In 2021, in the face of a global pandemic, the IEU holds the same hopes for its ELICOS members.

Monica Crouch
Dave Towson