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”.