No Ticket, No Start---No More!
The Teachers' Association of Australia Story
I would like to begin by painting a broad picture
of teacher unions in Australia.
The following unions and associations are affiliates
of the Independent Teachers Federation of Australia
- Queensland Association of Teachers in Independent
Schools, Union of Employees;
- New South Wales Independent Teachers Association;
- Association of Teachers in Independent Schools (S
- Independent Schools Salaried Officers' Association
of Western Australia, Industrial Union of Workers;
- Independent Schools Staff Association (ACT);
- Northern Territory Independent Schools Staff Association;
- Victorian Association of Teachers in Independent
- Staff Association Catholic Secondary Schools (Victoria);
- Victorian Catholic Primary Staff Association;
- Tasmanian Registered Teachers Association.
The following unions are affiliates of the Australian
Teachers Federation (ATF):
- Queensland Teachers' Union of Employees;
- The State School Teachers' Union of Western Australia
- Victorian Secondary Teachers' Association;
- Technical Teachers Union of Victoria;
- Victorian Teachers Union;
- South Australian Institute of Teachers;
- Tasmanian Teachers' Federation;
- New South Wales Teachers' Federation;
- The A.C.T. Teachers' Federation;
- Northern Territory Teachers' Federation.
All of the Government unions are affiliated with the
various State trades and labour councils as well as
with the ACTU. The ITFA is also affiliated with the
The majority of these unions could be described as
political in nature, with a marked left-wing bias.
They subscribe to the traditional ethos of the trade
union movement and are not afraid to use strike action
as an instrument of negotiation. They generally support
the Australian Labor Party with both finances and personnel,
particularly at election time. Their interests extend
beyond teachers industrial matters into the broader
social issues, such as the peace movement and disarmament,
aboriginal land rights, gay rights, and selected international
movements such as SWEEPY, the ANC, the Chilean Solidarity
Movement, the Kanak peoples' struggle in New Caledonia---to name but a few.
Their educational objectives need to be closely scrutinised---they want to politicise schools through the curriculum,
and they are generally opposed to examinations, assessment
and competition between students. Teacher accountability
has all but disappeared. They want to restrict choice
of schooling and they promote equal outcomes for students
and equal opportunity for teachers---but only for their
members. They denounce apartheid in South Africa but
practise it here in Australia against my members. They
do not like opposition in any shape or form---they
are monopolistic and totalitarian. In short, they want
total control of the education system.
The executives of these unions appear to have much
power and the ability to manipulate their vast membership.
Their task is made easier in Queensland and New South
Wales where teachers in both the government and non-government
sectors cannot be employed unless they show proof of
union membership. In Victoria this is not the case,
but if the organisations with which I am associated---the Victorian Affiliated Teachers' Federation (VATF)
and the Teachers' Association of Australia (TAA)---
were not in existence, I am sure this would be so.
Hence 'No ticket, no start---not quite'.
As far as I know, VATF and TAA are the only teacher
unions in Australia which could be described as moderate.
(Our opponents label us right-wing, whatever that means.)
VATF/TAA are anathema to the union movement, particularly
to the education sector. We are seen as a splinter
group set up to be divisive.
We believe strongly in Article 20 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights which states that 'everyone
has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
and that no one may be compelled to belong to an association'.
We believe in the freedom of choice and pursuit of
excellence by both teachers and students. We aim to
raise the professional image of teachers. We believe
in government funding of all schools. We think competition
is healthy and a necessary ingredient for progress.
We are concerned solely with educational issues.
We are non-party political---the constitutions of
both VATF and TAA state that we cannot support nor
receive support from, nor make donations to, any political
party. The power of the organisation resides in the
membership. There will be no strike action unless there
is a two-thirds majority from a secret postal ballot.
Any contentious issues are subjected to a secret postal
ballot of members. In TAA's rules, even decisions made
at a public meeting are then subjected to a secret
postal ballot of all members.
Advent of Federal Unions
In 1929, four judges of the High Court, (Isaacs J.
dissenting) ruled in the case of the Federated State
School Teachers' Association of Australia v. The State
of Victoria and others, that the educational activities
of the States carried on under the appropriate statutes
and statutory regulations of each State relating to
education did not constitute an 'industry' within the
meaning of Section 4 of the Conciliation and Arbitration
Act 1904-28; that the occupation of the teachers so
employed was not an 'industrial' occupation; and that
the dispute which existed between the States and the
teachers employed by them was therefore not an 'industrial
dispute' within Section 51 (xxxv) of the Constitution.
On 9 June 1983, the Full Bench of the High Court made
a unanimous decision which amounted to a reinterpretation
of Section 4(1) of the Commonwealth Conciliation and
Arbitration Act relating to the term 'industrial dispute'.
The words 'industrial dispute' are not a technical
or legal expression. They have to be given their popular
meaning---what they convey to the man in the street.
The 'industrial dispute' in question was one between
an organisation of social workers (the Australian Social
Welfare Union) and their employers, the Community Youth
Support Scheme Committees, whose appeal against acceptance
of a union log of claims apparently based on this long-standing
decision of the High Court had been upheld by the Arbitration
Significance for VATF
Teacher unions including the VATF were not slow to
arrive at the significance of this volte-face in High
Court thinking. We sought legal advice as soon as the
news reached us, and began making preparations to apply
to the Federal Industrial Registrar for federal registration.
This would entitle us, if successful, to seek an award
before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration
Commission in due course as well as give us the formal
recognition by the State Government which we had sought
since coming into existence in 1976.
Three new federal organisations came into being. The
TAA was formed by VATF. The Independent Teachers Federation
(ITF) was formed by ITFA and the Australian Teachers
Union (ATU) was the alter ego of ATF. These organisations
came into existence as it was easier to create new
organisations with new sets of rules which complied
with the 1904 Conciliation and Arbitration Act, than
to adapt the constitutions of the existing organisations.
It is significant that TAA was the first applicant.
Its application was lodged with the Industrial Registrar
on 3 November 1983. It had taken us just a little more
than 3 months to get our act together. ITF lodged its
application on 7 February 1984 and ATU on 13 February
1984. It was significant because Section 142 of the
Conciliation and Arbitration Act states 'That the Registrar
shall ... refuse to register any association as an
organisation if an organisation to which the members
of the association might conveniently belong has already
been registered'. As there were no other federally
registered State organisations, Section 142 could not
be used to knock TAA out. Regulation 117 states that
applications for registration shall be dealt with as
far as practicable in the order in which they are received.
As there were three applicants in a virgin field,
the Registrar decided to hear them in tandem and give
a decision at the completion of the hearings.
Recent High Court Decision
The road to registration of TAA has been long and
tough. It has been a race for stayers. After 5 years
and 3 months, TAA gained a landmark decision from the
High Court on 7 February this year. The Court ordered
that the decision of the Full Bench of the Conciliation
and Arbitration Commission not to register TAA be overturned.
It ruled that:
'Because the Act and the Regulations confer an entitlement
to registration, qualified in the manner indicated,
the Commissions task in exercising the power conferred
by s.88F(4) of the Act was to determine whether the
requirements for registration of TAA had been met.
The Commission's wrong construction of the Act and
the Regulations led it to believe that it had the quite
different task of deciding whether in the circumstances
it was desirable to allow the registration of TAA.
In the result the Commission not only misunderstood
the nature of its task, but it failed to perform the
task which the Act and Regulations required. This amounted
to a constructive failure to exercise jurisdiction.'
The implication of this decision is that we now return
to the Commission for appeals against us to be heard
and determined according to law. We have an enhanced
chance of being successful. TAA received only limited
press publicity regarding this decision. However, I
refer to an article by Bronwyn Young in the Australian
Financial Review (8 February 1989) entitled 'David
In the early months following our application, some
220 individuals, unions and school employers, including
every State Government, lodged formal objections with
the Arbitration Commission. The non-government sector
- principals of Catholic and other Independent Schools;
- the Association of heads of Independent Schools;
- eight specified Independent Schools in the State
- the Catholic Education Offices of the States of
Victoria (and Catholic Schools), South Australia, Tasmania,
Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.
- the Catholic Education Office---Canberra/Goulburn;
- the Associations of Independent Schools of Victoria
and Western Australia; and
- the South Australian Independent Schools Board.
Some objections were settled by negotiations which
resulted in an exclusion clause, e.g. relating to
nurses, clerical workers, kindergarten teachers and
public servants) being inserted into the TAA constitution.
People whom we thought would support us and ought
to support us made it known that they would pursue
TAA to the end by financially draining our resources.
The odds were really stacked against us. We were
new and perhaps naive. We were small with only 300
members at the time the application was made. We lacked
support and we lacked finance, but we believed in what
we were doing.
I draw attention to the Chronology of Events appended
to my paper and will only highlight significant matters
On 13 July 1984, the Registrar determined that Rule
5 of TAA specified an industry in or in connection
with which the application could obtain registration
under the Act. On I July 1985, the Queensland Government,
along with other States and employer organisations,
appealed to the Full Court of the High court (there
was one vacant seat) the Registrar's decision maintaining
that school teaching was not an industry and therefore
all applicant unions were not capable of being registered.
On 10 June 1986---almost 12 months later---the High
court announced that teaching was deemed to be an industry
and that all 3 applicant associations were registrable.
On 2 September 1986, the Registrar dismissed technical
objections against TAA's rules. This meant that TAA's
rules complied with the prescribed conditions set out
in the Act.
On 17 December 1986, after some 17 days of hearings
in which we were represented by a Q.C., a Junior Barrister
and a Solicitor, the Registrar stated that he would
not refuse to register the TAA. This decision sent
shock waves through our opponents. We knew it was only
a matter of time before that decision would be appealed.
On 10 August 1987, the appeals commenced and lasted
for 20 days. On 25 March 1988, the Full Bench of the
Australian Commission---consisting of Justice Coldham,
Deputy President Hancock and Commissioner Smith---allowed
the appeals and overturned the Registrar's Decision
of 17 December 1986.
TAA's only option if it was to stay in the hunt was
to appeal to the High Court. This could only be done
on legal grounds. That case, as has previously been
mentioned is now history. Interspersed between these
dates were appeals concerning Section 134, (Alterations
to Rules), with different unions being brought in at
strategic times to lodge further objections.
Since lodging TAA's application, over 70 days of court
hearings have taken place. The number of days for preparation
and research for these hearings could be at least double
that. The cost of these proceedings has meant that
publicity and marketing have had to take a back seat.
The press have not been particularly interested in
this saga. The major daily newspapers have all but
Besides these federal proceedings, VATF has been actively
protecting its interests in the courts in Victoria.
Briefly, it has been involved with the Teaching Service
Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It has taken
action in the Supreme Court against this Commission
and was successful in a subsequent Full Court Appeal.
Parliament subsequently abolished this specialist Commission
and transferred Teacher Industrial Relations into the
State Industrial Relations Commission. It has successfully
conducted a case in the Supreme Court against the Government
for being denied natural justice in relation to an
Occupational Health and Safety application. It has
been involved in the Industrial Relations Commission
of Victoria to establish Conciliation and Arbitration
Boards and is about to embark upon a recognition case.
Perhaps these events can be retold at a future conference.
It is not easy to establish a union. It may be a
long time before another union in any industry---particularly
In education---can gain federal registration. Under
the new Industrial Relations Act, which is to operate
from 1 March, it will be almost impossible. Future
unions will have to have an initial membership of 1,000.
Under the old Act under which TAA applied, only 100
members were the necessary requirement. It requires
courage to take a stand against the Establishment:
unions go to extreme lengths to stop poaching of their
members. It also requires a lot of financial resources
and human effort.
If ever there has been a union worth supporting in
Australia---a union which could bring about a significant
change in Australia's future through the next generation
of Australian children---it is the Teachers' Association
TEACHERS' ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA---Chronology of Events
||Initial idea of forming Federal union raised.
|2 November 1983
||Application to register TAA lodged with Industrial
Registrar, Arbitration Commission, Melbourne
|13 July 1984
||After 6 hearing days the Industrial Registrar determines
that TAA is capable of being registered within the
industry of school teaching.
|3 April 1985
||Appeals by Queensland Government and non-government
school sector against the 'Industry' determination
dismissed by Full Bench of Arbitration Commission.
|3 April 1985
||Full Bench of Arbitration Commission determines that
the ATU and ITF also registrable.
|20 May 1985
||The Queensland Government successfully lodges application
in High Court to prohibit next stage of registration
process from proceeding.
|10 July 1985
||In High Court in Brisbane, Queensland Government presents
case why teacher organisations ought not to be registered
federally. (Queensland Government maintains that school
teaching is not an industry within meaning of Arbitration
Act and therefore all applicant unions not capable
of being registered. They further argue that education,
and the administration of education, are domain of
States and ought to be free from interference at federal
level.) TAA participants in this case.
|10 June 1986
||Decision of High Court deems teaching an industry for
purposes of Conciliation and Arbitration Act---that
the 3 applicant teacher associations are registrable
as organisations of employees in an industry.
|2 September 1986
||Industrial Registrar dismisses technical objections
against TAA after 3 hearing days.
10 October 1986
|Appeals by ATU, ITF, Independent Schools' employer
organisations and Catholic Education Offices in each
State against TAA's application. Hearings last 17
|17 December 1986
||Industrial Registrar states that he would refuse registration
|27 March 1987
||Hearing for mention of technical objections and rule
|8 April 1987
||Industrial Registrar refuses ATU (registered on February
4, 1987) to lodge an objection as registered organisation
out of time.
|29 April-1 May 1987
||Objections to TAA rule changes by ATU and ITF.
|11-12 May 1987
||Boulton, J, hears application for leave to appeal against
decision of Registrar made on 2 September 1987 by ITF
|15-18 May 1987
||Objections by State Public Services Federation against
TAA's rule change.
|11 June 1987
||Boulton, J. refuses ITF and ATU leave to appeal against
|11 June 1987
||Boulton, J. refuses the ATU leave to appeal against
the Registrar's Decision of 8 April.
|20 July 1987
||Industrial Registrar dismisses objection of ITF/ITFA
relating to TAA rule changes. The ACT Teacher's Federation
objection also dismissed. Grounds 1 and 2 of ATU objections
dismissed but grounds 3 to 8 referred to Full Bench
of Commission. Industrial Registrar suggests that
TAA and State Public Services Federation try to agree
on acceptable alterations to TAA eligibility rule.
|4 August 1987
||ATU appeals to Full Bench against Boulton J's Decision
of June 11.
22 December 1987
|Appeals against Industrial Registrar's Decision of
17 December 1986 commenced. Full Bench consisting
of Justice Coldham, Deputy President Hancock, Commissioner
Smith. Hearing lasts 20 days.
|12 August 1987
||Full Bench dismisses appeal by ATU to lodge an objection
out of time.
|18 August 1987
||TAA granted leave to appeal to Full High Court by single
|25 March 1988
||Full Bench Decision allows appeals. Registrar's Decision
of 17 December 1986 overturned.
|7 October 1988
||High Court hearing Canberra. TAA applies to have Decision
of Arbitration Commission 25 March 1988 overturned.
|7 February 1989
||High Court quashes decision of Full Bench and orders
Commission to rehear appeals in accordance with law.|