In approximately 1973 the Northern Territory Teachers Federation was formed. The NTTF was an almost entirely voluntary organisation and this is still reflected in the rules of the union today. The devastating impact of Cyclone Tracy in 1974 meant the NTTF office ceased to function for several months; many teachers left Darwin, never to return. By the late 1970s the NTTF was well-established and held its first conference away from Darwin in Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula. Key issues at the time included teacher housing and Indigenous education. The union purchased a premises in Gardiner St in Darwin's CBD.


The big issues of the time were remote conditions and the secondary/ primary interface. This was the golden age of remote area teacher training and also saw the introduction of bilingual education in a number of remote settings. In the late 1980s there were major campaigns against cuts to the public service.

Early 1990s

The union was now known as the Australian Teachers Union (NT). This was a time of major disruption, due to impeachment moves against our first female President (Hilary Press), the election of an NT teacher as national president of the Australian Teachers Federation (Di Foggo), closure of schools and major cuts to staffing by the NT Government, which we responded to with strong campaigns across the Territory. There were major changes to the industrial relations environment with the introduction of the Public Sector Employment and Management Act and the shift from industrial awards to the enterprise bargaining process.

Late 1990s

Now known as the AEU NT Branch, the union launched significant industrial action to secure improved pay and conditions for teachers.


The new century saw continuing industrial discord around EBAs, with no change to this with the election of an NT Labor Government. Dramatic expansion of principals on executive contracts made it more difficult to represent principals. In this period there was a dramatic expansion of temporary and time-limited contracts for all teachers (up to one third of total teaching workforce and higher in remote). There was a renewed focus on Indigenous Education (resulting from the Learning Lessons review) and also the Middle Schools review and implementation. The Emergency Intervention by the federal Government in 2007 caused major disruption in remote communities.


The election of a CLP Government in August 2012 immediately created a much more hostile environment for our union and public education, with cuts beginning in 2013 and continuing to the present day. A protracted EBA dispute in 2013-14 saw an unprecedented Stop the Cuts campaign, with several large rallies outside Parliament House and protests across all regions. The CLP implemented deeply unpopular policies in the face of significant teacher and public opposition, in particular the introduction of global budgets for schools and the restructuring of remote education.

The return of a Labor Government in 2016 saw a shift in the political and industrial landscape, meaning the AEU was better positioned to influence education policy. A successful enterprise bargaining campaign concluded in June 2018 saw numerous improvements in teachers' pay and conditions, putting NT classroom teachers on track to become the best-paid teachers in the country.

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© Authorised by Rachael Metcalfe, Branch Secretary, Australian Education Union Northern Territory Branch, Darwin (2023)

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