Blacklisted - The Great Katherine and Sanderson Teaching Job Scams

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
when first we practice to deceive."
                          – Sir Walter Scott


It looks to us like many of the persons listed below lied to us.  As the NT Education Department will not clarify our questions after trying to resolve this matter for over a year, we offer those involved the opportunity to answer our questions and we will publish their replies unedited on this website.  Perhaps there is information that we don't know about.  Here is your chance to set the record straight.  

After raising serious health, safety and other issues at Alekarenge School, on 28 March 2008, my wife and I were interviewed for and accepted teaching jobs in Katherine.  Then, just as our work visas were expiring, without warning, both principals withdrew the jobs.


Katherine Principal #1 told me in writing that I would not get an interview critique because I had neither been interviewed nor offered the position. When pressed, the principal told me in writing that it was because a teacher had withdrawn her resignation so there was no opening. In November when forced to respond in writing, DET admitted that this same principal had not only interviewed me but recommended me for the job! As for why I lost it, DET said I was unwilling to travel out bush!  After I lost the job, I asked the principal in writing:

Can you tell me who you spoke with and what they said?  Specifically, it would be helpful to know if you were told by DEET HR that I was an unsuitable candidate ... it would be helpful to know what you were told as to why you could no longer recommend me for the job.

The reply: “Robert I have no further information that I can offer. cheers...”


Question for Jen Coad, then principal, Katherine School of the Air:

Why did you vehemently deny in writing that you neither interviewed me nor offered me the job at your school?  Were you aware that when forced to reply in writing, DET later admitted that you not only interviewed me but recommended me for the job?  Since both DET and you refuse to clarify this issue, I am publicly asking you to explain this discrepancy?  I feel that you owe me an explanation – after all, you offered me the job – only to withdraw it hours before my work visa expired, putting my family in a difficult situation.  We would like to hear your explanation.  We'll even post it unedited, on this website.   

When my wife Zalina asked in writing why she suddenly lost her job offer, Katherine Principal #2 refused to say – deferring to DET HR who wrote that DET could not provide an interview critique as Zalina was neither interviewed nor offered the job – the HR officer claiming that she lost the job because a permanent unattached teacher had to be placed at the school. In November when forced to respond in writing, DET admitted that the principal had actually recommended Zalina for the job – which was declined in part on performance issues – issues that were so serious that she was deemed unfit to teach at any remote school – issues that she was never told of for 8 months, and for which they have still yet to offer any supporting evidence after one year.  How can this happen?

After losing the Katherine jobs, when we applied for positions at numerous remote schools, DET HR actually contacted us in writing to note that we were applying for many remote positions and said they would be in contact with us and try to place us.  There was no hint of competency or performance issues in remote schools. They never got back to us. 


Questions for Sharni Wilson, Principal, Katherine South Primary: 

When you suddenly withdrew Zalina's job offer at your school just as her work visa was expiring, she asked you in writing for the reason and you referred the matter to DET HR.  She then asked you explicitly for your interview critique and if she had any teaching deficiencies -- and you again referred the matter to DET HR.  We ask you again -- did DET tell you that Zalina had teaching deficiencies that could impact on her teaching at your school?  Did you know that Zalina was not told until 8 months later that she lost the position at your school, in part due to performance issues at her previous school?  We are not

out to defame you -- we would simply like you to explain these discrepencies -- after all -- Zalina accepted your job offer and committed herself to working at your school.  We will even post your response on this website, unedited, for all to see.


 Questions for Liz McDowell, Senior Consultant, DET HR: 

Why didn't you tell my wife that she lost the Katherine South Primary job, due in part to competency issues at Alekarenge School?

Why did you claim that she had never been interviewed for the job -- and therefore would not receive an interview critique?

In explaining why she lost the job, why did you write that the position was just for term 1 2008?  This is not possible as Zalina had to be hired for a minimum of 3 months.

Were you aware that Zalina had been deemed unfit to teach at any remote school -- and if so, why did you not tell her?



Question for Nadine Gardner, DET HR: 

Since DET refuses to clarify the issue, can you tell us why you did not inform my wife or I that we had been deemed unsuitable to teach at remote Territory schools -- when we told you in writing that we were applying for numerous remote jobs -- and you said you would endeavour to place us and would be in touch -- and you never got back to us?


Don’t Count on the OCPE or Charles Darwin University for Help

The Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment would not consider my grievance on our employment issues as most of these issues happened after we were out of work. My gripe with the OCPE is this: when we were still employed by DET, we tried vigorously to find out why we lost the jobs and were misled as to why – we were not told we had performance and competency issues – it was only later that we learned of these issues when DET was forced to respond to our employment issues in writing.  If we had not been misled by DET employees while we were employed, we would certainly have filed grievances then and there. Being trusting people, we also assumed that Margaret Banks and Marion Scrymgour would seriously investigate our claims – they did not.  To us the message is clear: DET can mislead its employees and the OCPE is powerless to do anything.


Charles Darwin University Misled

As Zalina received her teaching degree from Charles Darwin University, on 10 November 2008, she asked the Head of the Education Department, Alison Elliott to support her attempts to get DET to clarify her blacklisting claims.  Alison was supportive and wrote a letter to DET executive Sharon Noske – part of which appears below:

"My question to DET related to whether CDU was adequately preparing teachers for NT schools and I sought clarification on our program in relation to your employment difficulties."

In their reply, DET HR failed to even mention that Zalina had been deemed unfit to teach at any remote Territory school – instead claiming her employment issues had to do with there being no openings! 

It is not our intention to defame Sharon Noske. Our point is this: when directly asked about my wife's employment issues, how can a Senior DET executive not have known that Zalina was deemed to have had competency and performance issues – issues that if left unchallenged, could seriously impede her teaching career – and still after one year they have refused to reveal this information?  Zalina has no choice but to raise this issue to protect her career.  Does Zalina not have the right to know what these charges are and to know in a timely manner so she can respond?  Perhaps Sharon Noske was misled or told incorrect information.  Now is the time to step forward and clarify this question -- 'When you checked on Zalina's employment issues, were you aware that Zalina was deemed to have serious competency and performance issues?'  Did you know that at the time Alison Elliott wrote to you, DET still had not informed Zalina that she had any competency or performance issues?  Do you think that this is fair?  I offer you the opportunity to clarify this discrepancy and I will publish it on this website for all to see?   


The Sanderson Middle School ‘Bait and Switch’

The events at Sanderson Middle School leave no doubt that my wife and I were blacklisted, the circumstances of which are nothing short of bizarre.  I worked at Sanderson for eight days, only to be told I had never been hired, was working illegally, and was never paid!  What’s more, DET refused to discuss that matter with my only point of contact for the job – Sanderson principal Russell Legg – a man of high integrity, who was supportive and distressed by my sudden departure.  DET told me that I had lied to Mr Legg about my visa status – that I hadn’t told Russell I was on a bridging visa that didn’t allow me to work. My response: just pick up the phone and ask Russell; he’ll clarify what we discussed. DET refused, said I had lied to Mr Legg and if I was deported, so be it.  How can they conclude this without even talking to him? 

The Sanderson position was limited to a single term which ended on 20 June 2008 – we have it in writing.  I was asked to and started work on 22 April.  Therefore, DET was never in a position to hire me; indeed, they never had any intention of hiring me; their employment policy explicitly states that the minimum period of sponsorship for teachers on a 457 visa is 3 months. DET claims they had made a supporting application to Immigration to sponsor me.  I challenge DET to produce this document.

There was never any attempt on my part to deceive anyone on my status – indeed, Darwin Immigration first learned that I was working – from myself!  I told Immigration that I was working at Sanderson. Darwin Immigration compliance officer Michelle Willcox readily accepted my explanation of a bridging visa ‘misunderstanding’ and told me that I was free to get sponsorship.  DET used this as a pretext to say I had deceived them and thus – purge me from the system.

The circumstances of my ‘employment offer’ at Sanderson were extraordinary:  On 21 April 2008, two DET officials (Rita Henry and Richard Hunt) rang me after I rang DET and said I was planning a press conference as a last resort because not having heard back from Ms Scrymgour over our employment and life-threatening duty of care issues at Alekarenge School, and not having my phone calls returned by DET executives, and facing possible deportation, from my view I had no choice but to raise my blacklisting issues in the media.  After outlining our employment issues, I said: “If you believe my wife and I have been treated poorly, then help find us two jobs.” Sanderson principal Russell Legg phoned that afternoon.

On 22 April I was interviewed by Mr Legg and accepted a two-term position teaching English.  I was asked to start work the next day even though I hadn’t signed a contract. This wasn’t unusual; in my previous job at Alekarenge School, I did not get my contract to sign for the first 10 days.

Why would DET HR automatically assume that I had lied about the bridging visa when Immigration accepted my explanation, and why would they refuse to talk to Mr Legg, who could clarify what was discussed?  The day before I was interviewed at Sanderson, I even told The Weekend Australian that my wife and I could not legally work – there wasn’t any attempt to hide my visa status.  In fact, earlier that month we had written to the Education Minister Marion Scrymgour, informing her of our visa status and that our work visas had expired!


Still Not Convinced?  Then Explain This...

Just days before the Sanderson ‘offer,’ we later learned that the Education Department had contacted Immigration in writing and stated emphatically that they would not be offering my wife or myself  “any teaching placement within the DEET.”  This is why I believe the Sanderson job was a setup from the start, intended to get rid of me once and for all from the system.   



To Russell Legg, Sanderson Principal:

Did you know that DET has claimed in writing that I lied to you about my bridging visa status?

Did you know that I asked DET to ask you to clarify this as you were my only point of contact for the job at your school – and a DET executive refused?   I believe you were not aware of any of this and thank you for your support.  You have a wonderful school and staff.


 Questions for Carol Penglase, Head of DET People & Learning: 

Can you explain why you would not contact Russell Legg and ask him whether I lied to him about my bridging visa status?  As Russell was my only point of contact, this is mystifying.  How could you draw this conclusion without talking to Mr Legg?

On 9 April 2008, you told Union Secretary Adam Lampe that my wife and I had been listed as unsuitable teachers, yet why did you deny this when we asked you?  Indeed, in May 2008, I asked you in writing to clarify your statement that there is no likely prospect of my wife or I finding employment in DET in the foreseeable future.  In your response, you failed to mention that my wife was deemed unsuitable to teach at any remote Territiory school – and I was deemed unsuitable to teach Aboriginal children in remote schools, had behavioural management and curriculum issues.  Can you explain these discrepancies?

Can you explain why other senior HR consultants who knew we were applying for remote school positions -- Liz McDowell for example, did not inform us that we were deemed unsuitable for these very jobs?

Can you explain in greater detail, why, in mid-2008, my 'Teaching in the Territory' online application which is viewed by principals to vet candidates directly -- mysteriously vanished and I wasn't told?  DET initially told me it had been accidentally deleted and couldn't be restored -- then when your office was contacted for a more detailed explanation, it suddenly reappeared? We would like a more detailed explanation than the vague one you told the Teachers Union.

Since DET will not clarify this issue, I am publicly asking you to provide me with a copy of the application that DET allegedly submitted to Immigration supposedly sponsoring me at Sanderson Middle School – and explain how DET could sponsor me for a position that was only 8 weeks?  When Immigration accepted my bridging visa explanation and remained willing to sponsor me at DET, why did you then tell me in writing that the Sanderson position was just for 8 weeks – therefore you were never in a position to sponsor me? These discrepancies are baffling.  I am offering you the opportunity to clarify this matter since DET has not.  My family suffered significant hardship after losing the Sanderson position.  I have no choice but to clarify this issue as DET claims I lied to them about my visa status – a serious allegation.  Can you explain why Immigration accepted my explanation but you did not?  I respectfully ask you to explain your actions and I will even post your explanation – unedited – on this website for all to see.  


Being in a position to know and nevertheless shunning knowledge
creates direct responsibility for the consequences.

                             – Albert Speer


Marion Scrymgour Refuses to Meet With Us

On 9 May 2008, we wrote an urgent appeal to Marion Scrymgour for a brief meeting to express our concerns over health and safety issues at Alekarenge School, noting that the DET investigation was a sham as no one even bothered to interview us or seek our documentation.


Friday 9 May 2008

From:      Dr Robert Bartholomew, Zalina Abdrahman (former teachers, Ali-Curung)
                   Mobile: xxxxxxxxxx; rebartholomew(at)

To:          Marion Scrymgour  (Fax: 08 8901 4100)

We respectfully request a 30-minute meeting with you in your office.

As we have already waited one month for your office to intervene in our case without a response, we seek a meeting at your earliest convenience, and to consider that our three children and ourselves have been under acute physical and emotional stress for 51 days.

Purpose:  your assistance in a serious dispute with members of DEET who have blacklisted us for quietly and professionally raising life-threatening issues of health and safety at Ali-Curung School in Term 1 2008, where the Indigenous staff, police and community who have signed petitions supporting our efforts.  These Indigenous residents have placed their trust in us to resolve these issues; we will not let them down. We are gratified that many members of DEET itself have privately contacted us to offer their support and apologise for our treatment. 

As we did in our letter to you on 9 April, we again ask that you protect ourselves and our children until this dispute is resolved.

There are many good people in the Education Department. We want to maintain the good public image of the Department and we want this issue to be resolved in a just manner.  


On May 12, 2008, we received this reply:

“Thank you for your request to meet with Marion Scrymgour ... Unfortunately due to the Minister's committments she will be unable to meet with you.”  – Karlee Russell, Personal Assistant



Questions for Marion Scrymgour:

Were you aware that just days after we asked your office to investigate our health, safety and blacklisting allegations at Alekarenge School, DET wrote a letter to Immigration saying they would no longer be employing us – without telling us?  Were you aware that DET never told us we had competency issues for 8-months until forced to reply in writing?  When we told you in writing on multiple occasions that there were serious health issues at Alekarenge School, and that DET's investigation was a sham as they did not even bother to look at our evidence – why did you still refuse to meet with us?

We trusted you to investigate our claims that we had been blacklisted.  In the investigation findings which were very vague and very brief – neither you nor Margaret Banks told us we had been blacklisted.  Guess what – 8-months later the Education Department, when forced to reply in writing, confirmed that we had been blacklisted.  Please explain.  

To this day, no one from the Education Department or Marion Scrymgour's Office has bothered to ask us for documents or witnesses to support our serious charges, despite repeated attempts to contact them and despite asking Marion Scrymgour in person.


DET Maintains that we were Never Blacklisted…

In 2008 my wife and I made unsuccessful inquiries for no less than 75 advertised positions at Territory schools, despite DET claiming they were trying to place us, despite a teacher shortage, despite my wife being on the teacher shortage list and I being able to teach subjects on that list.  When we asked then DET CEO Margaret Banks to investigate our blacklisting claims – she failed to tell us that we had been deemed unfit to teach at remote schools – and neither did then Education Minister Marion Scrymgour. Despite Paul Newman and other DET executives claiming in writing they were trying to place us, they failed to tell us until forced to do so in writing 8-months later, that we had been deemed unfit to teach in remote schools.  Curiously, the schools we had been offered jobs at, only to lose them in bizarre circumstances – were not even remote schools (Sanderson, Katherine South Primary, Katherine School of the Air).

Among the schools we made job inquiries to – in some instances even driving there, were:

  • Acacia Hill
  • Alayangula
  • Alcoota Station
  • Alice Springs High School
  • Amoonguna
  • Angurugu CEC
  • Anzac Hill High School
  • Bakewell Primary
  • Barunga CEC (Roper River)
  • Batchelor Area School
  • Bees Creek
  • Belyuen Primary
  • Berry Springs
  • Bonya
  • Borroloola
  • Bradshaw Primary
  • Braitling
  • Bulla Camp
  • Bulman
  • Casuarina Senior College
  • Casuarina Street Primary
  • Centralian Senior School
  • Clyde Fenton
  • Darwin High School
  • Darwin Middle School
  • Docker River
  • Driver Primary
  • Duck Creek
  • Dundee Beach
  • Durack Primary
  • Elliot School       
  • Epenarra
  • Finke School
  • Galuwinku
  • Gapuwiyak
  • Gillen Primary
  • Girraween Primary
  • Gocha Jiny Jirra
  • Gunbalanya
  • Haasts Bluff
  • Harts Range
  • Humpty Doo
  • Imanpa
  • Ipolera
  • Jabiru Area School
  • Katherine High School
  • Katherine School of Air
  • Katherine South Primary
  • Kiana School
  • Kintore
  • Lajamanu   
  • Lake Nash
  • Laramba School
  • Larrakeyah Primary
  • Leanyer Primary
  • Ludmilla Primary
  • MacFarlane  
  • Malak Primary
  • Maningrida
  • Mataranka
  • Mbunghara   
  • Milingimbi
  • Moil Primary
  • Moulden Primary
  • Mount Allen
  • Mutjitjulu
  • Nakara Primary
  • Newcastle Waters
  • Nganmarriyanga
  • Ngukurr      
  • Nhulunbuy High School  
  • Nhulunbuy Primary
  • Nightcliff Middle School
  • Numbulwar
  • Palmerston High School
  • Papunya
  • Parap Primary
  • Peppimenarti
  • Piegon Hole
  • Pularumpi
  • Ramingining
  • Robinson River
  • Rockhampton
  • Ross Park Primary
  • Santa Teresa
  • Shepardson College
  • Stirling Station
  • Stuart Park Primary
  • Ti Tree School
  • Timber Creek
  • Titjikala
  • Ukaka Homeland
  • Umbakumba
  • Utopia
  • Wallace Rockhole
  • Warruwi School
  • Wave Hill
  • Woodroffe
  • Yirara College
  • Yirrkala Homelands School

...and yes, we applied to non-government Territory schools as well -- we even signed two contracts at a private school, only to have them suddenly withdrawn.


Seven Months After being Ousted, How was Our School Doing?

An Australian Government report by Vic Martin writing for the Northern Territory Emergency Response Review dated 6 November 2008, described the state of our school:

“The Ali Curung school is in crisis, producing generations of young people who can barely read or write. 40 children in Ali Curung have never been to school. Of around 140 students there are days when only four will be in school. Adult education is ignored. There is no evidence that the intervention has had any impact. A government is pushing people into jobs. But most lack the ability to even read a tape measure or the number of litres in a tank, their skills are inadequate in the mainstream economy.

Such is the concern of a group of parents, it has been decided to form a committee to work out ways for them to manage the school and improve school attendance.”


. .