At AEU Victoria, our members make us who we are. We are as diverse, spirited and multi-talented as the nearly 50,000 members we represent, including principals, education support staff and teachers working in public schools, early childhood, TAFE, AMES, and disability services.
Our leadership is democratically elected by members, and we are proud to work for you.
Meet the leadership team
Meredith Peace - Branch President
Meredith did a science degree with a plan to work in environmental science. But she decided teaching would give her the chance to put her scientific knowledge into action. Read more
Meredith joined the union as a student and quickly got active at her new school. She was active in the sub-branch's efforts to improve the school’s consultative committee. She was elected sub-branch president in her second year, then progressed to branch council and, in 1990, branch executive. In 2001, Meredith was elected as deputy vice president of secondary, and the rest is history.
Despite not originally intending to become a teacher, Meredith is passionate about public education and equity, and was proudly educated in public schools. Neither of her parents went beyond Year 10 at school, and they wanted a different future for their children. They imbued Meredith with an understanding of the importance of education, and a strong sense of community.
Erin Aulich - Branch Secretary
Erin began her teaching career at Fountain Gate Secondary College, having completed a double degree in health promotion and education. Read more
She has taught science, maths and health in Victoria and overseas, including a year spent teaching English in South Korea, and worked as a year level coordinator. After taking on the role of AEU representative at her school, she participated in several union campaigns and was elected to AEU council.
It was participating in the Anna Stewart Memorial Project that made Erin determined to work for the AEU, having learned more about the history and achievements of the union movement. She wanted to influence change on a bigger scale and is proud to represent members as the AEU fights for needs based funding and equity within the education system.
She started out in the Member Support Unit (now MSC) for two years before being elected as the AEU’s deputy vice president of secondary in 2010. Three years later, she went on to take up the vice president role before being appointed Branch Secretary in July 2018.
Justin Mullaly - Deputy President
Justin became a union member while he was still at university studying his diploma of education, and soon got involved with the newly-formed New Educators Network. As a graduate teacher at Princes Hill Secondary, he kept putting his hand up for more opportunities with the union, and four years later Justin began working at the AEU. Read more
Justin still misses the buzz he got as a teacher when he'd look around the classroom and realise, "This is working!"
In his current role as deputy president of AEU Victoria, Justin loves winning hard-fought campaigns on behalf of members. He believes public education is the cornerstone of democracy, and is inspired by the work teachers do each and every day.
Seir Holley - Deputy Secretary
Seir has an early childhood background, having started her career in early childhood as a Kindergarten teacher, before moving to Primary. Prior to being elected as Deputy Secretary of the AEU Victorian Branch, Seir was an Assistant Principal and Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority Board member. Read more
Seir’s commitment to trade unionism was instilled by her parents, both of whom are also teachers, and was strengthened by her undertaking the Anna Stewart Memorial Project in 2013 and the AEU’s Women in Leadership program in 2014. Seir became a Branch Councillor in 2010, a member of Branch Executive in 2016 and has twice been elected to the role of Deputy Vice President Primary.
Seir says her experience working in disadvantaged schools in the western suburbs inspired her strong belief that all students, irrespective of the school they attend, where they live, or their socio-economic status, have an entitlement to a high-quality public school education and a genuine opportunity to succeed.
Elaine Gillespie - Vice President, TAFE and Adult Provision
Elaine is a highly experienced teacher and veteran unionist who likes nothing better than getting out on the streets to campaign. She has doorknocked for two state elections now and is always impressed by how happy people are to talk once they discover she is a teacher. Read more
Elaine started teaching beauty therapy when she first came to Australia from Scotland in 1991, although her union career dates back to her first gig in a fish and chip shop when she was 13. She taught at Ella Bache as a teacher and principal for seven years, before leaving to work as a program manager at Victoria University, overseeing the beauty programs.
Teaching remained her first love, however, and from 2010 she took a position in learning and teaching, where she found herself training trade teachers. Around the same time, she was elected sub-branch president at VU, finding that working with teachers across all the VU campuses gave her an ideal opportunity to talk about the union and develop relationships.
After joining branch council, Elaine was invited to take part in the Anna Stewart program, which was a turning point in her involvement with the AEU. Working alongside a group of likeminded women was a phenomenal experience and made her determined to pursue a career with the union. She held the office of Deputy Vice President of TAP from 2014-2019, during which time she was responsible for the disability and AMES sectors and discovered a passion for helping others.
As Vice President of TAP, she is particularly looking forward to helping members negotiate and implement new agreements, as well as continuing to raise awareness of the needs of TAFE, Disability and AMES.
Briley Stokes - Vice President, Primary
Briley followed her mother’s footsteps into primary teaching. Both her parents were strong union members, and when Briley started teaching in 2003, she joined the AEU straight away. She signed up to the AEU New Educators Network and soon got hooked on activism. Read more
Briley attended her first federal conference as a New Educator observer, and soon afterwards took up a role on Branch Council and then on Branch Executive. After ten years of teaching, she was elected deputy vice president of primary in 2013 and elected vice president of primary in 2016.
If she wasn't in an elected role at the AEU, Briley would be back in the classroom in a flash – she misses seeing the students develop, and the tangible difference you can make as a teacher. But what really inspires her is when the AEU can help individual members or schools by providing resources, information and support when they need it.
Marino D’Ortenzio - Vice President, Secondary
Marino joined the AEU in 2002 after the sub-branch at his Broadmeadows school identified him as “one of those brand new teachers who says yes to everything”. Read more
Luckily, the sub-branch was a great place to cut his union teeth, with a strong culture and good working relationships. Marino kept saying yes and was soon persuaded to nominate for Branch Council, convinced that being on council could help him to help his sub-branch. Like many of the current leadership team, he became active in the New Educators Network and was encouraged by experienced councillors to run for leadership roles.
In challenging times, Marino knows the importance of solidarity with members and the power of coming together for a shared purpose. His goal is to have schools and sub-branches working together to implement wins in the VGSA that can, for example, reduce contract employment through translations and reduce workload through measures like the Professional Practice Days.
Cara Nightingale - Vice President, Early Childhood
Cara taught for 15 years at Strong Drive Preschool in Hampton Park, southeast of Melbourne. She grew up in a strong union family – her dad was a union official. Unionism has always been part of Cara’s life, so when she started uni it was natural to join up as a student member. Read more
Cara didn’t get active in the union until she was five years into her career, but once she did, things moved quickly! She was invited to join Sector Council, and says that once she’d attended her first meeting she knew this was exactly what she wanted to be doing. She joined Branch Council, then Branch Executive, then completed the AEU’s ‘Women in Leadership’ program. From there, it was an easy choice to accept an invitation to stand for deputy vice president of early childhood. After three years in that position, she was elected vice president.
Activism, advocacy, and leadership play a strong part in Cara’s vision for early childhood educators. She sees these elements as an essential part of the educator role, but believes more members need to recognise how they can exercise them broadly, as part of everyday practice.
Phil Smith - Deputy Vice President, TAFE and Adult Provision
Phil began his working life as an apprentice Carpenter in the 1980s and studied at the local TAFE. Working in construction he saw the value of union membership and the many benefits it brings to a worker’s life. Read more
He has been a TAFE teacher for 18 years and got involved in the AEU sub-branch soon after joining. The professional approach of the AEU and the support it gives members motivated him to become a councillor on the TAFE/TAP committee and on branch council. Phil has witnessed the severe effects of marketisation and funding cuts on the TAFE system. He has been active in campaigning and lobbying for TAFE on a state and national level.
As Deputy Vice President in the TAFE and TAP sector, he is looking forward to working with members, seeing the hard-won TAFE teacher award implemented across the state and ensuring the renewed support promised by the Victorian government. He believes a strong AEU not only benefits its members but empowers them to be the best they can be for their students.
Rebekah Fewkes - Deputy Vice President, Primary
Rebekah’s start in activism came early in high school. As the president of the Student Action Group, she worked with dedicated teachers who not only taught her about the need to negotiate and collaborate, but also inspired her to choose a path as educator.
At university, Rebekah worked as an ES at a large, low socio-economic school in Geelong. Working in both office administration and in student support, she gained a unique perspective on the expectations and demands placed on two different but interdependent roles.
Rebekah has been teaching at Point Lonsdale Primary since 2002, and in 2010 she took over as the sub-branch president.
Within the AEU, she has participated in the Anna Stewart Project, and the first WILD program. She has attended the Federal Conference and was a part of the working party that lobbied federal politicians to consider the Gonski Review.
Rebekah is deeply committed to the Trade Union Movement, and strongly believes in collective unionism and the need to promote our profession.
Deb Fischer – Deputy Vice President, Secondary
Deb sees herself as a reluctant activist but is not good at saying no when faced with injustice and inequality. Read more
She has been an office-bearer in the Mornington Peninsula AEU region for almost 20 years, and active in a wide range of AEU and broader union campaigns. In 2013, she was selected to be part of the inaugural Women in Leadership Development (WiLD) program and, three years later, was elected to Branch Council.
Having completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Politics and History (while working full time in public administration), Deb started her teaching career as a Tech School teacher in Melbourne’s western suburbs back in the 1980s. She joined the sub-branch in her first year and has since been the sub-branch rep in five different schools. These days, she works as a CRT on the Peninsula, mainly at her home school Rosebud Secondary College.
As a practising teacher, Deb understands the day-to-day issues confronting Victorian teachers and ES staff and encourages them to join their union. She believes that all teachers want to be involved in improving conditions in schools for both their students and their colleagues. To do this effectively, she says, they need the support and solidarity provided by the AEU.
Heidi Ratje - Deputy Vice President, Early Childhood
Heidi was introduced to the AEU while studying at the University of Melbourne. She joined as a student member and quickly learned the value of membership during her career as an EC teacher in community run kindergartens. Her awareness and understanding of the importance of activism grew through working alongside amazing leadership role models.
A colleague encouraged her to become a sector councillor in 2012. The role opened up many opportunities, including participating in the WILD Women In Leadership program in 2017. Following this, she nominated to join the Branch Council and Branch Executive.
Working as a Project Officer for Early Childhood in 2018 provided valuable experience for Heidi and an opportunity to better understand the needs of our members. In 2020, she took a more active role within the Inner-City Region, joining the Executive committee. In 2021, she nominated as regional President.
Each of these opportunities boosted Heidi’s confidence to engage in advocacy and activism, recognising the importance of standing strong and utilising the power of the collective to unite with one voice.