HR Nicholls Society XXXVI Conference: Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The XXXVI Annual Conference of the HR Nicholls Society entitled “The Fair Work Act -an Australian idiosyncrasy” will be held in Melbourne on Wednesday 23rd of September in Melbourne.

Speakers include :

  • Mr Tony Shepherd, chairman, WestConnex Delivery Authority, past president of Business Council of Australia
  • S Barklamb, Executive Director, Australian Mines and Metals Association
  • Teresa Lloyd, Executive Director, Maritime Australia Ltdity
    S Sasse, construction procurement strategist and workplace productiv adviser
  • P Morgan, historian and former member of the Australia Council

Click HERE the full conference program and to register!

Our urgent jobs plan: labour market freedom in Australia

The following is a transcript of a presentation given by HR Board Member Alan Anderson to the HR Nicholls Society XXXIV Conference:

We have heard a good deal this morning about the problems with our industrial relations system and the economic impacts of its failings. Our President, Adam Bisits, has asked me, as a member of the Board, to deliver an overview of the Society’s position on the broad reforms that should be effected to reform Australia’s industrial relations system.

As a non-IR specialist, I claim no deep expertise in the operation of the current regime. In what follows, I draw with gratitude upon a paper prepared by Thereas Moltoni and Des Moore last year for the Society and accepted by the Board, highlighting some of the areas of our industrial relations system requiring the most urgent reform.

The foundation of the Society’s call for reform is a belief that there is no substantive imbalance of bargaining power between the 800,000 employing businesses in Australia and a workforce of 12 million. The dynamic and dispersed nature of our employment market makes it virtually impossible for employers to impose ‘unfair’ conditions on employees on a sustained basis. It follows that the costs of our complex and highly-regulated system are unmatched by any benefits to workers.

The HR Nicholls Society must strike a balance between purism and pragmatism; leading the debate but not so as to consign its recommendations to irrelevance.  It is in that spirit that we advance the following agenda, covering 10 critical areas. Read more

Back to the Future: Unions and the Building Industry Then and Now

This is an edited version of an address to the HR Nicholls Society XXXIV Conference in Brisbane on 17 May 2014 by Roger Gyles AO QC:

1988 was the year of the Bi-Centennial. Nick Greiner was elected Premier of New South Wales. The building industry rorts during construction of the Darling Harbour project were fresh in the public mind. Nick Greiner received many complaints that New South Wales building costs were too high compared with the other States, particularly Victoria, and concluded that New South Wales was losing business as a result. That was the catalyst for my appointment as Royal Commissioner into Productivity in the New South Wales Building Industry in 1990.

Published material from quantity surveyors bore out the fact that New South Wales building costs for major projects were greater than those in the other States. The Commission looked closely at the situation in Queensland. The published material showed that Queensland building costs were 90% of New South Wales’ costs in 1983 and 74% in 1991. The Commission studies confirmed that from 1983 onwards non-residential building costs in Sydney were significantly higher than Brisbane and the gap continued to widen. The difference in cost was not reflected in cottage building or civil construction. There was virtually no union involvement in cottage building and no Building Workers Industrial Union (BWIU) involvement in civil construction. It was concluded that the difference lay in labour costs, principally due to lost time caused by adverse industrial relations conditions in New South Wales compared with Queensland. This in turn was due to a difference in attitude of the two unionised workforces resulting from the different approaches which the building trade union organisers and officials took in the two States. Read more

HR Nicholls Society Conference Report

The highlight of the Brisbane conference of the HR Nicholls Society last Saturday was the dinner address by Queensland Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Jarrod Bleijie, followed by his proficient answering of questions for a considerable period, and the response by leading barrister Stuart Wood. While Bleijie spoke about various major problems which the Newman government has faced since acquiring office in 2012 (including the large net government sector debt left by Labor), he also outlined the government’s actions to  reduce disruptive activities on businesses by unions and bikie gangs. This includes legislation (just operative) designed to  prevent the fabrication of non-existent safety issues used to extort employers. It  removes the right of immediate entry by unions to work sites and the power of unions to direct workers to stop working because of an alleged unsafe situation.Most importantly, both Bleijie and Wood emphasised the need for a State to maintain law and order. In my question to Bleijie I suggested that, given the reluctance of the Abbott government to initiate proposals for major workplace relations reform, the States might be able to help by adopting policies specifically designed to protect property rights.

The need for law and order to be applied was also emphasised by former Royal Commissioner in NSW, Roger Gyles, who reported to the Greiner government in 1992. That government established a body to ensure the law was applied in the NSW building industry. Of particular importance was the direct involvement of police in the operation of that body (police forces are generally reluctant to prevent disruptive action by unions). The Greiner body, however, succeeded in moving NSW building costs down below those in other states – until, that is, Carr became Premier and dissolved the body. Read more

Stopping the decline – A year of Lost Opportunity

The following is a paper presented by Theresa Moltoni to the 2014 HR Nicholls Society Annual Conference.

Stopping the decline – A year of Lost Opportunity


Since our last conference we have continued to see further labour market reform, however it hasn’t been going in the direction that was so desperately needed, indeed it has continued to go backwards. Much of this has been due to the implementation of Bill Kelty’s espoused Plan B[1] by the former Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government. Let’s review the year that was….

In what appeared to be a desperate bid to shore up as many layers of Plan B as possible, we saw change after change pushed through Parliament with no slowing down as the last opportunities to do so arose before the election. The polls painted a clear picture that Labor were heading for opposition and in a defiant refusal to accept the will of the people, the Government reacted by pushing through changes that had no mandate whatsoever, changes that were not designed to have a positive effect on employment, productivity or the broader economy, changes that were instead designed to bolster Plan B. Unfortunately as Margaret Thatcher once said (and Australians are now finding), “the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”.

The last minute amendments to the Fair Work Act included: Read more

Australia at risk from unsustainable union pay claims, international expert warns

Unsustainable union demands around pay and conditions are driving international investment away from developed economies such as Australia, one of the world’s leading business “turnaround” experts has warned.

US business recovery specialist Greg Rayburn made the comments ahead of the 34th annual conference of the HR Nicholls Society, which will be held in Brisbane next month.

Mr Rayburn will detail his experiences with American bakery company Hostess Brands, which was forced into liquidation in 2012 as a result of nation-wide strike action after management was unable to reach a new pay and benefits deal with workers. Read more

Superannuation’s Role In Advancing the Union Agenda

The following is a presentation given by Paul Fletcher MP, Member for Bradfield, at the 2013 HR Nicholls Society Annual Conference:

Superannuation’s Role in Advancing the Power and
Economic Influence of the Union Movement”

Speech to HR Nicholls Society


It is a great pleasure to be here today to speak to this important conference of the HR Nicholls Society.

I want to speak today about the role of superannuation in advancing the power and economic influence of the union movement.

In the early nineties, when ACTU secretary Bill Kelty was agitating for the Hawke Keating government to legislate 6 per cent superannuation, and to double it again by the end of the decade, many were asking what he was doing about declining union membership.[1]

Since that time the share of the workforce who are union members has continued to fall: it now stands at a mere 18 per cent, and only 13 per cent amongst private sector employees.[2]

Yet through the sharp growth in the size and economic importance of two kinds of union-linked superannuation funds – industry funds and public sector funds – the union movement has gained a new source of power and influence.

Thanks to decisions of the Hawke Keating Government – reinforced by more recent policies of the Rudd Gillard Rudd Government – the structure and governance of today’s superannuation system suits the interests of the union movement, and union officials, very nicely indeed.  Read more

A House Built On Sand

This is a paper presented by HR Nicholls Society Board Member Kyle Kutasi at the 2013 Annual Conference on Recent developments in American Labour Law and what they mean for Australia:

Recent developments in American Labour Law and what they mean for Australia

Thank you once again to the H.R. Nicholls Society for allowing me to present this paper at what is the Society’s 33rd Conference. Who would have thought we’d have made it this far?!

In a large number of areas of law, Australians have a tendency to compare our laws and regulations to those in other parts of the world. Strangely though, few, if any, Australians – including the lawyers and politicians – have any awareness of comparative labour laws.

This paper therefore began life as a basic study in how the United States regulates the employer-employee relationships within its borders. The US is as good a place to start as any other, as its culture and institutions are very similar to ours, and we often follow trends that originated there. What I found in my research is that there are many good reasons for our ignorance of comparative labour law: in many respects, Australia is an ‘island’ with its unique system that makes comparison difficult; but in other ways, there is much that can be learned from our American cousins, few of which bode well for Australia’s industrial future. Read more

The Changing Industrial Relations Landscape in Australia

The following is a presentation given to the 2013 HR Nicholls Society Annual Conference:

I’d like to take you on a brief journey as we sit as passengers on the bus the Government have put us in.  As we drive through the changing IR Landscape in Australia, peering out through the window with no control over which roads we take, which direction we head or how fast or slow we hit those bumps along the way.  This is how things have looked for businesses and practitioners over the last few years!

There have been many changes to the Australian Industrial Relations system since Kevin Rudd was elected as Prime Minister in 2007.

Firstly the Workplace Relations Act was replaced with the Fair Work Act (‘FWA’).

It took some time for a number of the changes to be tested and for their true impact to be realised.  Unfortunately for the Australian Economy, the impact on business, on jobs, and on productivity, have indeed been realised. Read more