The Aims of the Society

  • To promote discussion about the operation of industrial relations in Australia including the system of determining wages and other conditions of employment.
  • To promote the rule of law with respect to employers and employee organisations alike.
  • To promote reform of the current wage-fixing system.
  • To support the necessity for labour relations to be conducted in such a way as to promote economic development in Australia.

How the HR Nicholls Society Began

Henry Richard Nicholls was the editor of the leading Tasmanian newspaper "The Mercury" in Hobart from 1883 to 1912. In 1911 (at the sprightly age of 82) this well respected newspaperman was charged with contempt of court for criticising High Court judge and Arbitration Court President, Mr. Justice H.B. Higgins. Nicholls had written that Mr. Justice Higgins had obvious political leanings and had called him a "political judge". Nicholls was subsequently acquitted of the charge by a unanimous decision of the High Court. This decision caused widespread jubilation amongst the citizens of Hobart who thronged to a public meeting to mark the occasion. Nicholls died a year later an honoured and deeply respected citizen.

Seventy-four years later, in October 1985, concern was mounting over the potential consequences of the Labor Government's review of the industrial relations system (The Hancock Report). Fearing legislative implementation of the report, four concerned people organised a seminar where these problems could be discussed. They were John Stone, former Secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury; Peter Costello, a Melbourne barrister, Barrie Purvis, the Director of the Australian Wool Selling Brokers' Employers' Federation; and Ray Evans, Executive Officer at Western Mining Corporation Limited.

In order to give some historical perspective to the seminar, the four established the H.R. Nicholls Society, to honour the man who spoke out publicly about the arbitration system. The Society's inaugural seminar was held at C.W.A. House, Melbourne on 28th February -- 1st March 1986 and the proceedings were subsequently published under the title "Arbitration In Contempt".

When, on the 28th August 1986, the Prime Minister, Mr. R.J.L. Hawke, accused the Society of being a group of "political troglodytes and economic lunatics", the Society shot to national prominence and its success was assured!