Tenth Anniversary Conference


NR Evans

The H R Nicholls Society was founded at a conference held at the Country Women's Association House in Toorak, Victoria, on the weekend of 28 February--2 March 1986. The proceedings of that conference were subsequently published under the title 'Arbitration in Contempt', and at that time the Society became the focus of political attack, from the then Prime Minister down.

Ten years later the Society held its tenth anniversary conference on the weekend of 17--19 May. A federal election had been held on the actual tenth anniversary date, and thirteen years of ALP rule in Canberra had come to an end. Hopes were high that effective reform measures were in the political pipeline.

As subsequent events showed, these hopes proved to be in vain. But such disappointments were, at the time of the conference, hidden from view. The conference itself proved to be a stimulating and very enjoyable weekend and those who gave papers covered a wide range of issues.

As is customary at H R Nicholls Society conferences, the discussion included the immediate and urgent problems which arise when individuals or firms, in order to improve their business prospects, or sometimes merely to survive, have to find a way out of the suffocating straight jacket which our labour market regime imposes on them. Papers by Graeme Haycroft on the building industry on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane, Richard Moran on his experiences as Managing Director of Tweed Valley Fruit Processors, Doug Green on his experience of port reform in New Zealand, are fine examples of this genre.

Other papers focussed on 'the system', made up of arbitral tribunals, trade unions, employer organisations, and the statutes which give them authority and privilege. Paul Houlihan on the future of trade unions, Tanya Cirkovic on employer organisations, and Ken Phillips on new ways of looking at the traditionally styled 'employer-employee' relationship, maintained the tradition admirably.

At the inaugural conference in 1986, two representatives from the New Zealand Treasury flew across the Tasman in search of ideas to inject into the New Zealand debate concerning their labour market reform. With the 1991 Employment Contracts Act, New Zealand has achieved one of the least regulated labour markets in the world, and it was appropriate that we should have three papers from New Zealand commenting on how New Zealand was coping with this freedom and what problems remained uncorrected. Wayne Gilbert, who had related his experiences as General Manager of SEQEB during the historic 1984 strike by electricity workers in South Eastern Queensland to the inaugural conference in 1986, presented a paper on the electricity industry in Auckland, where he is Chief Executive of Mercury, New Zealand's largest electricity supplier.

Since it was a tenth anniversary conference there was some reminiscing to be done. Our Guest of Honour, Dr David Kemp, in whose electorate of Goldstein the conference was held, and myself engaged in looking back over the last decade to what had been accomplished but also in looking forward to the tasks which might lie ahead.

In May of 1996, the weakness, deception and betrayal that became manifest with the Kernot-Reith Act of November 1996, was still to come. The conference atmosphere was one of confident hope for future successful and wide-ranging reform. These papers form a valuable collection and I commend them to our members and the public.

N R Evans


April 1997