ON THE OCCASION
THE COMMISSION'S WELCOME OF
AUSTRALIAN INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COMMISSION
MONDAY, 14 AUGUST 2006
ACTING PRESIDENT LAWLER: Commissioner Williams.
COMMISSIONER WILLIAMS: I have the honour to announce that I have received a Commission from his Excellency, the Governor General appointing me to be a Commissioner of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. I present the Commission.
ACTING PRESIDENT LAWLER: Thank you Commissioner. Mr Acting Industrial Registrar, I direct that the Commission be recorded. Mr Nagle.
MR C NAGLE: Thank you, your Honour. On behalf of the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations I am very pleased to be here today at this ceremony to welcome Commissioner Williams to the Commission, to congratulate you on your appointment and to wish you every success in your new role. Commissioner Williams you bring to the office of Commissioner a wealth of practical experience in the Workplace Relations Arena covering advocacy, the provision of services and the development of policy. You are clearly highly experienced and highly qualified for your new role.
In your long and distinguished career with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia you held a variety of very senior positions. As Director and then from 2005, as Executive Director Workplace Relations Policy, you were responsible for the development and promotion of policies concerning workplace relations, occupational health and safety and workers compensation. I am aware that you have also been personally involved in raising awareness of the challenges that our ageing population presents to employers and of the options and opportunities available to enable them to respond to those challenges.
Between 1998 and 2002 as Divisional Director of Employee Relations you were responsible for all the CCIs employee relations, occupational health and safety and workers compensation services to members with an emphasis on policy in those areas. Prior to this you occupied a senior position as Manager of the Enterprise Consultancy and Metals and Engineering Unit. After completing your Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Economics at the University of Western Australia and then going off to see something of the world, you joined the Confederation of WA Industry as an Industrial Relations trainee in 1984.
As an Industrial Relations advocate you provided advice and representation to employers and appeared regularly in the Australian and Western Australian Industrial Relations Commissions and the Industrial Magistrates Court. Commissioner Williams I understand that as a student, to pay your way, you spent a couple of years cleaning and polishing floors at Kmart in Fremantle. Your Honour, I think this demonstrates that Commissioner Williams knows what it is like to be a worker starting from the ground in the truest sense of the word and working your way up, in this case to become a Commissioner of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.
It was quite difficult to find anecdotes about you, Commissioner Williams, however in the words of one of your colleagues you are one cool dude who doesn't stumble or not be on top of things. I am aware though that you will talk to anyone about industrial relations in any forum whether that be for example the HR Nicholls Society as you did a couple of years ago or with Kevin Reynolds as you did on ABC television Stateline programme a couple of months ago.
Commissioner you are clearly very passionate about industrial relations in this country and your experience and background have equipped you with a wide range of knowledge and skills that will serve you well in meeting the challenges of your new appointment. On behalf of the Australian Government and the Honourable Kevin Andrews, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, who regrets he is unable to be here personally this morning, I wish you well in your new appointment.
ACTING PRESIDENT LAWLER: Thank you Mr Nagle. Mr Flood?
MR J FLOOD: Thank you, your Honour. Your Honours, members of the Commission, my union colleague and guests I rise here today on behalf of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to welcome our former colleague Bruce Williams as the newest member of the Commission and to offer to you, sir, the support of the employer movement and the business community in the new phase of your career. Commissioner Williams has had a distinguished career in the employer movement here in Western Australia practising more than 20 years in both the State and Federal Industrial Relations systems.
In the tradition of his predecessors, one of whom is Deputy President McCarthy, he has represented the strong and compelling views of the West Australian employers, not only in this state but in the many political debates about workplace relations which all too often tend to be held in the eastern states. Bruce's qualities both as a person and a practitioner are highly regarded amongst his colleagues in the employer movement and within the forums and secretariat of ACCI. He has brought to discussions and his advocacy a clear sense of perspective often with a simple and earthy logic that flows from direct connection with grass roots employers here in the west.
Whether small businesses in the services sector or global players in the resources and construction industries Commissioner William's wealth of experience is much needed in the current environment. Whilst for some workplace relations under Work Choices is a new system, here in the west we know that various iterations of State and Federal laws have since the 1990s given collective and individual bargaining primacy over the arbitration system. That experience provides the foundation for members of the Commission to cut through to the workplace realities at hand.
The Commission has for many years adopted such approaches to dispute settlement procedures and they are important in the current times given that a largely voluntary and consensual dispute settlement jurisdiction exists. At a personal level Commissioner Williams displays a calmness and sincerity that has given his work credibility and standing amongst his peers. Executives at the ACCI have also much appreciated his personal interest in the health and well-being of staff with whom he has worked. The forums of the ACCI General Council and Workplace Policy Committee where Bruce has sat are a test of a person's persuasive authority.
It is sometimes not easy for a West Australian to convince people in the east, north or south that they might be wrong. Yet more often than not Bruce has been able to persuade both his Chief Executives and National Executives of a revised course of action. These personal and professional attributes will add to the existing strengths of this Commission. The Commission's character is revised under the Work Choices and it continues to enjoy the support of mainstream employer community and ACCI in undertaking its work.
Employers, employees and the representatives who come before the Commission can remain confident that members of the Commission continue to be skilled and fair minded people. Commissioner Williams, it is likely that in your new work you will see only a small percentage of the 10 million employees and one million employers that exist in Australia. Indeed we hope that you only see a small percentage of both employers and employees. For those that you do encounter we are confident that they will leave this Commission with high regard for its standing and better appreciation of the real issues involved in workplace relations and resolving disputes involved with that.
On behalf of the Board, Council and Executives of ACCI, particularly its Workplace Policy Director Peter Anderson, who would like to but cannot be here today and Scott Barklum and Chris Harris and its former executives such as Brian Noakes, AO, we welcome you and offer both our congratulations and support to your appointment. Thank you.
ACTING PRESIDENT LAWLER: Thank you, Mr Flood. Mr Thompson.
MR A THOMPSON: Thank you, your Honour. On behalf of the Council of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia, its management, staff and membership I am delighted to extend our warmest congratulations to Bruce Williams on his appointment as a member of this Commission. Bruce follows a fine tradition of highly professional industrial advocates which, having gained practising experience within the Chamber of Commerce organisation and having made a significant contribution to the Australian Workplace community, have been appointed to this Commission on their merits.
It is very appropriate that another Chamber alumni in Deputy President Brendan McCarthy who is presiding today, their respective professional practising careers overlapped at the Chamber and now once again they will have an opportunity of working together. The Commission of course is an immensely important institution to the maintenance and effect of industrial relations in Western Australia and Australia. It must not only act in accordance with law and procedural fairness but in a way that responds to the practicalities of the labour market.
Bruce Williams will bring to the Commission an excellent blend of a keen understanding of the law, a fair minded spirit and a practical slant to the decisions that he makes. Bruce commenced his industrial relations career with the predecessor to the Chamber, the Confederation of Western Australian Industry in 1984 as an industrial advocate. He practised principally in the manufacturing sector and then later in the local government sectors and specialised in the building and mining sectors following of course the economic flows of the State. He moved quickly into more senior roles of responsibility.
Firstly as Manager of the Chamber's Enterprise Consultancy Service and then as Group Manager, Employer Relations Policy and most recently as Manager of Employer Relations Services. He was mentored by Chief Executives Bill Brown and then Lynden Rowe, now Chair of the Economic Regulation Authority and latterly by his current CEO, John Langoulant. He mentored and was mentored well. During this time he consulted to large employers in the mining sector and skilfully and successfully introduced major workplace changes including a new fly in, fly out award for one of Australia's largest but more remote gold mines.
Bruce did such an outstanding job in this area that shortly thereafter the mine was placed on care and maintenance. Bruce's colleagues delighted reminding him of that outcome. To be fair the closure was actually grade and price related and not as a consequence of Bruce's good work. Also I think it should be added that this mine has recently undergone a significant expansion and continues to operate most successfully on a fly in, fly out basis. Be it managing issues for clients or giving advice to the council or pursuing policy improvements in Canberra or Perth, Bruce has always displayed an incisive and strategic approach to the matter in hand.
Bruce's intellectual rigor has always pushed the solutions to what appeared to be insoluble impasses. His disposition has always been courteous and professional in spite of often finding himself thrust into the tension of robust bargaining exchanges. His knowledge of the legislation and impact of recent extensive changes is impressive. Not only does he grasp its legal effect but understands the underpinning policy settings. Bruce's most notable achievement to date has been his contribution at both the State and National level to the Reform debate and the development of modern industrial relations policy.
He has a genuine concern for policies that are good for both sides, believing that the most productive workplaces are those where there is cooperation and recognition of respective needs and goals. Mr Williams already has made a significant contribution to the improvement of workplace environment in Western Australia and now moves to a position where he can continue to make a further contribution at a national level. So on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry I am pleased to welcome your appointment and offer my personal congratulations and wish you well in this next stage of your career. If your Honours please.
ACTING PRESIDENT LAWLER: Thank you, Mr Thompson. Ms Freeman?
MS J FREEMAN: Thank you, your Honour. I'm here on behalf of Unions WA to formally welcome and congratulate Commissioner Williams on his appointment. The Secretary, Dave Robinson, sends his apologies as he is currently on the Your Rights At Work bus trip which is touring the northwest informing the public of the effects of them, on the changes to their workplace laws. Unions WA welcomes you to a Commission that has a rich history of shaping Australia and its way of life. Over the last hundred years the Commission has seen many governments change while the Commission has remained an enduring feature of an Australian society built on fairness and equity.
An independent Commission in which the parties have confidence is an important part of Australia's workplace relations and this will be enhanced with the challenges of an increased constituency delivered by the workplace changes of the current Federal government. In accepting this appointment Unions WA acknowledges that you have recognised this importance and have therefore adopted the principles of applying the law with diligence, integrity and consistency in a manner which upholds the Commission's independence through accepting that others make the law and this Commission applies it.
With the Commission's charter now restricted primarily to stripping back awards, regulating industrial action and right of entry, the emphasis of your role will be on dispute resolution through conciliation and mediation and in the legal enforcement of rights and obligations. The parties will be looking to you to form these functions with objectivity, fairness and transparency. It is interesting to note that in a previous speech made by yourself, Commissioner Williams, you predicted the Commission's role as one of providing voluntary arbitration for those parties who, because of lack of maturity or other more justifiable reasons need third party intervention.
My very brief dealings with you, Commissioner Williams, you have led me to believe that you will be able to undertake this new challenge and this new challenging role to bring maturity to dispute resolution with honesty, integrity and extensive workplace experience, sorry experience workplace relations. To the union movement new members of the Commission represent a continuing renewal of this important tribunal.
Unions WA strongly adheres to the view that once a person has been appointed to the Commission they become a Commissioner and we afford them the respect of a history which has shown the capacity of this institution and its members to balance fairness with efficiency and facilitate as workers, their representatives and employers to reach agreements that recognise both sides of the dispute and enhanced outcomes. On behalf of Unions WA I congratulate you on your appointment and wish you well in carrying out the important duties that you have now assumed.
ACTING PRESIDENT LAWLER: Thank you, Ms Freeman. Commissioner Williams.
COMMISSIONER WILLIAMS: Thank you your Honour, fellow members of the Commission, the representative of the Minister, Mr Nagle, Mr Flood, Mr Thompson and Ms Freeman for your kind words and thank you to my family and all of the others here for taking the time to join with me this morning. I have received a very warm welcome from members of the Commission and from the staff of the Registry and I certainly do appreciate that. The journey that has brought me to be here today is like most of life's more interesting adventures, largely an unplanned one.
I certainly don't remember being at High School and being referred by a career advisor to pursue a career in industrial relations let alone ever aspiring to a position on a Commission like this. Throughout my professional career to date I have been blessed in a number of significant ways. I have been blessed as a recipient of support, encouragement, guidance and advice from a number of individuals with great capacity, commitment and integrity, some as leaders and mentors and others as colleagues for many of those professional years to date.
A number of you are here today and I thank you very much for your part in helping me on my journey to this point. I have also been blessed with wonderfully supportive parents and I would like to acknowledge my father, Rhys, who's here this morning and more recently I have been blessed with the support of my wife Bev and my two fine children, Jessica and Samuel, all three of whom you can be assured are working diligently behind the scenes to ensure that I remain properly grounded at all times.
I have also been privileged by chance to have worked through a period of great change in industrial relations. I clearly remember explaining to many managers the opportunities created by the 1987 National Wage Case 4 per cent Second Tier Decision, a unique opportunity at that time to negotiate change in employment arrangements for their particular enterprises in exchange for the wage increase. At that time many of the managers faced with this opportunity were simply at a loss as to how to seize this. Starting with a blank sheet of paper for these managers was simply beyond their experience.
Today things in Australia are very different. Most competent managers now expect to and do, manage the employment arrangements in their business in the same way that they do the product development, financial or marketing aspects of their business. Similarly employees and unions today have a much greater awareness of the needs of a business to be efficient and productive and that this is important for the well being of employees. Employers are also much more likely today to be aware of the needs of their employees and recognise that their well being is important to the health of the business.
Over this period of time in my professional career Australia has seen both State and Federal governments of all persuasions exercise their legislative powers in the industrial relations sphere more frequently perhaps than in previous times. All of those who develop policy for change and the legislators that amend the statutes assume one thing in common, that the law once passed will be observed by all and that bodies such as this Commission will apply that law as it is written and I will endeavour to meet that expectation and to do so with impartiality and fairness. I'm conscious of the responsibility to those individuals, unions and employers that come to this place for various reasons every day.
The actions and decisions of all members of this tribunal do impact on the lives of many people in real and tangible ways. In terms of this significant responsibility I intend to follow the advice of one Peter Ustinov, English actor and author who is reported to have said, "it is our responsibilities, not ourselves that we should take seriously". I will endeavour to apply this and I am sure some of you will remind me of this should that be necessary in the future. Finally can I end by saying again thank you very much for all taking the time to be here this morning. Thank you.
ACTING PRESIDENT LAWLER: Commissioner Williams, I also on behalf of all of the members of the Commission extend a warm welcome to you. Adjourn the Commission.
<ADJOURNED INDEFINITELY [10.23AM]