Hawke & Keating governments

Updated time

Last updated

21 March 2017

Hancock Report

Professor Keith Hancock

In 1983 the newly-elected Hawke Labor Government announced the first comprehensive review of the federal system of industrial relations since the original Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 was passed in 1904. A three-person committee, comprising Professor Keith Hancock (chair), Charlie Fitzgibbon and George Polites, conducted the review and presented a report to the government in April 1985. The report recommended the retention of the conciliation and arbitration system, but accepted that it needed revision and measures to improve its operation.

After consideration of the Hancock recommendations, the Government introduced a legislative reform package, the centrepiece of which was the repeal of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 and its replacement by the Industrial Relations Act 1988.

Industrial Relations Act 1988

Changes under the new Act included:

  • establishment of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to replace the former Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and three specialist tribunals covering the maritime industry, public sector employment and airline flight crew officers
  • establishment of the Australian Industrial Registry as a statutory authority to replace the former Office of the Industrial Registrar to carry out administrative functions for the Commission
  • provision for persons to hold dual appointments on the Commission and a State industrial tribunal
  • creation of a new Commission position of Designated Presidential Member with responsibilities for matters such as registration, amalgamation and major rule changes of employer and employee organisations
  • revised provisions about registered agreements and demarcation disputes.

Industrial Relations Legislation Amendment Act 1992

The Act facilitated approval for the certification of enterprise agreements. The same amendment also created the new Commission positions of Vice President and Senior Deputy President.

Industrial Relations Reform Act 1993

The Reform Act introduced far-reaching changes to federal industrial relations arrangements. In particular, it:

  • placed emphasis on collective bargaining at the enterprise level – compulsorily arbitrated awards and wage increases were intended as a safety net and enterprise flexibility agreements were subject to a no disadvantage test
  • provided a legal right to strike in pursuit of agreements – the first time under federal law
  • instituted a system of 'good faith' bargaining overseen by the Commission
  • re-established a specialist labour court – the Industrial Relations Court of Australia – which was given jurisdiction to hear unfair dismissal cases (the AIRC could only conciliate these cases but in 1996 was empowered to both conciliate and arbitrate).

The constitutional underpinning of the Reform Act was a major change in itself: whereas previously there were only a small number of provisions in the Act based on the external affairs and corporations powers in the Constitution, significant parts of the new Reform Act had their jurisdictional basis in these powers.