Speech: Swearing-in of new FWA President, Justice Iain Ross, Friday 23 March 2012

23 March 2012

***check against delivery***


I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.


Good morning Your Honour.

I’d like to acknowledge the Members of Fair Work Australia, the representatives from industry and the trade union movement and those of your family here this morning.

It’s terrific to be here in Melbourne on an autumn day of some unique historical significance.

Almost three years ago, in July 2009, then Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard, welcomed the foundation members of Fair Work Australia at its inaugural sitting here in Melbourne.


The now PM said at the time that the Fair Work Act 2009 and the creation of Fair Work Australia marked the beginning of a new chapter in Australia’s industrial relations history.

Fair Work Australia carries on the tradition of an independent industrial umpire for our great nation -- a notion that goes to the heart of the Australian ethic of a ‘fair go’.

Your Honour, the Federal Government knows deeply that you are committed to the Fair Work system.

Fair Work Australia is of course the successor to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and, before it, the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.

And the words “equity, good conscience and the substantial merits of the case”  are its guiding principles.

It is a noble tradition those words capture.

Fair Work Australia is required to perform functions and exercise powers under the Fair Work Act 2009 in a manner that is just and fair, open and transparent and in a way that promotes harmonious and cooperative workplace relations.

Your Honour, as the new president of Fair Work Australia, you uncommonly qualified to undertake this task.

I believe our new President to be a man of principle, intellect, humility, a student and scholar with an incredible capacity for hard work and possibly a nomadic tendancy.

I believe your record is our source of great confidence to the Government.

I believe despite your own humility that you have been integral to two of the most important changes since the Harvester Judgment – the 1993 changes and the Superannuation Guarantee Levy, which we have noew increased to 12 per cent.

One was during your time as Assistant Secretary of the ACTU. Your Honour was central to the intensive tripartite consultation that led to the landmark reforms in the Keating Government’s 1993 Industrial Relations Reform Act. 

Survivors of that process of legislative development still speak in awe of the immense amount of work Your Honour undertook to help the national move from the then award based system to fair and effective collective bargaining. 

The Democrats, I understand, rated Your Honour as one of the industrial relations system’s best representative.

Although there have been some big changes in succeeding years, the underpinning system of awards, agreements and the protection of key workplace rights has endured remarkably well.  In considerable part, that reflects Your Honour’s contributions to the initial development of our modern system.

The Superannuation Guarantee charge changes also reflect Your Honour’s intellect and energy.

Your Honour has a well deserved reputation to be exceedingly industrious. In fact I am reliably informed that, at Your Honour’s welcoming ceremony ot the County Court of Victoria, much was made of the fact that, after leaving the trade union movement and moving to private legal practice you were not uncommonly seen in shorts and t-shirt at your desk, having come, you said straight from the RACV Club gym.

...and that, to quote from the ceremony..

“In your defence, it must be said that you did keep three or four ties over the back of your chair in your office at Corrs. They were, however, not often seen around your neck.”

Sir your predecessor was renowed for his neck wear and I trust his style, as much as his wisdom, will continue to echo during Your Honour’s tenure here.

I know I have put on record already my confidence in your strengths, but I would also like to outline briefly for those present, some history.  

Sir your family emigrated from bonnie Scotland to sunny Sydney when you were just six months old.  You attended Caringbah High School in Sydney where your ferocious work ethic first displayed its intellectual clout.

You acquired tertiary qualifications in law, economics and business administration at the University of Sydney and Monash University.

You have earned a PhD in law from Sydney University.  And your doctoral thesis supervisor was Professor Ron McCallum—surely the doyen of Australian industrial law scholars, teachers and commentators.

In 1986, you came to Melbourne to work as Industrial Officer of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, indeed my research with your former colleagues reveals that already you were an early leader in terms of occupational health and safety. That in fact you were framing and developing strategies in the 1980’s which we still draw from now.

Later in 1900, you were elected Assistant Secretary  and who knows, if circumstances had been different, probably risen to be Secretary.

In 1994, at the age of 35, you were appointed Vice-President of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission—to establish and head the new Enterprise Bargaining Division.

I can personally attest that you are a very good negotiator,an important skill in industrial relations. You work through an argument, you work continuously, once involved you become a lynch pin.

In 2009 you were made a Victorian Supreme Court judge and last year became President of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. You are also Chair of the Council of Australian Tribunals.

You have worked with the Law Reform Commissions in New South Wales and Victoria.

Justice Iain Ross ... because of this extensive experience you are now a highly respected and distinguished judicial officer with an impressive record of dealing with important workplace relations matters.

Outside the law, I am reliably informed that Your Honour is a horse-rider, a wine maker and also a skilled baker – and I am sure that the Members, and staff, of FWA eagerly await your skilled contributions to all future morning teas.

Parties appearing before Your Honour in the past may also have noted how well Your Honour can tell the sheep from the goats. 

Perhaps they were not aware that Your Honour has practical experience in this field.  As Vice President, I understand you were known to bring orphaned lambs into Chambers from time to time, where they were extremely well looked after.

May this be a reassurance today to your new flock, in this new century.

Your Honour, it was once clevery observed by an admirer of our great country:

“If the guy next to you in Australia is swearing like a wharfie he's probably a billionaire. Or, just conceivably, a wharfie.”

I believe this not only captures the genius of Australia but also the capacity and the invaluable level headedness of all this tribunal and indeed it’s new leader.

On a personal note, from working with you, in our previous lives, I know you are capable of bringing parties together, to reach agreement or at least an understanding, to deliver good outcomes for employers and employees.  

I know well your abilities. You are a nomad across many callings of achievement. The Presidency will perhaps end that nomadic tendancy.

The Australian Government is confident  that you, Justice Ross, have arrived at the logical destination of your journey of ability.

We thank your wife Sarah and your children for lending you to us.

And we are  confident that under your leadership, Fair Work Australia will continue to promote productivity and to carry forward that notion of a ‘fair go’.