Open main menu

The H.R. Nicholls Society is an Australian think tank that focuses on industrial relations.[1][2] It advocates full workplace deregulation, contains some Liberal MPs as members and is seen to be of the New Right.

It was created in March 1986 after John Stone, Peter Costello, Barrie Purvis, and Ray Evans organised a seminar aimed at discussing the Hancock Report and other industrial matters.[3][4] Regular contributors to the Society's publications have been Ray Evans, Adam Bisits and Des Moore, the Director of the Institute for Private Enterprise. Adam Bisits was the President of the Society until 2017, replacing Evans,[5] who stepped down in 2010.

The Society is named after Henry Richard Nicholls (6 January 1830 – 13 August 1912),[6][7] an editor of the Hobart newspaper The Mercury, who in 1911 published an editorial criticising H. B. Higgins, then a High Court judge and President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, accusing Higgins of behaving in a politically partisan and unjudicial manner after attacking a barrister.[8] This led to Nicholls being prosecuted for contempt of court by the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, only to be acquitted by the full bench of the High Court.[9][10]

Aims and objectivesEdit

The Society supports the deregulation of the Australian Industrial Relations System, including the abolition of the award system, the widespread use of individual employment contracts and the lowering of minimum wages. The Society only believes in limited labour market regulation, as it believes that excessive minimum wages[11] and employment inflexibility lead to higher unemployment and lower productivity. Since its inception, the Society has advocated what it views as reform of the labour market in order to ensure what it views as Australia's international competitiveness and prosperity. On its website, the Society lists its aims and objectives:

  • 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.


The Society has strong ties with the Liberal Party of Australia. For example, former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello was one of the society's founding members.

In 1986, then Prime Minister and former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Bob Hawke, branded the Society as a group of "political troglodytes and economic lunatics".[12]

Former Federal Finance Minister Nick Minchin caused controversy in early 2006 in a speech at a Society function where he told the audience that the coalition "knew its reform to WorkChoices were not popular but the process of change must continue",[13] and that "there is still a long way to go... awards, the IR commission, all the rest of it..."[14] The Australian Labor Party has stated that "We know the HR Nicholls society supports the abolition of awards, supports the abolition of the minimum wage, supports the abolition of the independent umpire, the Industrial Relations Commission".[15]

In 2007, the Society criticised the WorkChoices legislation for creating even more regulation. The Society, which in fact supports deregulation of the labour market to the extent that employers and employees simply form contracts with each other and then deal with any disputes via the courts, admonished the WorkChoices model particularly for its length and the amount of red tape, claiming it was "all about regulation" and comparing it to the "old Soviet system of command and control", as well as on federalist grounds saying "This attempt on his part to diminish the role of the states, to concentrate all power in Canberra, is very much to Australia's detriment".[16] Society President Ray Evans stated that in creating WorkChoices "John Howard has assumed an omnipotence that Labor will inherit and to which no mortal should aspire. It will end in tears."[17] Des Moore stated on behalf of the Society that "The HR Nicholls Society is very disappointed with the work choices changes."[18]

External linksEdit


  1. ^ "H. R. Nicholls Society". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995). ACT: National Library of Australia. 15 September 1986. p. 2. Retrieved 11 December 2013. - letter to editor HR Nicholls Society is not an ideological think-tank. It is a discussion group concerned with industrial relations reform
  2. ^ "New Right or Old Wrong? Ideology and Industrial Relations" article by Braham Dabscheck in Journal of Industrial Relations doi:10.1177/002218568702900401 JIR December 1987 Vol. 29 No. 4 425-449, accessed 17 September 2010
  3. ^ Stone, J. "HR Nicholls: Let's Start All Over Again: The Origins and Influence of the HR Nicholls Society". Archived from the original on 19 July 2008. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^ "The H.R. Nicholls Society and its Work". Archived from the original on 1 September 1999. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ "Board members". Archived from the original on 20 October 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  6. ^ "Henry Richard Nicholls". Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  7. ^ Bate, Weston (1974). "Nicholls, Henry Richard (1830–1912)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  8. ^ "A modest Judge". The Mercury. Tasmania. 7 April 1911. p. 4 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ R v Nicholls [1911] HCA 22 (1911) 12 CLR 280 at p.286 ("if any Judge ... were to make a public utterance of such character as to be likely to impair the confidence of the public ... in the impartiality of the Court ... fair comment, would, so far from being a contempt of Court, be for the public benefit")
  10. ^ "Inside Business: IR changes bring unlikely alliances". ABC. 26 March 2006.
  11. ^ Peter Hartley. "The Effects of Minimum Wage Laws on the Labour Markets". Archived from the original on 12 January 2002. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  12. ^ "The Aims of the Society". Archived from the original on 25 February 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  13. ^ "Think-tank invite infuriates union". The Australian. Archived from the original on 11 November 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  14. ^ "Union dominance a danger: PM". The Sydney Morning Herald. 15 October 2007. Archived from the original on 7 November 2007. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  15. ^ Australian Labor Party : Senator Nick Minchin And The Hr Nicholls Society; Alp Internal Matters
  16. ^ "IR changes bring unlikely alliances". ABC. 26 March 2006. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
  17. ^ "When will Our Leaders Stop Shackling the Free Market?". The Age. Australia. Retrieved 20 July 2010.
  18. ^ "7:30 PM in damage control over Minchin's IR remarks". ABC. Retrieved 20 July 2010.