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A lifetime of achievement for nurses and midwives: on the eve of his (second) retirement, longtime ANMF legal counsel Philip Gardner reflects on his career

A lifetime of achievement for nurses and midwives: on the eve of his (second) retirement, longtime ANMF legal counsel Philip Gardner reflects on his career

Philip Gardner, Special Counsel, Gordon Legal.

I began my association with what was then the Royal Australian Nursing Federation (RANF), in the ACT Branch, in 1985. I was employed in the role of Industrial Officer. I was made a Life Member of the Branch in 1985, probably in recognition of my involvement in securing a substantial pay increase for nurses employed under Federal Awards.

I subsequently worked for the RANF Tasmanian and Queensland Branches and extensively for the Federal office as an advocate in a variety of Arbitration Commission cases. For one extended stay in Tasmania, I was lodged in the Matron’s Quarters in the Royal Hobart Hospital. (The Matron was elsewhere.)

In 1991 I was appointed Senior Federal Industrial Officer in the ANF Federal office (‘Royal’ having been dropped from the name a few years earlier). In that role I was closely involved in the Federation’s application for Federal awards and applications for pay increases including arguments for equal pay for nurses.

‘I had the task of cutting the word ‘Royal’ out of the Federation’s seal with a knife!’

Having become closely engaged with the nurses, midwives and industrial law, I left the ANF and joined Orm Thomas in Ryan Carlisle Thomas’ (RCT) industrial law practice in 1995. I subsequently become a partner in that firm and in the course of my more than 20 years there, acted for the ANF Victorian Branch, the Federal office, and at times the Tasmanian, South Australian, Northern Territory and ACT Branches of the ANF, and later the ANMF.

I also worked with a number of other unions including the FSU, FAAA, ASU, CFMEU (Pulp & Paper) and Australian Principals Federation. While at RCT, I advised a number of union/industry superannuation funds, before the rounds of amalgamations that resulted in the sizeable industry superannuation institutions now operating.

In 2017 I resigned my partnership at RCT and retired. However, I was persuaded by Peter Gordon to join his relaunched firm of Gordon Legal in its industrial practice in 2018. I accepted that proposal and was pleased to join Gordon Legal and my brother-in-law Marcus Clayton in the firm’s industrial and employment practice.

Following the establishment of the Gordon Legal industrial law practice, the ANMF Victorian branch, the Federal office and a number of ANMF Branches continued to provide instructions to me and my Gordon Legal colleagues, a number of whom had previously been at RCT.

Highlights of my work with the ANMF and its Victorian Branch include:

  • My involvement in the passage of the Safe Patient Care Act by the Victorian Parliament. That achievement by the Victorian Branch was the result of many years of work and planning by the Branch’s leadership, including a vigorous defence of its earlier industrial achievements in relation to nurse-patient ratios
  • The recent acceptance by the Fair Work Commission of the argument that nurses’ work was undervalued for gender-based reasons. This was an argument advanced unsuccessfully many years ago, largely because of the restrictions imposed by various wage fixing principles and other legislative restrictions
  • The massive increase in the ANMF’s membership since 1985 including the recruitment of nurses in mental health settings, enrolled nurses and personal care workers/assistants in nursing. I believe this success is the result of the leadership of the Branch advancing the Federation as both the professional and industrial representative of nurses and midwives and the nursing and midwifery team and delivering the services associated with each
  • The removal of the ‘Royal’ from the name in 1988 (I had the task of cutting the word ‘Royal’ out of the Federation’s seal with a knife!)
  • Working with the officers, leadership and senior staff of the Branch has been a matter of constant pleasure. Belinda Morieson, Lisa Fitzpatrick, Paul Gilbert, Pip Carew and Maddy Harradence have been, and are, a great gift to the Branch and its members. They and their colleagues over the years are the most sophisticated, committed and well-informed clients any lawyer could hope for. Great clients make for easy lawyering.

Over the last 40 years, the greatest change and challenge has been that at the very time that nurses achieved industrial maturity, an industrial voice and a preparedness to initiate industrial action, the framework regulating significant legal industrial action has become extraordinarily complex and legalistic. Fortunately, ANMF is sufficiently large and sophisticated as to be able to navigate the labyrinth.

Other challenges have included:

  • the increased complexity of industrial law and the accretion of specific functions on the Fair Work Commission to make up for the loss of the simple jurisdiction of resolving industrial disputes by arbitration. (We now have separate applications for dismissals, workplace rights protections, flexible work, bullying, sexual harassment, rights of entry etc. All very welcome, but very complex.)
  • the oppressive level of regulation of the internal affairs of unions requiring the deployment of substantial members’ resources on compliance. Although recent changes suggest a more cooperative regulatory approach is to be adopted
  • the course of enterprise bargaining and bargaining exhaustion, as employer demands for productivity improvements by reductions in terms and conditions have left nothing to bargain with – especially in areas of intense labour (such as nursing).

As I retire and leave Gordon Legal, I am confident that ANMF remains in very steady legal hands. Gordon Legal will continue to look after all the legal needs of the ANMF Victorian Branch membership. The very experienced Denis O’Callaghan will continue with his colleagues in the Elizabeth Street office. In the Industrial Law team led by Marcus Clayton, Nick White (Principal Lawyer) – with whom I have worked on ANMF matters for 15 years – will continue his work with ANMF, as will Brad Annson (Partner), an equally remarkable industrial litigator and strategist.

23 April 2024