HR Nicholls Society

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The HR Nicholls Society is a small but well-connected organisation in Australia which is dedicated to reducing the power of unions and promoting industrial relations changes that benefit employers.

According to its website, it aims:

  • 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 HR Nicholls Society was founded in 1985 by John Stone, former Secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury; Peter Costello, a Melbourne barrister and Liberal Party member who later became the national Treasurer , Barrie Purvis, the Director of the Australian Wool Selling Brokers' Employers' Federation; and Ray Evans, Executive Officer at Western Mining Corporation Limited. Ray Evans was also involved in founding the Lavoisier Group.

The society is named in honour of Henry Richard Nicholls, a Hobart newspaper proprietor who succesfully avoided a defamation action for his strident criticism of High Court Justice H.B. Higgins, the prime author behind the doctrine of the living wage in Australia. Nicholls crusaded against Higgins who was then the President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, because Higgins had determined in the famous 1907 Sunshine Harvester case that workers must be paid, at a minimum, a “living wage”, such that one employed man be able to earn sufficient to support himself, his wife and three children.

In his Arthur Calwell Memorial Lecture of 1986, John Halfpenny, then Secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, described the HR Nicholls Society as "the Industrial Relations Branch of the Klu Klux Klan"

The society shares an address with the Lavoisier Group, a similar think tank which is one of the few climate change skeptic groups in Australia. [1]

Minchin Controversy

In March 2006, Senator Nick Minchin addressed the Society, and was recorded advocating radical new changes to Australia's industrial relations laws, far beyond anything that his government had previously suggested publicly. Minchin also admitted that it was a fact that " ..the great majority of the Australian people do not support what we [the HR Nicholls society and the Howard Government] are doing on industrial relations. They violently disagree." [2]


Contact Information

The H R Nicholls Society Inc
PO Box 424, Collins Street West, Vic 8007

External Resources

Resources and articles

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