The role of employer associations in lobbying government: a cross-case comparison of the activities of the Australian Mines and Metals Association and the Australian Industry Group before and during 2007.
Given that 2010 is another Federal election year, it seems an appropriate time to review the role of employer associations leading up to the last election in November 2007. The 2007 Federal election demonstrated the impact that employer associations can have on government and the electorate via lobbying. Consequently, the 2007 campaign indicates that employer associations are much more important than they have previously been given credit for. Changes to the employment relations landscape over the past decade have dominated Federal politics as tensions surrounding the Workplace Relations Act 1996 and the initial introduction of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) were exacerbated by the passing of the Workplace Relations Amendment (WorkChoices) Act in 2005. These tensions reached a pinnacle at the 2007 Federal election. The role that each participant played in shaping this turn of events is well documented, particularly on the part of the Howard Government, the Opposition, the media, unions, and business. It is this failure to examine the role of employer associations specifically which leads to questions about the importance of such associations in achieving IR change through the lobbying of government, and also the impact this has on association members. Despite the fact that employer associations have been in existence for well over one hundred years in Australia, relatively little research has been carried out tracking their development and, with some notable exceptions, industrial relations researchers have not found employer associations of significant interest, instead preferring to focus on the state and trade unions in employment relations (Barry, 1995, p. 243).
There is a consistent body of research by Plowman (1978; 1979; 1980; 1985; 1986; 1987a; 1987b; 1988a; 1988b; 1989a; 1989b; 1989c; 1991; 1992), the pre-eminent scholar on Australian employer associations, which argues that these associations have historically formed as a reaction to compulsory arbitration and the growth of trade unions and that they continue to be reactive in their behaviour (Barry, 1995, pp. 543-544). A valuable contribution is also found in the body of work by Sheldon and Thornthwaite (1993; 1996; 1999a; 1999b; 1999c; 1999d; 1999e; 1999f; 2004; 2005) which uses case studies of different employer associations to argue that they were not solely reactive but were able to shape various employment relations agendas, including enterprise bargaining, making them proactive organisations. Other single contributions by authors will be discussed below in the literature review.
The fact that relatively little has been published over recent years--apart from some coverage in the 'Employer Matters' articles in the June issue of the Journal of Industrial Relations--is surprising given the active role played by employer associations, notably, the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA), the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), and the employer group, the Business Council of Australian (BCA), in lobbying and in advertising campaigns leading up to the 2007 November Federal election. The refusal of other employer associations, such as the Australian Industry Group (AiG) and the Retail Traders' Association (RTA), to show party political support prior to the 2007 Federal election raises questions about the role of employer associations in political lobbying on behalf of members, and the likely outcomes for members as a result of changes in government policy, particularly industrial relations policy, due to active lobbying or in refraining from lobbying. Thus a comparison of the approaches of AMMA, a lobbyist, and the AiG with its neutral stance are justified. This will enable an exploration of the variations in objectives and motivations of different associations as exemplified by the two case studies.
AMMA is the national employer association for the mining, hydrocarbons and associated processing and service industries. As such, it is the sole national employer association representing the employment relations and human resource management interests of Australia's onshore and offshore resources sector and associated industries (AMMA, 2007a), with the majority of its membership base located in Western Australia (Hearn McKinnon, 2008, p. 470). It is AMMA's substantial membership base of key contributors to Australia's resource-based economy that makes it one of the largest employer assoications with over 300 members as well as being the resource sector member of the ACCI. Being a market leader in terms of the contribution of AMMA's members to the Australian economy and its significant potential to influence workplace relations policy, makes it an association reflective of the specific trends and operations of a representative body, which spoke on behalf of a signifcant proportion of Australian export industy, and has the potential to demand the attention of the Australian Federal Government.
The AiG is the largest manufacturing industry association in Australia, with around 11,500 member employers, and has successfully influenced aspects of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 Cwlth (Sheldon & Thornthwaite, 1999d, p. 89). The AiG is also strong in building and construction and IT and telecommunications (Sheldon & Thornthwaite, 2005, p. 406). The AiG has contributed to the shaping of national wage policy, bargaining structures and work practices, and has structured not only its own industry work practices, but also Federal bargaining structures, as identified by Sheldon and Thornthwaite (1999d, p. 89).
This article is structured to provide a brief review of the relevant literature on Australian employer associations, some discussion of common political lobbying techniques, the methodology utilised in the current research, and then the findings and results.
Literature: Employer Associations and Political Lobbying
This literature review identifies the key research contributions on employer associations and representation and lobbying in Australia. The literature on employer associations is not balanced: certain aspects are well researched, and other key aspects ignored. The key contributions to employer association research to date have been made by Plowman (1978; 1979; 1985; 1986; 1987a; 1987b; 1988a; 1988b; 1989a; 1989b; 1989c; 1991; 1992), Sheldon and Thornthwaite (1993; 1996; 1999a; 1999b; 1999c; 1999d; 1999e; 1999f; 2004; 2005), Isaac and Ford (1971), Drago, Wooden and Sloan (1992), Barry (1995), Mortimer and Still (1999), Westcott (1999), Mortimer, Bain and Bond (2004), and Hearn McKinnon (2008). The shift to a more decentralised bargaining system has been a key factor altering the nature of industrial relations in Australia over the past twenty years. Within this context, it has been noted that the changes in bargaining structures have been driven by employers and their associations (Sheldon and Thornthwaite, 1999a; Mortimer, Bain & Bond, 2004). Interest in the role of employer associations has been justified by industrial relations researchers because these associations form to represent the collective interests of employers and to counter the rise and influence of trade unions, but despite this they remain under-researched. Further, many industry studies (for example, Bray & Warring, 2006; Kitay & Lansbury, 1997) and also studies on legislative reform (for example, Teicher, Lambert & O'Rourke, 2006), largely ignore the roles of employer associations and their contribution to policy-making, legislative change and industry restructuring in Australia. The arguments by Sheldon and Thornthwaite (1999a) focus on the fact that there have been substantial developments in industrial relations in Australia, particularly since 1983, and that it would be remiss to ignore the role of employer associations in this process. The changes identified by these researchers have continued from 1999 and the roles of associations in these changes now need exploration, given the prominence of employer associations in the lead up to the 2007 Federal election.
Plowman has detailed on a number of occasions (1979; 1980; 1992) the deficiency of research on the role of employer associations, suggesting that their role has largely been ignored, with little study on their developments throughout history. Such deficiencies in data and research highlight the need for further documentation and analysis of the role of such associations. Furthermore, the fact that much change has been observed in the extent of interactions between employer associations and the former Howard Government, invites further investigation into the role of employer associations. In contrast to Plowman's position that these associations are "passive and negatively defensive" (Plowman, 1988a; also quoted in Westcott, 1999, p.579), criticisms of this viewpoint have been levelled by Sheldon and Thornthwaite (1999) and also by Westcott (1999). These researchers suggest that these associations are responsible for utilising their bargaining power and demonstrate a more proactive role than previously suggested by Plowman. Sheldon and Thornthwaite (1999a), identify three main factors which have led to what they regard as a misconception of the role of employer associations. Explanations include a reluctance of associations to expose their internal workings to academic investigation in order to protect their well maintained public image (Sheldon & Thornthwaite, 1999a). They also suggest there may be some scepticism by researchers who may have a political or union influenced slant when examining 'the other side', or that employer associations in general may be an area of study that lacks interest or appeal to employment relations researchers.
Given that government actions affect the competitive advantage of firms and industries either negatively or positively (Vining, Shapiro & Borges, 2005), it is not surprising that representatives of employers, such as employer associations, take on a political lobbying role when a change of government is a likely outcome from an election. The employer campaign, initiated by the ACCI and the BCA and which gained funding and support from most other employer associations excluding the AiG (Hearn McKinnon, 2008) and RTA, was geared at "the mobilisation of public and media opinion" (Andrews, 1996, p. 69 quoting Miller, 1996) with a dual purpose: to encourage the electorate to retain the Coalition Government and its WorkChoices legislation and, failing this, to encourage the Australian Labor Party to amend its proposed industrial relations reforms to take account of the employer interests, particularly with regard to specific issues such as the retention of AWAs and restricting trade union access to workplaces (Hearn McKinnon, 2008). This mobilisation of opinion is regarded as pressure-based lobbying, and is often used when the arguments proposed are not as strong as those of the other side (Miller, 1996). However, Andrews (1996) and Fitzgerald (2006) claim that mobilisation of opinion can be integral to the process of lobbying in many situations, including that under discussion in this article. A second lobbying strategy applied in the campaign under discussion centred on the approaches made by employer associations directly to the Federal Government, which could be described as "working the system" (Andrews, 1996, p. 69 quoting Miller, 1996). Lobbying also requires careful research to underpin any representations to government (Andrews, 1996, p. 69 citing Miller, 1996).
Becker (1983, p. 372) argues that "political influence is not simply fixed by the political process, but can be expanded by expenditures of time and money on campaign contributions, political advertising, and in other ways that exert political pressure". The employer association campaign required associations to spend time and money on contributing to the Liberal Party's attempt to retain office and also on advertising. The advertising campaign--utilising television, radio, and newspaper--leading up to the 2007 Federal election on 24 November was targeted specifically at retaining the Coalition Government's WorkChoices legislation with its many perceived benefits for employers, including Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and reduced union workplace access (Hearn McKinnon, 2008). It was also regarded as countering the Australian Council of Trade Union's Your Rights @ Work which had been running since January 2005 (Muir, 2008) and as a consequence of being a counter-action, the employer association campaign relied on stereotypes of trade union officials as 'standover merchants' and 'bully boys' that were not successful as satirical images.
The methodology for this research is an exploratory double case-study, conducted in 2008. This is because the activities and the role of employer associations might be better understood through a comparative case study of two large associations, using targeted sampling (Yin, 2003). The use of multiple methods of data collection was selected, as it allowed for a sequential building of data, each stage of which informed the others. The variety of data used allowed for triangulation of the data: secondary data, and primary data from interviews, with disparate perspectives obtained from representatives of two very politically diverse associations and a sample of their members, as well as consultants and government officials. Information gathered was primarily based on semi-structured interviews with representatives of AMMA and the AiG, member organisations of each, and other well positioned government officials from Treasury and consultants with expertise in this field of study. A set of concepts which summarise recurrent features of employer associations and their role in industrial relations was developed through content analysis of a range of secondary data and policy submissions.
This article is structured to cover predicted and emergent themes from both primary and secondary data, with reference to the literature, to determine how the role of employer associations has changed, particularly over the twelve years prior to 2007. An emphasis on emergent themes is present because of the many changes to the Australian IR regulatory system under the Howard Government. The close alignment of employer associations with their membership and the regulatory framework under which their businesses must operate has meant that the degree of involvement in representative roles and the lobbying of government by associations have progressed significantly. To support this, the article is divided into three subsequent sections. First, the historical background of the associations are examined based on findings from previous literature as well as primary data gathered from the interviewees, to assess how the more traditional roles of employer associations have evolved. AMMA and the AiG are examined to provide insight into activities of key associations. An assessment of philosophical underpinnings is then provided prior to a discussion of the 2007 representation and lobbying campaigns of AMMA and the AiG in order to evaluate their potential to influence the voting public and also government policy and legislation on behalf of their respective members.
Findings and Results
Both associations strongly acknowledged their respective historical backgrounds and development as instrumental to current activities. In recognising their foundations and the setting in which each was created, a comparison of past, present and future activities was offered. Interpretations from interviewees reflected strongly descriptions of the purpose of employer associations in previous studies such as those by Sheldon and Thornthwaite (1999b; 1999c; 1999d). Interviewees noted that for the majority of its existence, AMMA focused heavily on employment relations issues and was concerned primarily with battles with unions until approximately twenty years ago, when it broadened its focus to include a more diverse service range through various consultation offerings and training programs. This reflects the 1999 research by Sheldon and Thornthwaite, who argued that the shift to a more decentralised bargaining system altered the nature of employment relations in Australia and was actually driven by employers and their associations.
While AMMA's membership remains centred around mining, oil and gas service providers, its current membership base has been extended to include the associated stakeholder organisations surrounding the more traditional companies to include catering service providers to those companies, some of which are 'in the top twenty employers in the world ... [and] employ a huge number of people'. AMMA still has the more traditional activities such as IR representation and lobbying government for legislative change comprising one third of its activities. The other two thirds of AMMA's activities have been described as consulting services on employment law, and as being a registered training organisation. Overall, it was noted that the key objectives for AMMA have not altered, rather the conditions in which the association operates has altered the way in which these objectives are achieved:
... How to assist [members] bring their people along with them and to improve prosperity as an employer, so that's pretty similar. The pathways to achieving that may be different based on historical reasons, location, and union involvement.
Employer Association consultant and contributor to AMMA's Employee Engagement report (2007a), Geoff McGill, indicated also the changing strategies of AMMA and the importance of the level of expertise of staff AMMA has on offer to members:
AMMA has also got a bit more into the strategic, helping the smaller and medium companies to develop policy and practices internally. That depends on the quality of their secretariat ... there is a higher level of technical capability now than there was ten years ago.
Similar interpretations of the role of employer associations were given by the AiG respondents which identified particular employment relations battles as catalysts for its creation. The AiG, as it is now known, has only been in existence since 1988, after the merger between the Australian Chamber of Manufacturers and the Metal Trades Industry Association. The combined histories of those organisations, however, stretches back approximately 130 years. The 1980s were highlighted by an AiG interviewee as a "hectic time on the IR scene". The issue of standard working hours was strongly debated and the union movement with its sizeable campaigns around working hours meant that employer associations had to be at the forefront of this debate in manufacturing, a debate which ultimately led to the introduction of the 38hour week in 1981. The complexity of the role of the AiG was regarded as having increased substantially with a raft of pressures building on businesses to become more competitive:
In those days [the 1980s], the focus of the organisation was very much around the pure industrial relations. What has happened subsequently is that there are a whole lot of other pressures that have built on business, from the point of view of them being competitive.
The globalisation of the economy, particularly over the last two decades, had created both opportunities for AiG's members in developing new export markets, as well as a much broader global competitive base in which they must survive:
... That is, the philosophy about maintaining continuity for their business, looking for opportunities to build their business, and that's not necessarily just workplace relations, it could be a whole range of other strategies.
These findings certainly highlight the shortcomings of previous research, such as that by Teicher, Lambert and O'Rourke (2006), which largely neglected to acknowledge the role of employer associations and their contribution to policy-making, legislative change, and industry restructuring in Australia. In fact, both employer associations in this study have increased the diversification and complexity of their respective roles on behalf of members. This supports suggestions by Sheldon and Thornthwaite (1999a; 1999b; 1999c; 1999d) that there have been substantial developments in employment and the activities of employer associations have been instrumental in achieving these.
Changing Philosophical Underpinnings of Employer Associations
Current employer association roles have appeared to converge more recently, particularly in the manner in which they pursue political objectives, and seek to add value to their membership offerings, with extensive consulting services and training services with AMMA stating that its members want to see that:
... the talent pool that is available grows so that they have greater opportunity to grow their business. They want to see that there are the necessary support mechanisms in place to allow their people to be more productively engaged in their business. the main area of growth for us is the employee capability side of things and management capability.
The AiG reflected very similar objectives in terms of its role as an employer association:
We're much broader than just an industrial relations or workplace relations organisation. So we're forever looking for opportunities to build the members' business wherever we possibly can.
This was indicative of a possible paradigm shift in the overall objectives and philosophy of employer associations and how they seek to achieve them. In general, the objectives of AMMA are perhaps not typical of other associations, rather AMMA claims to operate in the realm of business development for its members, avoiding, '.class battles between workers' rights and conditions, unions and industrial tribunals', which they view to be 'value destroying'. Members are said to be given precedence at every level:
It's the membership that effectively own the association, drive the policy, drive the direction, and we're very much mindful of that, and we don't do it the other way around.
Significantly, the objectives of both AMMA and its members were believed to be well aligned, whereby:
... Everyone is pushing for the same objectives; that is good pay, productivity, new projects, growth, and improved economic circumstances.
Such claims of complete alignment were supported by the involvement of members in the internal business planning process, where the views of members are incorporated into the visions, missions and value systems. In reference to the origins of the association in employment relations activity, AMMA distinguishes itself from its former objectives and the current objectives of other associations. While it maintained the employment relations functions for its members and took pride in providing effective employment relations solutions, the main area of growth is focused on 'employee capability' and 'management capability'. These areas aimed to develop both the skills and experience through training and development of employees currently working for its members' businesses, as well as strategically promoting the growth and development of the member businesses as a whole. These introspective understandings of the role of AMMA offered by its CEO, Steve Knott, were closely aligned with external evaluations of the role of AMMA, as the main provider of advice and representation to its members in all matters relating to employment relations and human resource management, and in adding value to member companies and assisting them in achieving their business goals (Fitzgerald, 2006, p.295). The member perspective of AMMA is in many ways conducive to AMMA's own perceptions of its overall business philosophy; however, it also sheds light on its objectives from a slightly different angle:
I think it does go to some lengths to try to formulate its policy and base it on certain key principles. Some would say it's got that sort of ideological...philosophy...
This is supported strongly by consultant, Geoff McGill, who emphasised:
They're not whimsical, whilst ideology is important in terms of the operation of the free market, there is some rigour in the way those decisions are made.
Similarly the AiG confirmed the move away from an employment relations focus, stating that the three main roles of the Association were the policy representation role, the information and advisory role--both of which were part of the membership service--and the consulting and training functions offered for a fee-for-service. The philosophical underpinnings which allowed the AiG to pursue policy representations were attributed to its "fiercely apolitical status". For example, policy submissions made to the Federal Coalition Government in Policy Directions for Australian Industry (2007), demonstrated the AiG's political neutrality, whereby arguments made were based on the outcome for "businesses, employees and the broader community", as opposed to more specific sectors, or strictly only for the interest of members. However, attempts to make a wider appeal to government on the benefits of implementing policy amendments were to be expected, and appeared to ultimately promote members' interests. Nevertheless, the AiG claimed to neither support nor criticise policies based on the perceived benefit for members and was also opposed to favouring political parties as an association with its own identity:
We don't support political parties. So we will support change that we think is good for the members; if we think it is bad for the members we will tell them so.
This demonstrated that while discussions with government were actively sought, there was no clear support of allegiances with one political party over another, but rather the opportunity to advance its members' interests, irrespective of whether the Liberal Party of the Labor Party were in power. The processes of decision-making and policy-setting were practical evidence of the philosophy of refraining from becoming 'a political beast', and ensured the best interests of AiG's members took precedence over any internal political objectives of the AiG as an organisation.
Both AMMA and the AiG advocated the primacy of their members' interests, particularly in their policy-setting agendas; however, each officially refrained from ascribing to any particular political bent. Yet the question must be raised as to the underlying political affiliations each may have by virtue of the constituents each represents, namely employers in particular industries. This is also shown by AMMA's preparedness to partially fund an employer association-driven pro-WorkChoices advertising campaign leading up to the 2007 November federal election (AMMA, 2007b). The AiG refrained from supporting the campaign which it viewed as "definitely political".
The extent of these new interactions of employer associations with government was indicative of the expanding list of activities in which associations were actively engaged. For example, AMMA's (2007b) Activities Report described its extensive range of services: educations and training, workplace policy advice and employment relations representation and lobbying campaigns, HRM advice, OH&S advice, networking services, information services. These activities were aligned strongly with those activities pursued by the AiG, which also claimed to engage in representation to government, training services, a range of information sharing services under the 'BIZassist' framework; and Infoline, briefings, manuals, updates and networks. Advice on skilled migration, workplace relations, OH&S and compensation, EEO and discrimination, trade and export development, business conditions, environment and energy, as well as superannuation were all included in the service range offered by the AiG (AiG website, 2008). In 2007, the AiG also established a separate incorporated legal practice to focus on representing members before courts and tribunals over workplace issues (Hearn McKinnon, 2008, p. 468). This demonstrated the move towards a wider breadth of operations now offered by employer associations.
Representation to government, as opposed to political lobbying, has also been developed substantially by the AiG, with the AiG's Heather Ridout describing herself as a representative of the AiG's members' interests, as opposed to a lobbyist. Examples of this were found in the research and submissions carried out by the AiG, whereby an industry survey was used to support submissions to government, which 'led to the Skills for the Future training package' in 2006 (AiG website, 2008). This reflected a shift in the mentality of not only the AiG itself, but also the way in which employer associations were viewed by government. Where associations were once considered lobby groups, with particular agendas, their reputation has since evolved to more of a representative body, which puts forward the perspectives of a large section of the Australian workforce. Policy submissions are therefore taken into account in a different light, and their influence is considered to be very significant:
Governments of all persuasions don't make policy-decisions lightly; they are always keen to know what industry thinks about a range of matters, regardless of who is the government of the day, or in opposition. Whether it be to do with the climate, workplace relations or health and safety, government like to know what the sense of the general community before they proceed (Treasury official).
However, this did not mean that lobbying was forgotten by employer associations. The research that once underpinned lobbying campaigns, as identified by Andrews (1996, p. 69 citing Miller, 1996) now underpins 'policy submissions'. Though Treasury acknowledged that robust research by those making representation to the Department was taken into consideration more favourably, Treasury officials also suggested that their own analysis of the information presented by employer associations was not affected by the way in which information was presented:
Just by the very fact that you have someone who is very articulate in the positions that they're making--Treasury quite often puts on record ... interviews on a particular range of industrial relations areas, and perhaps by coincidence, they are quite similar to the position which employer groups would be presenting.
The Treasury officials qualified this original statement by adding that "it would be fair to say that employer associations are perhaps a little more fluent in the arguments that Treasury tends to run on; they probably speak our language a bit more".
Finally, the Treasury officials also acknowledged:
Essentially they [i.e. employer associations] are lobby groups. Sometimes they try also to present information to government about economic conditions that the government might not be fully aware about. They have their own research and they're presenting research, which is generated with the view point to protect their own members at the end of the day.
AMMA's agenda and use of 'tailored research' were clearly reflected in its 2007 policy paper defending AWAs in which the association claimed that Labor's proposal to abolish AWAs would cost the mining industry its twenty percent productivity increase achieved under individual contracts and cost the Australian economy AUD110 billion in mineral exports (AMMA, 2007c; Hearn McKinnon, 2008, p. 470).
Lobbying in 2007 and its After Effects
While AMMA was not as openly partisan as ACCI in the lead up to the November 2007 election, it continued to adopt the stance of being anti-union when it came to its members' employment arrangements and spent considerable time, money and other resources defending restrictions on unions under WorkChoices. The chief executive officer of one of AMMA's member companies also commented on the strategic placement of lobbying efforts and the acceptance by AMMA "to not pursue lost causes because of the waste of resources":
Despite of all of its strong views about AWAs and so on, that once Labor was elected there was no point in continuing to run a futile argument to keep them [AWAs].
While critical of Labor's workplace relations proposals, AMMA maintained a dialogue with Labor throughout 2007 (Hearn McKinnon, 2008, p. 470) in the hope of influencing the Party's workplace relations policies in its members' favour.
In terms of the workplace relations legislative framework, Steve Knott, current chief executive of AMMA, believes AMMA's influence on both the previous Coalition Government and the current Labor Government, in the lead up to the 2007 Federal election and post-election, was considerable:
... Both parties have taken on board our views on a range of matters that have been to the benefit of not just our members but employees, and the economy and people in general
Steve Knott also pointed to a range of matters where the direct impact of AMMA's lobbying activities resulted in specific changes in government legislation under both John Howard's Prime Ministership and that of Kevin Rudd.
According to AMMA's former President:
AMMA's [lobbying] influence is much much greater than it used to be, and one would hope that that is because it's talking more common sense but it's more likely due to the importance of the mining industry.... AMMA used to not seek publicity; it used to operate under the [political] radar.
Steve Knott emphasised the status of AMMA's membership as being a significant factor in successful lobbying of government:
I have ten directors on the board, eight of which are chief executives of multi-billion dollar mining companies. So these people are senior people in their own right, and the reason why we have them on our board is to influence our policy setting and also to open up the doors, if we need to go and speak to the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister.
The consultant who was interviewed also supported the claim that the membership of an employer association can positively or negatively affect the outcome of an association's lobbying and access to government:
AMMA is quite an influential employer association, but there is a function of the size and profile of the member companies. AMMA would not have entree into the government if it did not have [those members]. It depends very much of the gravitas of their members. It would be fairly amazing if AMMA wasn't effective.
The decisions of larger companies to remain active in AMMA remain dependent on the effectiveness of AMMA:
Newcrest and Rio Tinto etcetera ... it's really the profile of the member companies and their willingness to participate, and the benefit they find in AMMA's effectiveness, which creates a vicious cycle.
Unlike AMMA, the AiG did not contribute financially to the employer association campaign to retain WorkChoices (Hearn McKinnon, 2008, p. 468); however, this did not mean that the association was against retaining the Act (Hearn McKinnon, 2008, p. 467). Instead, the AiG made bipartisan representations to both the Federal Government and the Opposition. Accordingly:
The relationship we [the AiG] have with all political parties is sound. We don't necessarily agree with all the views but we need to know what the various parties' policies are.
In terms of AiG's "political clout", it believed it had "a significant influence", whether it was "with the Government of the day, the Opposition or at Federal or State level" (AiG interviewee). The limitations of the relationship were acknowledged, as the AiG accepted the fact that while not everything it approached the government on was achieved, it did mean that the association remained assured of access to government. The AiG interviewee stated:
I think because of those relationships and the respect that the organisation is held in by those sorts of political parties, we are influential, our views are sought, we believe our representation role is effective. We don't always get everything we want but we've always got very strong evidence to support our position when we approach Government.
In a practical sense, the AiG maintained these relations with both sides of politics by also convening regularly with the Opposition to discuss issues and was also approached by the Opposition on particular issues as well. The intention was that the AiG clearly communicated its views on current issues as well as keeping abreast of where both sides of Government fall in terms of policy positions.
The AiG interviewee also highlighted specific examples of policy submissions which have produced identifiable outcomes. One example was in relation to Labor's draft National Employment Standards, about which the AiG submitted an 80-page document of suggested amendments. Admittedly, not all amendments were incorporated into the legislation when it was passed in 2009, however, a degree of change was said to have resulted from the submission: "It wasn't entirely successful but we certainly brought about some change to that draft". Another example referred to the WorkChoices legislation, which the AiG deliberated over extensively and its National Executive devoted a significant portion of time to developing a solid lobbying campaign. The AiG viewed the legislation, as originally proposed, to have "some fundamental flaws with it and substantial costs to [its] members' business"; therefore amendments were sought, which again were considered to underpin subsequent change to the Bill as brought before Parliament.
According to the interviewee, the AiG in 2007 was able to influence aspects of Labor's proposed workplace relations policy prior to the election, particularly in terms of shaping the transitional arrangements of AWAs. The fact that the AiG remained unconnected from the employer association funded proWorkChoices advertising campaign leading up to the election enabled the AiG to more quickly build relationships with the Labor Government after it won the election, thereby giving the AiG more immediate access to the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in particular.
Conclusion: Lobbying and Representation are Effective
Australian employer associations have undergone significant changes in their roles and services offered to members; however, they have retained lobbying and representation roles on behalf of members and, as illustrated by the 2007 activities of AMMA and the AiG, have utilised these latter roles proactively and effectively to influence government policy and legislation. Pressure applied from different angles will also alter the decisions of government in some way because the government does not operate within a vacuum and cannot ignore representation and lobbying from pressure groups that cover large sections of industry, the workforce, and the economy. In the cases of AMMA and the AiG, each association provided specific examples of changes in government policy and legislation that each believed to be attributable to its respective lobbying and representation campaigns. Therefore it is justifiable to conclude that while not all lobbying techniques employed by employer associations may produce the exact outcomes desired, there are certainly sufficient instances of results which reflect their effectiveness in influencing government on behalf of members.
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Eliza Woolcock and Marjorie Jerrard (1)
(1) The authors would like to thank Peter Sheldon for his insightful comments on employer association research and also Ken Coghill and Paul Kalfadellis for helpful suggestions on the research design and data analysis techniques.