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Fairness, free agency and Franklin: the forever complex nature of industrial relations in sport.


"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," said Karl Marx, the father of socialism. And while his philosophies are a little unfashionable in a political sense these days, there's one popular sport in which they're still holding up.

AFL football has just had another taste of socialism in the national draft. While there's more scope for some private enterprise now via free agency and trading, the fundamental principle of the more poorly performed teams having first dibs on the best emerging talent remains (Connolly, 2013).

Rohan Connolly's capturing of the state of social relations in the Australian Football League (AFL) competition provides an insight to how the recent introduction of free agency is perceived. Free agency, in the AFL competition, provides limited relief to highly regulated labour market controls that constrain the movement of players between clubs; such controls have been held to be to pivotal to the code's object of equalisation. Free agency's introduction followed a long campaign by the Australian Football League Players' Association (ALFPA), collective labour's voice in the AFL competition, and is positioned by Connolly as a form of private enterprise. The key labour market controls, emblematic of socialism in Connolly's reasoning, include a national draft and salary cap and have been enforced largely by the AFL. In industrial relations terms it is the AFL which fulfils the role of a peak employer organisation, as it negotiates collective bargaining agreements with the AFLPA, as well as being the administrative fulcrum of the AFL competition. (i)

The characterisation of an increase in players' rights as a form of private enterprise, set against the bulwark of socialism policed by the employer organisation, skewers, or at least scrambles, foundation precepts in industrial relations as conventionally understood. This construction frames our assessment of the introduction of free agency, including a particular focus on the reaction to its use by Lance Franklin in October 2013. We initially outline the history and deployment of contemporary labour market controls in the AFL competition, and give consideration to how free agency and the reaction to it, by way of the Franklin transfer, may usefully be analysed. We employ a two stage process. Stage one is a material-historical analysis of the negotiation and introduction of free agency including also the details of the Franklin transfer in 2013. Stage two comprises a discourse analysis of print media texts produced in the period 1 October-28 November 2013, a period that is inclusive of the Franklin transfer. This methodological approach aligns well to our purpose which is to explore the ways in which stakeholders and the media frame their reactions to free agency more broadly, and the Franklin transfer in particular. We do this with a view to assessing how free agency, in its infancy, may be positioned prior to its review in 2016.

While our assessment here is directed to labour market controls in Australian Rules football, the debate about labour market controls in sport is not confined to Australia. A relevant, although not exclusive example, is the 1995 European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that determined that transfer rules, then endemic in European professional soccer leagues, were contrary to European Union freedom of labour movement principles. Two transfer rules specifically cited by the ECJ were: the imposition of transfer fees on recruiting clubs even when players were out of contract, and protectionist controls on the number of foreign born players who could appear in particular fixtures. The impact of this ruling is debated, not only for its impact on player movement (Parrish & McCardle 2004; Frick 2009) but also for its impact on the competitive balance of European domestic league competitions (Binder & Findlay, 2012).


Examination of labour market controls in professional sport in Australia, including Australian Rules football, invokes a multi-disciplinary focus involving industrial relations, labour and sports law, and economics. In broad terms, industrial relations interest focuses on the formation of labour market rules (Dabscheck, 2004; Dabscheck, 2008), the impact of collective representation (Dabscheck, 1996) and the rise of collective bargaining (Dabscheck, 2000) including player shares of revenue established by collective bargaining (Dabscheck, 2011; Macdonald, 2012). Labour law's interest lies in the restraint of trade issues invoked by labour market controls (Opie & Smith, 1992; Davies, 2011; Thorpe, 2012; Fairley, Snyder, Kellett & Hill, 2013). Courts have largely ruled such controls invalid on restraint of trade grounds. Yet competition administrators continue to argue that sporting labour markets and player contracts require particular configurations and controls and are therefore 'reasonable' so as to insulate the survival of their respective sports. The interest of economics lies in assessing the alignment of sporting organisations, such as the AFL, to the characteristics of cartel and monopoly behaviour and analysing whether labour market controls, in addition to measures such as competition scheduling, fulfil the objective of competitive balance and revenue sharing (Booth, 2005a; Stewart, Nicholson & Dickson, 2005; Jakee, Kenneally & Mitchell, 2010; Masson, Sim & Wedding, 2013).

Within professional sport, labour market controls include recruitment measures, controls on the movement of players, and the use of maximum wages (Dabscheck, 1996). (ii) Within the AFL competition, the precise controls include the external draft for new players and an internal draft for existing players, a highly regulated system of player trades, rules that prescribe a 'common' roster in terms of size and composition, minimum salaries and a salary cap. Club rosters are permitted to combine three categories of players: broadly, a primary list of 38 players, up to two veterans and up to six rookies (Dabscheck, 2011). These measures, in combination, control the recruitment of players and the movement of players between clubs (Dabscheck, 2004) and comprise one of 'the most restrictive systems of labour market regulation in any professional team sport in the world' (Macdonald, 2010) even allowing for the perennially shaped nature of labour markets in professional team sports. Prior to free agency, the only way players, even uncontracted players, could move between clubs was to enter either the external or internal draft or to be traded for other players, draft picks or a combination of both. A player even when contracted can be traded to another club (Macdonald, 2010).


The AFL's labour market controls constitute a key part of its equalisation strategy which consists of many measures to ensure in-season competitive balance (Macdonald & Booth, 2007). The draft itself was introduced in 1986, modelled on the system utilised by the United States' National Football League (NFL). The main principle of the draft is to allow teams that have experienced a poor season to access the best young players in Australia in the following season, remembering that the external draft is the only means players can enter the AFL labour market (Davies, 2010). An additional control is the salary cap, introduced in 1985, which regulates the amount of spending directed by clubs to player payments, although this does not mean that all players at an AFL Club are paid equally (Gahan & Macdonald, 2001). More recently the instruments of equalisation have widened to include competition scheduling and investigation of the way revenue sharing and other financial measures could aid the equalisation objective (AFL, 2013d; Denham, 2013b; Pierik, 2013b; Quayle, 2013). On this indicator, the AFLPA is particularly supportive of the AFL addressing the revenue imbalances between clubs (Baldwin 2013a; Baldwin, 2013b; Pierik, 2013a).

The draft's introduction reflected the then Victorian Football League's (VFL) response to the legal overturn of zoning, drafting and player transfer which was found to be illegal, constituting a restraint of trade on professional footballers (see Foschini v Victorian Football League, Unreported judgement, Supreme Court of Victoria (Crockett J) 15 April 1983); Hall v Victorian Football League [1982] VR 64; Booth, 1997). Legal challenges to drafts imposed by sporting administrators were not confined to the VFL/AFL. Those evident in rugby league in Australia had not only confirmed that professional sport athletes are employees (Buckley v Tutty (1971) 125 CLR 353) but also ruled invalid rugby league's then reliance on residential zoning and internal drafts (Adamson v New South Wales Rugby League Ltd (1991) 31 FCR 242).

The nature of the draft system suggests a distinct shaping of the player market by the code's administrators. Why then is this not a restraint of trade and why has the AFL been successful in ensuring that the system has remained intact--a few controversies aside--since 1987? Stewart, Nicholson and Dickson (2005, p. 98) are unequivocal in their assessment of the guiding rationale, noting that the VFL/AFL has, without significant challenge, adopted structures, policies and strategies consistent with a sporting cartel. Key characteristics include a centralised decision making organisation that 'regulates constituent teams and clubs, and disciplines members who breach the league's rules and regulations'. Additional characteristics include cost minimisation structures including the salary cap and an expansionary market structure aimed at improving the marketability and attraction of the product including its community standing.

On this reasoning, the AFL's monopoly power can be evidenced by its control over broadcasting rights, the increasingly centralised revenue making and distribution and also the ownership structure of the league itself (Stewart, Nicholson & Dickson, 2005; Booth, 2009). The power of the AFL to exercise regulatory power should not be underestimated as a key weapon in ensuring the institutional attachment of the clubs to the draft system. The power of the VFL and now the AFL has strengthened over recent times (Booth, 2004; Booth, 2005b; Macdonald, 2002), a strengthening that has framed the clubs' commitment, or lack of challenge to the measures taken by the AFL to maintain an even competition. Significant penalties, including exclusion from the draft and financial penalties, accrue to clubs who break the labour market controls (Horan & Edmund, 2010). Other forms of restraint and control include banning players from playing in any competition but those approved by the AFL, or using their image for endorsement that conflicts with the AFL or a protected sponsor of an AFL club (Thorpe, 2012). The capacity for member clubs to challenge the AFL is limited, particularly by those clubs that are dependent on the AFL to ensure their financial well-being. Relevant too is the AFL's power over the distribution of increasingly lucrative broadcasting rights in addition to its frameworks for the distribution of gate receipts, and the allocation of gate receipts to central funds (Wilson & Pomfret, 2009).

Notwithstanding the introduction of free agency, changes to the draft that have occurred in the interests of the national competition suggest that the AFL's power to maintain the draft system has not been diminished. Not all the changes proposed by the AFL to support new expansion clubs in New South Wales and Queensland survived the consultation stage (Macdonald, 2002). Nevertheless the complex system of labour market regulation and rules now accommodates player academies, providing an avenue for direct recruitment for selected clubs, and salary cap loadings. Four academies have been established in New South Wales and Queensland to support the four AFL clubs across those states (Rogers, 2010). The measures are intended to overcome the absence of NSW and Queensland born players in the national competition but with some direct benefit for player development for the four clubs concerned. The academies will provide the opportunity for those clubs to recruit academy players directly and are akin to the system of regional recruiting areas abolished by the then VFL prior to 1987 (Booth, 1997). These measures are in addition to the salary cap concessions, approximating 10 per cent afforded to the two Sydney-based clubs on the basis of the cost-of-living in Sydney, and the difficulty of player retention in those markets (known as the Cost of Living Allowance or COLA). (iii) While both the academy and salary cap measures appear to be contrary to the logic of the draft, the success of the AFL in introducing these changes without effective opposition from the other AFL clubs signifies that the power of the AFL's central administration remains intact. The success also points to the AFL using these measures to support the logic of its expanded competition.


In addition to sanctions and penalties, the AFL relies on additional institutional measures to ensure that individual players and collective labour abide by its labour market regulation. The centrality of organised labour's commitment to the ideals of a tightly controlled labour market has been taken up by Dabscheck (2000, 2011), Macdonald (2002, 2012) and Davies and Cook (2013). This analysis has identified the use of collective bargaining as a means of overcoming what would have been legal restraints to the movement of players (Macdonald, 2012). The AFL and the AFLPA have used collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) from 1993 onwards following a threat by the AFLPA to seek an award in the then Australian Industrial Relations Commission. This has followed the AFL's withdrawal of recognition of the AFLPA in 1992 (Dabscheck, 2004). Successive rounds of collective bargaining agreements have recognised the reasonableness of the AFL Player rules with provisions in the 2007-2011 collective bargaining agreement:

Each of the parties agree that the AFL Player Rules are necessary and reasonable for the proper protection of the legitimate interests of the AFL. The AFLPA and each Player it represents agrees with AFL that any restrictions contained in the AFL Player Rules, including without limitation, restrictions on the freedom of Players to transfer from one AFL Club to another, restrictions on the Total Player Payments an AFL Club may give or apply for the benefit of a Player or an Associate of a Player, are necessary and reasonable for the purpose of protecting the legitimate interests of the AFL, the AFL Clubs and the AFL Competition (clause 8.1 Collective Bargaining Agreement, AFL and AFLPA 2007-2011).

While this may seem to be an overly generous concession by the AFLPA, such a proposition arguably underestimates the task faced by the AFLPA, over a reasonably short history of collective bargaining in the sport, in securing rights for those players who rely on the minima provided by the CBA. The CBA provides base payments and senior match payments for first year, second year and rookie list players, in addition to minimum base payments and senior match payments for more seasoned players. While the average annual salary of AFL players in 2012 was $270,000 (Denham, 2013a), this measure of earnings needs to be set against the average career span for an AFL football which is six years (AFLPA, 2013b). Even in the multi-million dollar AFL industry, it is only through provisions arising from the most recent enterprise agreement (2012-2016) that protections around annual leave have been secured, including that clubs are not able to enforce the use of GPS systems, heart rate monitors or other similar condition monitoring equipment during annual leave (Ryan 2013c).

The measures identified above point to the mechanisms utilised by the AFL to bind institutional attachment to its own logic. Beyond these issues of compliance, the AFL earnestly promotes the draft as being capable of ensuring evenness in the competition; a systemic form of equity and balancing. This is a fluid argument, one capable of being shaped to a number of scenarios and in defence of a wide range of actions. Booth (2004, 2005a) argues that there is some evidence in support of the AFL's arguments but any increases in competitive balance have been affected also by shifts in the number and locations of teams, the expansion of the competition and the location of expansion clubs into large revenue (particularly broadcasting) markets (Booth, 2005b). Of some contribution too may be the distortion provided by the AFL draw; each side does not play each other side in the format of home and away; every side meets once; the basis of each team's opponents in the second round is based on a scheme drawn from team rankings in the previous season (Lenton, 2011).


How then does free agency challenge the current logic of labour market controls, and how might this issue be examined? The furore that erupted over the Sydney Swans' recruitment of Lance Franklin identified the potential for discourse analysis to provide insights to stakeholder reaction, where discourse is understood as:

... a group of statements which provide a language for talking about a topic and a way of producing a particular kind of knowledge about a topic. Thus the term refers to both the production of knowledge through language and representations and the way that knowledge is institutionalized, shaping social practices and setting new practices into play (du Gay 1996, p. 43).

This is an approach not completely unknown to industrial relations per se, but as Kirton and Greene (2006, p. 435) observe, 'most employment relations writers do not carry out discourse-based analysis reflecting a commonly held view within the field that talk is less than action and therefore less worthy of study'. The epistemic logic of discourse analysis in the discipline has been more clearly evident in Foucauldian challenges to the perceived structural shortcomings of labour process theory, and with an emphasis on expanding our understanding of power and resistance in the world of work (Spicer & Bohm, 2007), of precise forms of organisational resistance and control (Putnam, Grant, Michelson & Cutcher, 2005) or of the way discourse constitutes organisational life (Phillips & Oswick, 2012).

Yet in this instance and given that free agency is going to be reviewed by the AFL and AFLPA in 2016, the reaction of the stakeholders is viewed here as being illustrative of the way stakeholders produce and mobilise discourses, potentially in anticipation of future negotiations over the institutional arrangements for free agency. Discourses can be powerful resources in the shaping of future policy and it is useful to examine the discourses that stakeholders draw upon to justify their positions (Kirton & Greene, 2006), in this instance in response to the Franklin transfer but more broadly to free agency. It enables the use of discourse analytical techniques aligned to a critical lens to analyse and assess social phenomena (Ainsworth & Hardy, 2004). This approach clearly reflects a view that discourse will be 'associated with the different relations people have to the world, which in turn depends on their positions in their world' (Fairclough, 2003, p. 124), but also that that there are links between discourse and the institutionalisation of knowledge and the shaping of social and institutional practices in particular political contexts.

In applying this logic to the student of free agency and the Franklin transfer, we utilised an approach that was capable of capturing both the materiality and the discursivity of institutions and stakeholders connected to free agency. Our approach was akin to that used by Selsky, Spicer and Teicher (2003) who used an institutional-historical analysis and a text-based discourse analysis to assess the interests of actors an industrial dispute. (iv)

Our analysis is in two stages. The first stage examines the materiality of the introduction of free agency, charting the framework provided by the 2007-2011 CBA, and the subsequent negotiations between the AFL and the AFPLA. Part of this analysis is informed also by the foregoing outline of the code's labour market controls. The second stage examines the discursivity of stakeholders in their response to the Franklin transfer. The analysis in stage two is confined exclusively to public print media texts as this was a key point for the mobilisation of discourses preceding and following the transfer. This approach reflects the significant media presence of a series of key AFL stakeholders (Macdonald, 2002) and is consistent with that taken by Selsky, Spicer and Teicher (2003, p. 1730) who note that 'the public media can play a crucial role by publicizing various actors' statements about the situation, thereby helping to shape the way the actors and bystanders interpret the situation'. This is in addition to the role of media commentators themselves in shaping, and appealing to particular discourses. Utilising similar reasoning and reflecting the prominent role of the media in the sports industry, Rosenberg (2009, p. 246) used a media discourse analysis to examine inter-code and intra-code conflict across the football codes in Australia, including AFL, noting that the 'sports media is a leading player in the football wars'. In the AFL, the media has not yet taken the role of franchise ownership nor do they have a controlling stake in the game's administration as has been the case in the National Rugby League (NRL) (Philips & Hutchins, 2003). Thus the media in the AFL may not be thought of as a classical industrial relations stakeholder or actor, but clearly a powerful industry stakeholder (Kelly & Hickey, 2012).

The examination of the public media texts was confined to print articles, that addressed free agency or the Franklin relocation, published in The Age, Sydney Morning (published by Fairfax), and The Australian, Herald-Sun and Daily Telegraph (all published by News Limited). (v) The rationale for the selection of these newspapers was that they are the largest circulating papers in the two largest media markets, Sydney and Melbourne. (vi) Articles were collected through daily monitoring of these newspapers during the Franklin free agency transfer. In addition, and to ensure all articles were collected, Google and Factiva searches were utilised deploying the terms, 'Franklin', 'free agency' and 'transfer'. Duplicate articles were not included in the analysis; 59 print articles were collected through these methods. The period of the analysis was 1 October 2013 to 28 November 2013 meaning that the set of media texts was bounded. The selection of these dates was related to the timeline for player transfer regulated by the AFL. Thus 1 October 2013 was the start of the AFL restricted free agency offer and unrestricted free agency period (as mandated in by AFL rules) while November 28 2013 was last date in the second AFL delisted player period. These periods are highly regulated by the AFL and clubs are required to notify all changes to their player lists by nominated lodgement dates (Pierik & Lynch, 2012). We then analysed the 59 articles searching for and identifying discourses constructed by and relied upon by media commentators and institutional stakeholders in their responses to the Franklin transfer. We assessed the repetition of discourses across the print articles and also the use of multiple discourses within a single print article. We use quotes from 20 print articles to support our arguments about the use of certain discourses to position current and future debates in Australian Rules football administration.


In this section we identify the institutional arrangements which shaped and confirmed the introduction of free agency. Our focus is initially on those in-principle arrangements that emerged from collective bargaining negotiations and then the protracted negotiations that were entered into to establish the fine detail of free agency operation. We conclude this section by summarising the rules of free agency as evident for the Franklin transfer.

Negotiations about free agency took place as a result of framework provisions in the 2007-2011 CBA (AFL and AFLPA, 2007) which provided for a Player Movement Working Party (AFL and AFLPA, 2007, clause 8.6, Schedule H; AFLPA, 2009). The 2007-2011 CBA records that the 'AFLPA reserved its position in relation to its agreement to the terms set out in sub-clause 8.1 pending the outcome of the Working Party on Player Movement' (clause 8.6). Clause 8.1 is that part of the CBA where the parties commit to the rules, including those on player movement, for the proper protection of the competition.

While there was an expectation that an in-principle agreement would be reached by 31 December 2008 (AFL, 2009), the negotiations were protracted. An in-principle agreement was reached in February 2010, with final details agreed in November 2011 for introduction at the end of the 2012 season with a review to occur in 2016 (AFL, 2011). This timing enabled the AFL to consolidate the introduction of its newest expansion teams, Gold Coast Suns in 2011 and Greater Western Sydney in 2012, prior to its introduction (Smith, 2010a).

Through this period of protracted negotiations, the AFL duly reported its willingness to reach agreement with the AFLPA (AFL, 2009; AFL, 2010a) while at the same time clearly indicating that it was seeking a 'limited form of free agency' (AFL, 2010a, p. 41). For its part the AFLPA held firm to the view that players required the same kind of freedom as choosing their employer as available to other workers (AFLPA, 2010). Free agency was identified by the AFLPA as a form of 'self-determination' (AFLPA, 2008) and the AFLPA routinely expressed its 'frustration' at the delays in the negotiation (AFLPA 2009, p. 2). This period of negotiation revealed discontent on the part of the clubs as to the impact of free agency on the AFL's particular unique labour market structures, with some clubs predicting dire consequences (Petrie, 2010). Collingwood President Eddie McGuire asserted that 'it will just be bloodshed for the smaller clubs' (Noakes, 2009), a concern identified also by a number of commentators who opined that 'restraint of trade in football is not a bad thing' (Wilson, 2010a).

Following the announcement of the in-principle agreement, McGuire repeated his concern that the introduction could drive clubs to extinction, observing also the drawbacks that would ensue if football was treated as a business rather than a passion (Lienert, 2010). Jeff Kennett, the then Hawthorn President, compared the AFL's agreement to Neville Chamberlain's attempt to broker peace in 1938, noting of the AFL, 'I don't think they've bought peace, I think they've surrendered' (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2010). This concern about free agency continued up until its introduction when it was described as the 'beginning of the end' (Brown, 2012) with this criticism justified on the basis of the lack of fairness for clubs, particularly less-resourced clubs (Denham, 2010; Wilson, 2010b). Under such a characterisation, players' rights are acknowledged but are secondary to the damage their freer movement may inflict upon their clubs:

The whole problem with free agency is that it allows players control that they've never had before. And of course they should decide where they want to play their footy, but it's unfair for their clubs to, in some cases, move on and accept it without negotiating trades for their losses (Brown, 2012).

The AFL's response to the agreement on free agency insisted that it had maintained structures important to its concept of integrity in the competition, with Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Andrew Demetrious noting that 'we believe the agreement is a positive outcome for players and the AFL competition, importantly, the agreement protects the integrity of the salary cap and draft--key pillars during the success of the competition' (AFL, 2010b). The AFLPA celebrated the outcome as one that was fifteen years 'in the making' (AFLPA, 2010, p. 4) but noted also the balance between the objective of player self-determination and the requirements of the competition.

By striking a balance between respecting the culture and traditions of our game, whilst acknowledging the rights of players for increased self-determination, free agency will be good for players, clubs and the game (Evans, 2011 [AFL Press Release]).

As a player you don't get to choose where you start your career but for some players they now may genuinely have the capacity to choose where they end it (AFLPA, 2013a, p. 6).

Elsewhere the agreement to introduce free agency was recognised, in grudging terms, as an inevitability. Had an agreement not been reached, there was the near certainty of court action which would pose significant challenges to other key pillars of the system including the draft and the salary cap (Gleeson, 2010; Smith, 2010b; Macdonald, 2010; Wilson, 2010a). Interestingly, Smith (2010b) credits the influence of Finnis, the AFLPA CEO, who is not a former ex-player, on the outcome: 'other player association heavies have been excellent and active but as past players they might have been a little sensitive to the game that fed them'.

The precise details of free agency are set out in Table 1. In broad terms, free agency provides for freedom in player movement for any player who has been delisted by their existing club, without the need to proceed through the external or internal drafts. This freedom is available also to 'listed' players who have served eight or more seasons with the club. In these instances players can nominate the club of their choice, and they are not required to proceed through the draft. Where a player is one of the top 25 per cent highest paid players at his club, the player's existing club has the right to match the offer provided by the player's nominated club. If this occurs the player may choose to remain with his original club, seek a trade or enter the draft. If the club does not or cannot match the offer, the player can move to the new club of his choice (Pierik & Lynch, 2012; AFL, nd; AFLPA, nd).

With free agency having been secured, the AFLPA no longer reserved its right to withdraw from its commitment to the restrictions on the player movement that have been enshrined in successive rounds of collective bargaining and which remain embedded in the current 2012-2016 collective bargaining agreement (see clause 8.1, AFL and AFLPA, 2012).

Franklin's transfer occurred in the second year of free agency, 2013. Having served eight seasons with the Hawthorn Football Club, Franklin, a dual premiership winner and one time Coleman Medallist (leading goalkicker for the season), was now a restricted free agent. Franklin nominated the Sydney Swans as his club of choice after the Swans tabled a nine-year, ten million dollar deal which was unprecedented in the annals of the AFL as 'it required an unprecedented commitment of TPP [salary cap] funds to a single player over such a contract length' (AFL 2013b). Hawthorn chose not to match the offer and Franklin was able to join the Swans. Hawthorn received a compensation pick (pick 19) in the forthcoming national draft as compensation. This pick was adjacent to their first round pick of 18, a consequence of Hawthorn having won the premiership in 2013. Such was the scrutiny of the deal that all members of the Sydney Swans board and the club's senior management were required to provide written guarantees to the AFL concerning the long term financial commitment, and the management of the salary cap obligations (AFL, 2013b; AFL, 2014).


In this section we examine how stakeholders and the media appealed to and constructed particular discourses in their reaction to the Franklin transfer. We identify and discuss six discourses: 'It is Within the Rules and Will Work', 'Hostile to the Competition and Fairness', 'Only Possible Due to the Salary Cap and Cost of Living Allowance', 'Financially and Morally Irresponsible', 'Unfair to the Fans', and 'What Have We Done ... Paradise Lost'. One of the notable features of the commentary was the limited direct commentary on free agency and player rights, other than the formative task of noting that the Franklin transfer had transpired because of free agency. Aside from the Swans' defence of their strategy, the Franklin transfer invoked commentary on other features of the AFL administration, most notably the salary cap concessions available to the Sydney Swans. This commentary cohered around discourses largely constructed and appealed to in opposition to the transfer, and which were relied upon to illustrate the particularly grievous nature of the Franklin recruitment.


The Sydney Swans can confirm that an offer has been made to Lance Franklin's management under the AFL free agency rules. We are pleased that Lance has expressed his desire to join the Swans. There is a due process that needs to be followed under the AFL free agency rules. The Swans intend to lodge the offer with the AFL on Friday at the commencement of the free agency period. The Hawthorn Football Club will have the right to match the offer (Sydney Swans media release cited by Greg Denham, The Australian, 2 October 2013).

Buddy was keen to come to us and I guess that is the part that we really need to stress. He and his management indicated to us about a year ago that he would like to come to the Sydney Swans. To be frank we thought that would be difficult to achieve. We readdressed it during the year and we got a better feel for what our list would look like, a deal was able to be put together (Sydney Swans CEO Andrew Ireland, cited by Patrick Smith and Greg Denham, The Australian, 3 October 2013.

The AFL is more than welcome to have a look at our books (Sydney Swans CEO Andrew Ireland, cited by Greg Denham and Patrick Smith, The Australian, 3 October 2013).

Guys like this come along once in a generation and we think we have a pretty good record of curbing guys' excessive social behaviour (Sydney Swans Chairman Richard Colless, cited by Neil Cordy, the Daily Telegraph, 3 October 2013.

I'm up here to play football, that's what I'm paid to do and that's what I'm here for (Lance Franklin, cited by Andrew Wu, The Age, 9 October 2013).

I think my best footy is still there. Players can get to their prime around 26 or 27 (Lance Franklin, cited by Andrew Wu, The Age, 9 October 2013)

This discourse in defence of the Franklin transfer was exclusively constructed by office-bearers of the Sydney Swans and Lance Franklin himself. It was a discourse that was in three parts. The first, using unemotive language, simply reported that the Swans had initiated the processes required for the transfer to occur and had submitted the paperwork for the scrutiny of the AFL. It was through this discourse that the Swans emphasised their belief that the transfer was within the player transfer rules; additionally they welcomed the scrutiny of their documentation. The second part of this discourse was to minimise discussion of Franklin's behavioural record by pointing to the Swans' record in a cohesive player culture and through Franklin expressing his desire to focus on his football. The remaining part of this discourse was to note that the longevity of the contract was not an impediment to Franklin's ability to continue to add significant value in football terms to the team.


I've been saying it since grand final Sunday in 2002: a 10 per cent recurring salary cap advantage, not including third party deals, often in coordination with the AFL, is and remains the greatest perversion to the fairness of the competition and a scandal in football (Collingwood President Eddie McGuire as cited by Warner and Ralph, The Herald Sun, 2 October 2013).

George Orwell many years ago ... writing Animal Farm probably based it on the AFL, not Russia. In his wisdom he said "Things are equal, but some things are ... more equal than others". We find ourselves more and more now in a position where we have to fight against an uneven competition (Carlton coach, Mick Malthouse, cited by Jesse Hogan, The Age, 2 October, 2013).

All this footy club [Carlton] has ever fought for, and me being the forefront of you members and representing you as a football club, has been [fairness] ... all this footy club has ever wanted forever has been an equal paying field. This hasn't been happening for the past 12 months (Carlton President Stephen Kernahan as cited by Jesse Hogan, The Age, 2 October 2013).

Clearly, this particular playing field is far from level--weighed down at one end by sacks of money that are not permitted at the other. The Sydney concession is not only unfair, it is disproportionate and, indeed unnecessary (The Age Editorial, 3 October 2013).

While Sydney's coup is within the rules, it is hardly in the spirit of creating a competition which is equal for one and all. Sydney has been clever, using the leverage of its cost-of-living advantage and precise management of its salary cap to grab the pick of the players on the move for a second year in a row (Patrick Smith, The Australian, 2 October 2013).

On the indicator of repetition one of the clearest discourses that emerged in the wake of the Franklin transfer was that it compromised the fairness of the competition and the AFL's intended objective of equalisation. The transfer was positioned as hostile to these objectives. This discourse frequently made reference to Sydney's COLA, either noting directly or inferring that the Franklin transfer could not have occurred without the salary cap supplementation. This was apparent in comments by club coaches and administrators (Collingwood President, McGuire, Carlton Coach, Malthouse, Carlton President, Kernahan), and through The Age editorial. The Australian's Patrick Smith identified the formal legitimacy of the Franklin transfer but also assessed the same to be inconsistent with the object of an equal competition, 'hardly in the spirit of creating a competition which is equal for one and all' (The Australian, 2 October 2013).


How does Sydney accept an extra $1 million from the AFL in cost-of-living allowance when all it does is allow it to poach rival starts (Jon Ralph, The Herald Sun, 1 October 2013) (Ralph, 2013a).

The [COLA] allowance distorts the salary cap and means Sydney teams can pay their players 10 per cent more than other clubs. It's worth about a million dollars and its funded by the AFL ...The salary cap is a pillar of the AFL competition. The time has come to free it of this distortion and focus on our efforts on fairer means of prompting our great game in NSW (Former AFL Football Operations Manager, Adrian Anderson, in a column for The Age, 2 October, 2013) (Anderson, 2013).

The AFL still relies on the game's only true form of equalisation, the draft and the salary cap, and any compromises of these expose the most vulnerable clubs (Former AFL Club CEO Cameron Schwab, now consultant to current AFL Club CEOs, in a column for The Age, 4 October 2013) (Schwab, 2013).

... [AFL] has created a monster. Frankenstein is up and running (Carlton Coach Mick Malthouse as cited by Warner and Ralph, The Herald Sun, 2 October, 2013) (Warner and Ralph, 2013).

Totally ridiculous ... A straightforward rort (Collingwood President, Eddie McGuire as cited by Warner and Ralph, The Herald Sun, 2 October, 2013) (Warner and Ralph, 2013).

Yes Sydney got its man. But it is what the competition has lost In credibility that will determine the future of the cost-of-living rort. As for Buddy [Franklin], he didn't get a club, he just got a deal (Patrick Smith, The Australian, 2 October 2013) (Smith, 2013).

This discourse operated as a direct commentary on Sydney's salary cap advantage that arises from the COLA. Media commentators, current and former club administrators and coaches, and former AFL officials consistently utilised and appealed to this discourse. The Herald Sun's Jon Ralph asserted that this advantage facilitated poaching, while former AFL Football Operations Manager, Adrian Anderson, described the same as a 'distortion'. Similarly former club CEO, Cameron Schwab, noted that the COLA compromised the twin pillars of the AFL's equalisation agenda. Pejorative and uncompromising language was used to describe the salary cap advantage with both Collingwood's McGuire and The Australian's Patrick Smith labelling the same as a 'rort'. Franklin was not immune from the criticism, with Smith inferring that Franklin had transgressed an unwritten yet expected code of honour by accepting a financially lucrative deal that in Smith's view disabused any sense that Franklin had attached himself to a club; 'as for Buddy he didn't get a club, he just got a deal'.


I think it is actually an irresponsible decision by the Swans, if you've got Kurt Tippett and Lance Franklin both in the same team taking up 25 per cent of your salary cap, you've only got 70 to 75 per cent to pay the 36 other players. I can't see how you can maintain and keep a list in shape to make it to the top four year-in and year-out (Hawthorn Board Member Dermot Brereton, cited by Matt Murnane, The Age, 1 October, 2013) (Murnane, 2013).

..the idea of Buddy [Franklin] Swanning himself at Bondi Beach and in the trendy Paddington pubs, rather than promoting the fame in the western (football) wasteland, should be an embarrassment to the AFL (Jake Niall, The Age, 2 October 2013) (Niall, 2013a).

The Club that enshrined the "No Dickheads" policy into Australian sporting legend is on the verge of signing one of the AFL's authentic loose cannons (David Sygall, The Age, 2 October 2013) (Sygall, 2013).

... But against that, if you called Central Casting and said, "Send me over a prime dickhead," and Buddy Franklin turned up the way he was on the Sunday after the Grand Final--a tower of swaggering sneer and staggering hubris--you would hardly be inclined to ask for your money back (Peter Fitzsimons, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 October 2013) (Fitzsimons, 2013).

Buddy and Bondi, they were made for one another (Patrick Smith and Greg Denham, The Australian, 3 October, 2013) (Smith and Denham, 2013).

So much has changed as a result of the crazy Franklin deal. The player himself, having largely toed the line all season during the Hawks' path to the premiership, has--as the Swans did in making a mockery of the new free agency process--thumbed his nose at head office in failing to honour his commitment to the touring indigenous all-stars (Caroline Wilson, The Age, 19 October 2013) (Wilson, 2013).

While other clubs posture and ponder, the Swans act with strength and confidence, and of course with great subterfuge (Mark Robinson, The Herald Sun, 1 October 2013) (Robinson, 2013).

Such was the reaction to the Franklin transfer that club officials and commentators appealed to a broadly cast discourse of irresponsibility to criticise the Sydney Swans' recruitment decision. The financial irresponsibility theme, espoused by Hawthorn official Dermot Brereton, was to be anticipated, addressing as it did the sustainability of the Sydney Swans' decision to invest so many resources in Franklin and another recent and controversial recruit, Kurt Tippett. The charge of moral irresponsibility was arguably less credible; media commentators like Patrick Smith and Jake Niall were quick to observe or infer that the flamboyance of the Franklin transfer was well-suited to the perceived flashiness of Sydney the city, or another brassy icon, Bondi. In appealing to and crafting this discourse, commentators leveraged criticism at both club and player including none too subtle commentary on Franklin's own behavioural standards. Media commentators, David Sygall and Peter Fitzsimmons assessed that the Franklin recruitment compromised the Swans "No Dickheads" selection policy. The Age's Caroline Wilson's comment extends this approach, asserting directly that the Swans had made a 'mockery of free agency', an opening she extended to criticise Franklin for an unrelated transgression linked to his participation in the international rules series. Similarly the Herald Sun's Mark Robertson used a 'damn with faint praise' approach, simultaneously praising the Swans for the boldness of their approach but assessing also that they had acted with 'subterfuge'.


Fans, the cornerstone of the competition, have further lost faith in the AFL, and it's up to the AFL to fix it (Mark Robinson, the Herald Sun, 1 October 2013) (Robinson, 2013).

Our expansions plans have been great into the northern states and we're all supportive of it, but it has skewered the competition. It's absolutely heartbreaking for every football fan (Collingwood President, Eddie McGuire as cited by Warner and Ralph, The Herald Sun, 2 October, 2013) (Warner and Ralph, 2013).

The perceived loss of faith in the AFL by the code's fans was a discourse appealed to by both club officials and journalists. Given the timing of these observations, these comments were not based on any empirical gauge of fan reaction but rested on the Herald Sun's Robertson's and Collingwood's McGuire's credibility in reporting the sentiment of the code's fan base. Missing from both Robertson's and McGuire's analysis was any sense of balance between the fans' perceived want of fan loyalty and the player's right to maximise his return from the game. Rather than this analysis, McGuire positioned the AFL's expansion plans as the basis of heartbreak for AFL fans.


The draft and salary cap framework is held in tension by a delicate balance between what is necessary for the viability of the competition and what is fair to the players as professional sportsmen. A point arrived where players and clubs more or less agreed that the rules were too restrictive. The answer was free agency. Some clubs jumped at it, thinking what they might gain. Others, smaller and poorer, were apprehensive, thinking of what they stood to lose. It was not hard to foresee that free agency would appeal to players with something to sell--stars, with star quality--and strongly favour clubs with something to sell: a little more money, imminent premiership glory, lavish facilities, better-heeled supporters holding out better post-football prospects, and in Franklin's case, escape (Greg Baum, The Age, 3 October 2013) (Baum, 2013).

This spring, it's clear that the AFL players have caught up to the coaches, chief executives, recruiters and fitness men (known as heads of high performance even at low performing clubs) in terms of their willingness to treat the game as a business. In the 1990s and for most of the 2000s, the loyalty culture--partly due to restrictive player rules--meant the favourite players stayed put, until they weren't wanted. Free agency appears to have forged a new, commercial player culture. Transient players, increasingly, view the clubs as if they are lawyers picking a firm (Jake Niall, The Age, 4 October 2013) (Niall, 2013b).

The remaining discourse appealed to a sense of loss; that something of the fabric of the game had been disturbed by way of free agency. This logic operated to make this the most philosophical of the discourses but also operated as the most direct commentary on free agency. Greg Baum writing for The Age, positioned the introduction of free agency as an inevitability but rationalised that free agency would operate unevenly, favouring clubs that were well-resourced, and players with strong market value. Albeit modestly, Baum's argument was that the Franklin transfer underlined his point. The Age's Jake Niall's argument was more expansive, assessing that free agency was the totem symbol of a commercially-based yet player-oriented culture. Free agency had facilitated the rise of this culture at the expense of a loyalty-driven culture. Niall's sentiment was that something of the game's culture had been lost by this change.

In identifying six discourses we note the interplay and relationships between those discourses that were appealed to or constructed in opposition to the transfer. Four of these discourses (Hostile of the Competition and Fairness, Only Possible due to the Salary Cap and Cost of Living Allowance, Financially and Morally Irresponsible, Unfair to the Fans, made very limited direct commentary on free agency but used the transfer to articulate strident opposition to the COLA and salary cap concessions. Within these discourses, the COLA was identified as unfair, and the theme of a lack of fairness was an undercurrent in all discourses that were constructed in opposition to the transfer. This theme was a broad one and included a lack of fairness for rival clubs, a lack of fairness within the competition and for fans, and a lack of fairness for Sydney Swans players who would be disadvantaged by the large salary paid to Franklin. In examining who constructed these particular discourses we observed that they were constructed by club officials from clubs other than Sydney, and media commentators. In contrast the It is within the Rules and will Work discourse was exclusively constructed by Sydney Swans officials and Lance Franklin. Within this discourse and at this time Swans officials chose not to comment on the COLA debate or to enter the debate on the issue of fairness. The Swans' discourse was largely constructed around the compliance virtue of the transfer in addition to its football merit. This was a discourse that media organisations reported but it was not one that was supported by media commentators.


In assessing the reaction to the Franklin transfer, it is apposite to note that the Lance Franklin transfer is, at this point, the most controversial use of free agency since its inception. This is in addition to the involvement of Franklin himself, a polarising figure in the AFL community, an outcome that arises from his immeasurable on-field talent but also due to his perceived off-field exploits. Additionally, the involvement of the Sydney Swans may have added an additional controversy or distortion, not only due to the COLA but because of the view that the AFL has supported the expansion of the competition in New South Wales and Queensland, at the expense of smaller clubs in Victoria, the spiritual home of the competition. Noteworthy also was the relative early public silence of the AFL and the AFLPA who made limited direct comment on the Franklin transfer when it was announced. This was other than, in the AFL's case, to assess its financial propriety, and in the AFLPA's case to note that it was appropriate that the transfer be addressed through due process, a measure that the AFLPA's Finnis concluded was 'important to maintain the integrity of the free agency system' (Ralph, 2013b). It was not until February 2014 that the AFL announced that it would investigate the length of contracts facilitated by free agency (Barrett, 2014; Wilson, 2014). This investigation would form part of a review of free agency to be undertaken by a working party convened by AFL Football Operations Manager, Mark Evans, and run parallel to the discussions between the AFL and the AFLPA concerning the next collective bargaining agreement. The AFLPA has already flagged that it will pursue limited free agency for players after six seasons (Quayle, 2014).

Thus separating out the strands of the reaction to the Franklin transfer carries some complexity. What was apparent in the discourses examined here was the very limited critical weight given to player rights. Given that free agency for 'listed players' is only operative after a player has served eight years, and that the average career of an AFL senior player is six years, the absence of any discourse in the wake of the Franklin transfer that affirmed free agency as an advance in player rights was noteworthy. Alternatively the discourses appealed to and constructed were overwhelmingly critical of the transfer but vented their commentary more directly at the salary cap concessions. (vii) The more direct commentaries on free agency cast the highly conditional increase in player rights in pejorative terms and as an unfortunate intrusion on tribal and spiritual loyalty. There was limited consideration of the merits of players securing their financial future; the debate was not set against the wider frailties inherent in an AFL career, including career ending injury, and the obstacles that confront young players who, having survived the external draft, struggle to make an impact in senior football. Nor was there any analysis of the relative proportion of free agency enabled transfers compared to the number of players on AFL senior lists. Assuming that there is a minimum of 684 players on AFL senior lists, the weight of free agency enabled transfers is minor; ten in 2012, fourteen in 2013. (viii)

These features of the Franklin debate cast a wider commentary on the positioning of industrial relations in the AFL and provide a finer grained understanding of equalisation and fairness discourses in the AFL. Some of this positioning can be explained by the unique nature of the labour market in the AFL, and the way in which debates concerning changes to how that labour market are conceived and configured. The AFL's success in maintaining the control over player movement is arguably without parallel, a success that can be attributed in part to its success in linking such controls to an equalisation discourse, a discourse that has an immediate and powerful institutional and popular appeal. Yet it is also a complex and malleable discourse relied upon by the AFL, clubs and commentators alike, at times in pursuit of different agendas. Similarly the fairness discourse in AFL embraces staple concepts in industrial relations--decent work or fair outcomes for workers and employers (Peetz, 2012)--but embraces also responsibility for the competition's equilibrium and well-being. Changes to the code's labour market controls, particularly in the interests of players, have been partial, slow to occur and, as demonstrated by the Franklin transfer, tenuously embraced by some stakeholders in the AFL community. The conditional nature of this progress needs to be read against the relatively recent ascent of collective labour, by way of the AFLPA, in codifying and securing player rights. To assess the security of free agency, further analysis is required, that accounts for future rounds of free agency and negotiations between the AFL and the AFLPA.


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University of Western Sydney


Charles Sturt University

(i) Throughout this paper we refer to the institution that administers the sport as the AFL. We refer to the sport itself as the AFL competition or Australian Rules football. Clubs presently in the AFL which are at times referred to within this article are the Adelaide Crows, Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Fremantle, Geelong, Gold Coast Suns, Greater Western Sydney, Hawthorn, Melbourne, North Melbourne, Port Adelaide, Richmond, St Kilda, Sydney Swans, Western Bulldogs, West Coast Eagles.

(ii) Recruitment controls include zoning, residential rules and external drafts. Controls over the movement of players from their original clubs include transfer systems, option clauses, rights of first refusal, the internal draft and the assignment. Controls on the use of maximum wages can include systems that place a control on the amount of income that can be earned or individually or collectively by the players on the roster (Dabscheck 1996, pp. 603-606).

(iii) The Brisbane Lions were also in receipt of a salary cap allowance prior to its removal in 2004. This followed the Lions winning the premierships in 2001, 2002 and 2003 and opposition by primarily Victorian clubs to the Brisbane Lions' access to that allowance given their onfield success. The Gold Coast Suns also receive a salary cap allowance for player development purposes (Niall 2013c).

(iv) Selsky, Spicer and Teicher (2003) used a similar method to examine the relation of business and union interests in the Melbourne Port industrial dispute of 199798.

(v) As an example where the same article appeared in both The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald it was only counted once.

(vi) This excludes the financial press, namely The Australian Financial Review.

(vii) Some of this commentary may have been persuasive. On 4 March 2014, the AFL announced that the COLA would be phased out for the Sydney Swans (Sygall, 2014).

(viii) The number of AFL players is based on an assumption of a minimum of 38 players on each of the 18 clubs' senior lists. The number of free agency enabled transfers was calculated from analyses of player movements. The 2012 transfers comprised four restricted free agents and six unrestricted free agents. The 2013 free transfers comprised four restricted free agents, four unrestricted free agents and six delisted free agents (AFL, 2013a; Gardiner, 2012; AFL 2013c).
Table 1: A guide to free agency

                        Is the player eligible   If the player wishes
                        for free agency          to change clubs how
                                                 can this occur

A player has served     Not eligible if the      Only via a trade or
  seven seasons or        club wishes to           the draft where he
  fewer of AFL            retain him.              may be selected by
  football at one                                  any club.
  club, and is now
  out of contract
A player has served     Yes. Eligible to field   Player must decide on
  seven years or          offers from all          the best offer of
  fewer of AFL            rival clubs.             his choice from one
  football at one                                  rival club. Player
  club, and has been                               can move
  delisted by his                                  automatically to the
  club                                             new club of his
A player has served     Yes. Restricted free     Player eligible to
  eight or more           agent.                   field offers from
  seasons of AFL                                   all rival AFL clubs.
  football at one                                  If player wishes to
  club, is one of the                              change clubs, the
  top 25 per cent                                  player must decide
  highest paid                                     on the best offer of
  players at his                                   his choice from one
  club, and is now                                 rival club. Player's
  out of contract for                              existing club has
  the first time                                   the right to match
  since reaching                                   the presented offer.
  eight seasons of                                 If this occurs the
  service                                          player may choose to
                                                   remain with his
                                                   original club, seek
                                                   a trade or enter the
                                                   draft. If the club
                                                   does not or cannot
                                                   match the offer, the
                                                   player can move to
                                                   the new club of his
A player has served     Yes. Unrestricted free   Player eligible to
  eight or more           agent.                   field offers from
  seasons of AFL                                   all rival AFL clubs.
  football at one                                  If player wishes to
  club, is not one of                              change clubs, the
  the top 25 per cent                              player must decide
  highest paid                                     on the best offer of
  players at his                                   his choice from one
  club, and is now                                 rival club. Player's
  out of contract for                              existing club does
  the first time                                   not have the right
  since reaching                                   to match the
  eight seasons of                                 presented offer and
  service.                                         the player can move
                                                   automatically to the
                                                   new club of his
A player has served     Yes. Unrestricted free   Player eligible to
  ten or more seasons     agent.                   field offers from
  of AFL football at                               all rival AFL clubs.
  one club, has                                    If player wishes to
  already come out of                              change clubs, the
  contract once in                                 player must decide
  the period after                                 on the best offer of
  serving his first                                his choice from one
  eight or more                                    rival club. Player's
  seasons at his club                              existing club does
  and is now out of                                not have the right
  contract                                         to match the
  (unrestricted free                               presented offer and
  agent)                                           the player can move
                                                   automatically to the
                                                   new club of his

                        Compensation for the Player's existing club

A player has served     Only via a trade deal.
  seven seasons or
  fewer of AFL
  football at one
  club, and is now
  out of contract
A player has served     None
  seven years or
  fewer of AFL
  football at one
  club, and has been
  delisted by his
A player has served     Player's original club will receive a
  eight or more           compensation pick in the draft for the loss
  seasons of AFL          of the player on an AFL-determined formula to
  football at one         apply where clubs lose more free agents than
  club, is one of the     they gain in any single transfer period.
  top 25 per cent
  highest paid
  players at his
  club, and is now
  out of contract for
  the first time
  since reaching
  eight seasons of
A player has served     Player's original club will receive a
  eight or more           compensation pick in the draft for the loss
  seasons of AFL          of the player on an AFL-determined formula to
  football at one         apply where clubs lose more free agents than
  club, is not one of     they gain in any single transfer period.
  the top 25 per cent
  highest paid
  players at his
  club, and is now
  out of contract for
  the first time
  since reaching
  eight seasons of
A player has served     Player's original club will receive a
  ten or more seasons     compensation pick in the draft for the loss
  of AFL football at      of the player on an AFL-determined formula to
  one club, has           apply where clubs lose more free agents than
  already come out of     they gain in any single transfer period.
  contract once in
  the period after
  serving his first
  eight or more
  seasons at his club
  and is now out of
  (unrestricted free

What distinguishes free agency from previous arrangements: Prior to
free agency any player who was out of contract with their existing
club, and who could not reach an accommodation with that club either
by way of a new contract or a trade, was required to enter the player
market either by a trade, or through the draft where they may be
selected by another club. A player who was delisted by their existing
club was required to enter the player market either by a trade, or
through the draft where they may be selected by another club. These
arrangements stood, no matter their length of service for a club or in
the AFL more generally.

Source: Based on Pierik and Lynch (2012); AFL (nd); AFLPA (nd).
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Author:Smith, Meg; Moore, David
Publication:International Journal of Employment Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2014
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