We were saddened to hear the news that our former partner the Hon. Geoff Giudice AO died on the 18th November 2021 at the young age of 73. Geoff was one of the most honourable of Industrial Relations practitioners, an absolute gentleman and proudly fair and even handed. The highlight of his career was his role as President of Australia’s national IR tribunal, now called the Fair Work Commission, for nearly 15 years.
Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, Dinner (17 November, 1997) | Back Row: Angela Colegate, Peter Hay, Richard Spicer, John Colvin, Kathy Dalton, Russell Allen, Frank Parry, Tony Wood, Graeme Watson, Jan Maclean, Paul Burns, Mark Diserio, Mark Rinaldi, Kate Christie, David Purvis, Miles Bastick.| Front: Kate Jenkins, Steve Alley, Catherine Goss, Geoff Giudice, John Cooper.
Achieving this significant appointment required immense Industrial Relations expertise which Geoff acquired as a client, a member of our firm and a barrister working closely with our firm.
His career in industrial relations commenced while he was at law school at the University of Melbourne in the late 1960s. During that time he took a vacation job as a research assistant at a union, the Hospital Employees Federation, and when he graduated he continued in that role full time for a year.
He left the HEF in 1971 to join a Melbourne icon employer, the Myer Emporium, then the city’s largest retailer and a significant employer of a union orientated workforce. During his seven years with Myer he gained experience with corporate strategy and how commercial goals and industrial relations needed to be managed and aligned. By 1978 he had risen to the role of National Industrial Relations Manager of Myer, and our legacy firm in Melbourne, Moule Hamilton and Derham was its industrial relations legal adviser.
During a lunch with Geoff that followed an achievement with Myers, recently appointed partner Russell Allen asked Geoff why he hadn’t pursued a legal career. His reply was that he would love to but could not afford it, because he and his wife Beth had a tribe of young children to support. That could not be financially managed on the wage that articled clerks were then paid.
At that time Russ and the senior partner in IR at Moule Hamilton and Derham, Colin Polites, were exceedingly busy and under resourced following the appointment of their mentor Steve Alley as a Judge of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. They needed to add to the team and the prospect of employing Geoff was a great opportunity, as he was a respected IR a practitioner and had corporate experience that would complement their skill set. Russ and Colin convinced the other partners that Geoff would be able to perform excellent work immediately and to offer Geoff the opportunity to do his articles with the firm at a salary significantly higher than an articled clerk.
Geoff accepted that offer and joined the firm in 1978. He was articled to Colin Polites, admitted to practice in 1979, and appointed a partner in 1981. He was sought after by our clients, particularly the retailers, manufacturers, oil companies, banks, the Confederation of Australian Industry, and the resources and mining sector.
As Steve Knott AM, the Chief Executive of Australian Resources and Energy Group AMMA observed last week:
“As a solicitor and partner at Moules, a law firm known for working on complex industrial relations matters, and later merged with Freehills, Geoff was the go-to person on major industrial relations issues for many of AMMA’s blue chip resources and energy industry members.”
Herbert Smith Freehills, Employment and Safety Team Group Alumni Event (16 August 2017) | Jonathan Forbes, John Cooper, Richard Dalton, Kate Jenkins, Geoffrey Giudice, Anthony Wood, Graeme Watson, Rohan Doyle, Sonia Millen, Russell Allen, Nicholas Ogilvie.
In 1984 he made the decision to practice exclusively as a barrister and he resigned from the firm and was admitted to the Victorian Bar. At the bar he was frequently briefed by the firm and worked closely with its partners and lawyers. He was involved in leading cases where he was briefed by the firm including the 1989 pilots dispute representing the airlines, and the 1995 Weipa dispute over staff employment contracts where Geoff represented Comalco against former Prime Minister Bob Hawke representing the ACTU.
Geoff’s work with many of Australia’s largest companies and his close ties with the Confederation of Australian Industry and AMMA, together with his role as barrister in high profile industrial disputes, brought him to the attention of the Howard Coalition Government.
In September 1997 that Government appointed him to the positions of President of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and judge of the Federal Court of Australia.
As President he quickly established a reputation for being even handed, consultative and enormously competent and fair. Both unions and employers saw him as independent and many union officials remarked that they were very pleased with his approach given that most of his career had been spent representing large employers. It was no surprise that when the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments enacted new legislation establishing Fair Work Australia he was appointed its first President, a role he retained until his retirement in 2012.
Geoff was thoughtful, considerate and measured in leading the Commission through some of the most significant changes to our IR and employment laws since federation. At his farewell as President , the Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten praised Geoff for his “wise detachment“ and “formidable intellect“ as he guided the tribunal through major challenges for nearly 15 years, including the mining boom, the global financial crisis and different IR legislative frameworks, including Work Choices. He thanked him for “making a lasting contribution to society.”
While Geoff was always passionate about his role and the role of the National IR tribunal, he reserved his absolute passion for the Melbourne Demons and he must have been so delighted to see them win the flag this year for the first time since he was a teenager.
He has left a wonderful legacy. He will be remembered for far more than his trademark bow tie he wore as an advocate, tribunal member and whenever else a tie of sorts was appropriate. Rather he will be remembered for his wisdom and wise counsel, and for doing a marvellous job at the tribunal and maintaining its independence and public confidence during a lengthy and difficult period.
Our firm is very proud of its role in nurturing his abilities and are saddened that his life has been taken at such an early age.
We extend our thoughts and condolences to his family and friends.