Howard government introduces a Goods and Services Tax


Longstanding Contributor

Tracey Browne started her Ai Group journey on July 3.

“Before joining Ai Group, I had worked for a number of employers who were members of MTIA and subsequently Ai Group.

I also had a strong association with the Australian Chamber of Manufacturers (ACM) before their amalgamation with MTIA, which had a strong presence in Ballarat. 

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Therefore, the opportunity to join Ai Group to head up the Victorian Safety and Workers Compensation team was exciting.

It was a different world back then. I was living in Ballarat and commuting to Melbourne; the roads were much quieter at peak hour than they are now.

Working from our Ballarat office once a week meant I had to know which computer files I was going to work on the next day so I could save them to a floppy disk to use on the spare computer in the Ballarat office. How times have changed! Today, I’m writing this on my Surface Pro while working at home.

Back then, the Ai Group Member Advices were all hard copy and we would have a “call to the print room” to stuff envelopes whenever an Advice was to be distributed.

It was a major process that required much postage and many resources, but we had fun chatting while stuffing.

I reflected on that time during the height of COVID-19 when we were emailing Member Updates on a highly regular basis – on some occasions more than one a day and often on weekends.

A major change for Ai Group occurred in the early 2000s when the state-based structure moved to a national structure, and this has resulted in many role changes for me over the years.

Ai Group has given me many opportunities to work with some great member companies, regulators and Safe Work Australia to influence how safety and workers’ compensation is managed in Australia.

Most importantly, it has allowed me to support members dealing with difficult workers compensation issues in their workplaces. Sometimes, just being an understanding voice on the phone for a member makes a big difference.”


The manufacturing unions try to force employers to contribute an estimated 19 per cent of their payroll into a trust fund they had established (first called Manusafe, later renamed NEST). 

Ai Group vigorously opposes the unions’ efforts by representing employers in two major industrial disputes that bring the car industry to a halt. Ai Group also represents another employer that endured a seven-week strike relating to the unions’ claim. Ultimately the unions’ campaign fails.


Ai Group strongly opposes union claims for a cap to be imposed on the amount of overtime an employee can work.

AIRC rejects the unions’ claims but develops a set of criteria for assessing whether an employer’s request for an employee to work overtime is reasonable. The provisions in the Fair Work Act relating to reasonable hours are based on the criteria in this AIRC decision.


Longstanding Contributor

When Helen Waldron – Head of Member Relations and NSW Head, was being interviewed by an agency for a completely different role, the recruiter stopped halfway and brought in her colleague who said “actually, we’ve a much better job that we’re finding really hard to fill that we’d like to talk to you about. It’s heading up membership for a manufacturing association, what do you think?’.

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What she thought was “what on earth is a manufacturing membership association?”! When Helen asked the first member she met, “what does your business do?” it clicked and she was hooked! They told her they made the webbing that goes around nashi pears, “and of course, that’s the same material used on duty free bottles… and we’ve expanded into making swimming noodles for kids”!

Helen has since helped grow the sectors that Ai Group represents across Australia. Helen, with her Irish heritage, is a natural connector. She says her happy place is “engaging with a room full of members or doing a factory tour at a member site” (those highlights include a visiting a chocolate production line and a tour of a submarine on dry dock). “It is such a privilege to work with the diverse businesses who have chosen to be members of Ai Group, to help them be the best they can be, because they employ individuals who belong in families and live in communities."


Longstanding Contributor

David Tate joined Ai Group as an Employment & Training Adviser with AiGTS, now known as the Ai Group Apprentice & Trainee Centre (Ai Group ATC).

Presently the Ai Group ATC’s State Manager — Southern Region, David has held a variety of roles within the organisation over the past 20 years, including State Manager (twice), Business Development Consultant and Project Manager.

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David recalls: “Having evolved from the Repco Training Centre, AiGTS started slowly with a base in Melbourne before expanding to Bendigo, Albury and Sydney.

“Offices opened later in Brisbane and Wollongong before Ai Group merged with EEASA in Adelaide.

“We celebrated with a party for reaching 300 apprentices and trainees on our books, which was a huge milestone at the time. We now employ more than 450 and continue to grow.”

Ai Group’s Craig Hilton, TAFE award winner and apprentice Aidan Nicolle and David Tate.


Ai Group launches BIZassist Briefings, covering a range of issues including IR, business conditions, environment and safety and workers compensation. These hugely successful events started out as roadshows, which took about three weeks to complete, three times a year, in metropolitan and regional locations.

The BIZassist Manual, the precursor to our HR Resource Centre, was launched about 2005.

This large collation of information sat proudly on the desks of Ai Group staff and members alike.  Like our Member Advices, it was produced in a hard copy for many years and mailed out to members, before the material was migrated to what is now the HR Resource Centre and Safety Resource Centre.


CEO Heather Ridout takes over as Chief Executive of Ai Group. 


Longstanding Contributor

Ai Group’s Director – Workplace Relations Policy, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Nicola Street, joins Ai Group as a Trainee Workplace Relations Adviser.

“This involved a 12-month stint in the 'Bull Ring', Nicola recalls.

“The Bull Ring was the NSW Member Advice Line, staffed by IR gurus Peter Elphinstone, Roger Dunkin and Annabel Vaughan.

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“Armed only with my degree, I was thrown into the deep end as I faced day-to-day IR issues ranging from queries about what to pay people under the old Metals Award (something I had never heard of!) to urgent advice about employee strike action.

“It was a baptism by fire, and I will forever appreciate Ai Group’s Advice Line in supporting members when they most need it.

“The NSW workplace relations team would also have a ‘running list’ of enterprise bargaining agreements that required certification by the then Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).

“The running list was huge – about 15 enterprise agreements each week that were ready for the AIRC to approve, one by one, at a formal hearing.

“Each week, the relevant IR adviser on the running list roster would go to the Commission and either argue for the certification of agreement or handle the disputes that were often thrown at you last minute by a union organiser or sometimes the Commission itself. The recent IR amendments of 2022 may see a return to those days!”

Nicola farewelled Ai Group at the end of 2023 – just shy of her 20-year anniversary. 


Ai Group plays a leading role in representing the interests of employers in AIRC’s Redundancy Case. Although this case results in redundancy pay for employees being increased from eight weeks to 16 weeks for employees with many years of service, many of the unions’ claims are rejected by the Commission.


Bob Herbert is made a Member of the Order of Australia “for services to industry, particularly in the area of industrial relations reform, industry training and skills development”.


Ai Group expands its consultancy work, with the creation of a national law firm — Ai Group Legal — now called Ai Group Workplace Lawyers.


Ai Group is extensively involved in the development of the Fair Work Act. Even though the legislation gives unions a lot more power and reduces the flexibility employers have access to under the previous WorkChoices legislation, the legislation would have been far less balanced without Ai Group’s extensive efforts.

This work co-incides with the 10th anniversary of the organisation name change to The Australian Industry Group.

“In 10 years, The Australian Industry Group has claimed an important place in Australian public life, making sure the voice of industry is heard across key debates and across the political divide. The companies you represent play a key role in building Australia’s future prosperity.”

“Ai Group has been a strong advocate for the interests of its members across all aspects of public policy making, including the process of developing the Fair Work Bill. During the entire 12 months of the policy development process, Ai Group's contribution was consistently persuasive, positive and substantial.” — Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2008 in her keynote speech at Ai Group’s 10th anniversary celebrations.


Current Chief Executive Innes Willox joins Ai Group as Director of International and Government Relations with responsibility at state and federal levels for policy development and advocacy in such areas as trade, defence, climate change, industrial relations and communications.


Ai Group strongly opposes a position reflected in an Australian Taxation Office (ATO) draft ruling published in 2008. The draft ruling, if confirmed, would have required employers to make superannuation contributions on earnings for regularly worked overtime. The additional cost to employers would have been several billions of dollars each year. Eventually, the ATO accepts Ai Group’s arguments and, in the final ruling published in mid-2009, overtime earnings continue to be excluded from ordinary time earnings.


Ai Group’s South Australia branch is established on July 1, following the merger of the Engineering Employers Association of South Australia (EEASA) with Ai Group.

In September, Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) adopts key Ai Group proposals in its transitional provisions relating to modern awards.

Confectionery Manufacturers of Australasia (CMA Limited) joins Ai Group in October, bringing industry knowledge and expertise to a new Ai Group confectionery sector.