Announcement - Retirement of Commissioner Elizabeth Bishop

7 March 2013

Commissioner Elizabeth Bishop retired on 23 January 2013 after nearly 16 years as a member of the Commission.

The President of the Commission, Justice Roger Boland, at an informal ceremony to mark the occasion of her retirement held at the Commission on 13 December 2012, said

"Elizabeth has been a Commissioner since 9 April 1997, so she has been with the Commission for nearly 16 years. She has also been a member of the Transport Appeals Boards since July 2010. Elizabeth was well qualified for those roles.

In the early part of her career, Elizabeth was a teacher for 8 years. I am told that the Federated Miscellaneous Workers' Union then spotted her as something of an activist in her teacher's role and in about 1975 she joined the Misco's, firstly as an Industrial Officer appearing in both State and Federal IR jurisdictions (but principally State), then as an elected Divisional Assistant Secretary.

During her time with the Union Elizabeth gained her law degree, doing it the hard way by studying part time whilst she worked. In her Union role Elizabeth held a number of Ministerial appointments to various committees and bodies particularly in the area of industrial relations and equal employment, including three years as a part-time member of the New South Wales Equal Opportunity Tribunal.

Commissioner Bishop is one of those rare individuals who have maintained their enthusiasm and exuberance right up to the end of their working career and, if I may be permitted to say so, maintained her youthful appearance despite the demanding and often stressful nature of the work she has undertaken over the past 16 years. Elizabeth and I are about the same age, but I look65 and she looks 45.

Commissioner Bishop is widely known in IR circles, highly respected and, by her closest colleagues, much loved. Like all of us over the past few years she has had to endure a serious state of turmoil and uncertainty regarding the future of the Commission but she has never wavered from fulfilling her oath of office.

I am as confident, as far as my experience over the past few years allows, that the uncertainty will now end and that yesterday's High Court decision will remove any distraction about whether the Commission has a future. The Minister for Industrial Relations advised me on Tuesday that if the decision was in the government's favour it would be business as usual for the Commission and he would be appointing at least two new Commissioners.

There is the issue of what to do with the judges next year when the judicial workload runs down. But I am hopeful that acceptable arrangements would be put in place by the government to ensure the judges of the Industrial Court would continue to be fully utilised in undertaking judicial functions commensurate with their status as judges of a superior court of record.

The Commission has historically performed two major functions: conciliation and arbitration in order to resolve industrial disputes and to settle matters such as unfair dismissals. The Commission has been most fortunate in having someone like Elizabeth Bishop to undertake that work. Elizabeth is a person with a great sense of humanity but not such that it impairs her judgment as to what is just and fair between opposing parties. Not everyone who brings a claim to this place has right on their side and it takes a particular insight into human behaviour that allows one in the position of a conciliator and arbitrator to discern what is right and wrong, what is fair and just. Elizabeth possesses such insight.

Like all of us in the Commission, most of Elizabeth's work has gone unheralded. There are exceptions, but these are usually the bizarre cases that seem to attract an equally bizarre headline like "The Doctors' Dust Up" or "Too cold in the Office, wear a cardigan" two headlines that referred to cases dealt with by Commissioner Bishop. But the majority of our work is carried out with only the parties present in conciliation, as they have explained to them the high points and the low points of their positions and as they are cajoled and steered into a sensible resolution. Elizabeth is very good at her job and most matters coming before her are resolved at the conciliation stage, which is always the objective.

While most of this work goes under the radar it is extraordinarily valuable and results in saving parties and the State inestimable resources of time and money.

When it comes to arbitration, Commissioner Bishop's decisions are legendary for their length and consummate detail. Decisions of 90 to 100 pages are not unknown and it would be rare that Elizabeth were to be overturned on appeal for not having dealt sufficiently with the facts of a case or for having gotten the facts wrong.

For my part, and I am sure it goes for all of you, I will genuinely miss this charming, effervescent person and the contribution she has made to better industrial relations in this State.

Commissioner Bishop can be very proud of the fact she has served this Institution with distinction and happy in the knowledge she has well and truly earned her retirement.

I know she is looking forward to spending more time with her books, her treasured cats, her garden and following her beloved Swans football team.

On your behalf I wish Elizabeth long, lazy, happy days in her retirement."

Industrial Registrar