14 March 2022

MEDIA RELEASE: How a fire in the belly led to a career in Dispute Resolution

It’s fair to say that Resolution Institute member and freshly minted Fellow, Anna Booth likes a chat. She’s had a fire in her belly about protecting vulnerable people since her high school days at Hornsby Girls and likes nothing more than listening to people tell their stories. This, she says, makes her a natural Mediator.

Following an Honour’s degree on gender equity in manufacturing at Sydney University, a career in the union movement beckoned and Anna very quickly rose through the ranks of the Clothing and Allied Trades Union. Despite the majority of members being women, Anna’s elevation to the role of Federal Secretary in 1987 saw her become the first woman in the Union’s history to lead the organisation.

“Suddenly I found myself in the union movement and I embraced it very quickly as family. Moving up the ranks seemed like the perfectly natural thing to do, and I really wanted to make life better for women in the industry,” says Anna.

Her first task as leader was daunting to say the least. Amalgamate her union with the Textiles, Footwear unions.  These unions were also led by men, and she suffered a few setbacks, some she says “self-inflicted.” But by the late 1980s she had made it through to conclude the amalgamation and in the early 1990’s took a seat on the ACTU Executive, followed by elevation to an ACTU Vice Presidential position.

“Everything in my career that came after was a direct result of my time in the union movement. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating appointed me to the board of the Commonwealth Bank where I served for ten years and the newly elected state government in NSW under Premier Carr asked me to join the board of SOCOG," she tells Resolution Institute. 

The 2000 Sydney Olympics gave Anna a real and tangible sense of achievement. In the lead up to the games, she was involved in a large number of committees which, almost intuitively, drew out the best of her mediation skills. Her natural ability to speak with people from all walks of life meant that her self-confessed lack of knowledge about sport soon became a non – starter and quickly ran a distant second to her communication skills.

“Being on the board of SOCOG meant that we almost automatically attracted criticism from all quarters but when the games happened there was real sense of pride in Sydney. We could tell a week out from the games that the city was buzzing and even the media came on board,” says Anna.

Four years after leaving the union movement, Anna teamed up with South African lawyer and mediator Clive Thompson to develop their own consultancy. Designed to help organisations succeed and to sustain that success through building stronger relationships, CoSolve does this by promoting cooperation and goal-oriented engagement in the workplace.

“Learning to negotiate and mediate has been crucial throughout my career. In almost every role I’ve held, whether in the union or on the board of the Commonwealth Bank or running my own business, I’ve had to hone my mediation and negotiation skills to bring people together and achieve best case outcomes,” says Anna.

In 2012 another out of the blue phone call would see Anna serving the Australian public in probably her most high-profile role yet.

“I was in a taxi driving along the Tullamarine Freeway one day when my mobile phone rang. It was the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Bill Shorten asking if I would be interested applying for a position as a Deputy President of the Fair Work Commission. He needed to know immediately and, as usual, I said let me sleep on it,” says Anna.

Already a trained mediator through her work in the union movement, Anna accepted the role with Australia’s national workplace relations tribunal and saw a chance to implement major and meaningful change in the in the workplace. After 9 years with the Commission, Anna’s legacy includes the Cooperative Workplaces program which is a free program offered by the Fair Work Commission that helps parties build cooperative working relationships using interest-based approaches.

“I was determined to use this opportunity to change the industrial landscape in Australia for the better and that is exactly what this program does. It allows for never previously seen multi stakeholder mediation between all parties involved in a dispute and it works,” says Anna.

Anna Booth is a dedicated and trusted member of Resolution Institute and she was recently conferred as a Fellow member. She firmly believes that being a member of a professional association gives huge growth to individuals who are then able to learn from each other.

“I think that every dispute resolution practitioner should be a member if nothing else but to take advantage of the lifelong learning that membership brings. We ought to be able to learn from each other and bring out the best that each of us has to offer. By talking amongst ourselves we are giving strength to those we seek to assist,” says Anna.