The Hon Graeme Watson




With over 40 years’ experience in workplace and industrial relations, Graeme is a leading expert in employment and labour law and a standout adviser on industrial relations and collective labour issues. He has been involved in most of the major industrial relations disputes and cases over that period, either as legal adviser, advocate, tribunal member or ministerial adviser.

Graeme has served as Vice President of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and the Fair Work Commission and been the Senior Ministerial Industrial Relations Adviser to the Federal Government. 

In private legal practice, Graeme has been involved in change management and the development of high performance workplace cultures, and has detailed knowledge of Australia’s leading corporations and most important industry sectors.

Graeme has a strong reputation within both business and government, and has provided strategic advice to several major corporates such as Rio Tinto, Shell, BHP, Caltex, McDonalds, Coal and Allied, the Commonwealth Bank, Patrick Stevedores and industry bodies including the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Mines and Metals Association, the NSW Minerals Council and the Business Council of Australia.

He has authored and edited a number of books including for CCH and LexisNexis, and regularly delivers conference keynote speeches in Australia and overseas.

Key deals

Australian Industrial Relations Commission/Fair Work Commission

Served as Panel Head for various industries including oil and gas, airlines, major projects, education, retail, hospitality, maritime, health and organisations.

Member of various significant Full Benches including the 2008-10 Award Modernisation Full Bench that rationalised over 3,000 instruments into 122 modern awards, the Aurizon Case that clarified the law on termination of expired enterprise agreements, the Social and Community Services Equal Remuneration Case and several important appeals on unfair dismissal matters and enterprise agreement approvals.

Australian Government

As Senior Ministerial Adviser on Industrial Relations 2018-2021, advised the Australian Government on all Fair Work Act reforms, High Court test cases and major industrial disputes over that period.

Rio Tinto

  • Advised and represented Rio Tinto on the successful implementation of the one staff employment model across the aluminium and mining business units in the 1990s.
  • Advised and represented Coal & Allied in the 1997 Full Bench test case on orders against unprotected industrial action.
  • Advised and represented Rio Tinto coal subsidiary on workplace changes and award reforms, including the successful outcome of the 1997 Hunter Valley #1 dispute.

Patrick Stevedores

Negotiated the settlement of the 1998 Waterfront dispute and the consequent enterprise agreements producing significant productivity improvements.

Commonwealth Bank

Advised on various workforce reforms associated with the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank and the establishment of a private sector workplace culture.

Shell, BP, Mobil, Esso, Caltex and Ampol

Advised and represented all oil companies on the establishment of enterprise awards and agreements across the oil industry.