History of ADRA

Janice McLeay

Early days - Leading growth and direction

ADRA, the Alternate Dispute Resolution Association of Australia, was established in 1987.  1

The first committee commenced with great excitement and enthusiasm as much of what they were doing was very new. It consisted of Wendy Faulkes – President, David Newton – Vice President, Linda Fisher – Secretary, Basil Evangelinidis – Treasurer, Jennifer David – Newsletter Editor, Ruth Charlton, Micheline Dewdney, Gerald Raftesath and Janice Williams.

Of this initial group, Linda Fisher, Ruth Charlton and Micheline Dewdney are now Life Members of ADRA.

By the time of the first AGM in October 1987, when Maureen Carter, Dr Sandra Regan and Alan McDonald joined the other committee members to become the first Board of management, a Constitution had been developed, publication of the first newsletter had begun and plans for activities and functions were underway. Within the next year the Ethics subcommittee had begun work on drafting ethical standards for mediators.

There was much talk about the development of standards and whether ADRA had a role in the area of standards and accreditation, but progress was too difficult at that stage for the fledgling organisation.

After the first two years the name became ADRA, the Australian Dispute Resolution Association Inc. Members noted that while ADRA could be Australia-wide, the South Australian Dispute Resolution Association (SADRA) and the Mediation Association of Victoria (MAV) existed by that time. MAV later became VADR and WADRA was also established.

Over the years ADRA has celebrated many firsts. As well as being the first dispute resolution membership organisation and the first to develop a newsletter for mediation practitioners, ADRA was the first to hold a national conference. This was titled ‘Mediation and Domestic Violence’ and was held in the State Library in Sydney. This was followed by a document on Policy and Procedures on Mediation and Domestic Violence prepared by Margaret Burns and the ADRA Domestic Violence Committee.

ADRA initiated and facilitated the Let’s Talk group established in March 1998 to discuss issues in relation to ADR practice.

Another example of ADRA’s leadership in the field was in approaching the Law Book Company to develop the Australian Dispute Resolution Journal. This was an arrangement brokered through Jennifer David and then Ruth Charlton.

These are extraordinary achievements for an organisation of volunteers.

Early days – An organisation of volunteers

I note that the members of the Let’s Talk group included ADRA members Salli Browning, David Newton, Christine James, Micheline Dewdney and David Holst, each representing a different organisation, as well as Val Sinclair representing ADRA.

Val’s contribution to ADRA is recorded in the 1999 Annual Report as follows:
Val Sinclair has worked tirelessly; taking on the important role of treasurer and ensuring the board’s grand plans were injected with some economic realism. As ADRA’s representative on ‘Let’s Talk’ Val has made a significant contribution to the development of the draft Code of Conduct in addition to coordinating the lunchtime seminar series and convening the energetic Policy working party.

Each year the Annual Report seems to include in it plaudits like this for the many Board members who have contributed in so many ways.

One story you won’t find in the Annual Reports is the one about the Friday night when Val, Garth Brown and (Professor) Tania Sourdin lugged furniture and files out of the ADRA office in King St, piled it on Garth’s trailer and drove across town to unload it all into a new office in Barrack St. This is just another aspect of the work that volunteers do.


Our commitment to education has been via seminars and conferences. When I first joined ADRA I enjoyed attending lunchtime seminars. I remember being impressed by the quality of such presenters as Paul Lewis and Linda Fisher. The range of speakers and presentations over the years is enormous.

At the 2002 National Mediation Conference in Canberra ADRA presented a panel discussion on the topic: The Dispute Resolution Industry – Are We A Headless Chook? The panel consisted of Ruth Charlton, Salli Browning, Prof Tania Sourdin and Val Sinclair and was facilitated by Garth Brown.

In May 2006 at the National Mediation Conference in Hobart, ADRA hosted a meeting attended by representatives of dispute resolution groups from all over Australia. Discussion centred on questions of accreditation and the best way forward as an ADR profession.

Our 2007 conference at the Australian Museum to celebrate our 20 year anniversary was a great success, and saw a boost in membership numbers. This conference, titled The Next 20 Years, was facilitated by Allan Parker, introduced by Sir Laurence Street and had Dr Vera Ranki speaking on The Examined Life. The programme included Judge Kevin O’Connor, Micheline Dewdney, Debra Maher, Michael Slattery, Robert Angyal, Federal Magistrate Tom Altobelli and a panel chaired by comedian Julie McCrossin. In case that wasn’t enough, we then convened for dinner, welcomed by Katherine Johnson, with talks by past Presidents Paul Lewis, John Pollard and Louise Rosemann, with a birthday cake cut by David Holst and Peter Irving.

ADRA has organised two one-day Family conferences at the Grace Hotel, the second of these being held in conjunction with LEADR. LEADR handled registrations, and provided administrative and advertising assistance that was sorely needed. 100% of those who completed the evaluation after the April 2011 conference rated it as excellent or very good.


ADRA has been a member of the National Mediator Accreditation Committee in the past. I chaired the Practice and Compliance Working Group of NMAC in 2009-10 representing ADRA and Katherine Johnson was active on the Complaints Handling Working Group. The Mediator Standards Board has replaced NMAC and ADRA continues its active interest.

ADRA comments on government policies relevant to the industry. For example, in 2001 we made a formal submission to NADRAC to assist in the review of the Standards for alternate dispute resolution. We were on the previous NSW government’s Dispute Resolution Working Group. In 2011 we commented on the proposed mediation clause of the Commercial Arbitration Act, we wrote to NADRAC recommending areas for its interest and reviewed the Australian government’s Options Paper for the resolution of small business disputes.

Currently, ADRA is contributing to the discussion on changes to the Mediator Accreditation Approval Standards.

Stakeholder engagement

ADRA commenced its association with SADRA and VADR through the development of a newsletter, Mediation News, with contributions from each organisation.

The Let’s Talk group was a great way of bringing industry stakeholders together and produced the Code of Conduct.

2008 saw the completion of the Guide to Good Practice in Complaints Handling for Mediation Practitioners. This was another collaborative effort within the industry initiated by ADRA. Katherine Johnson initiated the forum and steered it through many lively debates, demonstrating her skills as a mediator on more than one occasion. Debbie Jamieson and Amelia Taeuber provided great assistance in drafting the document. The Guide was given to the National Mediator Accreditation Committee for use by any organisations who wished to introduce or update their own complaints handling procedures.

This was timely because as accreditation policies were being written, Registered Mediator Accreditation Bodies (RMABs) were required to have complaints handling procedures. ADRA was registered as a RMAB in 2008.

Forming bonds with like-minded organisations is part of ADRA’s history. For the last couple of years we have held our Christmas functions in conjunction with LEADR. We offer reduced membership fees to those who are also members of LEADR or IAMA. We support and advertise seminars and conferences run by LEADR, IAMA and other organisations, including the National Mediation Conferences. While we build these links we maintain our own identity and spirit as a membership-based voluntary organisation responsive to the needs of the dispute resolution industry and its members.

Practitioner support

Some of our long-standing members will remember an evening at the Ensemble Theatre to see David Williamson’s play “A Conversation” in 2001, following an outing in 1999 for his first work on the theme of conflict resolution, “Face to Face”.

Networking meetings for practitioner members were re-instituted in 2008, with meetings in April and July, giving practitioner members the opportunity to catch up with colleagues, discuss issues and identify future areas of interest. The first of these was held in 2001 where the introduction of a ‘practitioner member’ category of membership was recommended.

In more recent years, ADRA members wholeheartedly supported the 2012 National Mediation Conference in Sydney. It was ADRA that first submitted the application to hold the conference in Sydney, then inviting other individuals and organisations to join them. The conference was a huge success professionally and socially, officially opened by the Attorney General with keynote presentations by Allan Parker, Fredrike Bannink, Robert Benjamin and Amanda Gore. Do you remember Joseph Loewy’s visual depiction of Allan’s presentation? And Amanda Gore leading the whole crowd in a hearty rendition of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life? So many ADRA members contributed enormously to the success of the NMC that I cannot name them all, except that special praise must go to Linda Fisher, Emma Matthews, Fran Doyle and Allan Parker for their major contributions.

Ann Fieldhouse commenced a practice group for mediators and ran this group on a monthly basis for a number of years, leading to the development of a Mediator Practice Network. Naomi Holtring and Jean-Marcel Malliate took on the task of coordinating the Sydney group and a Blue Mountains group was set up by Sue Waterhouse. Sue has now moved to the Central Coast where she has established a third group and Gwen Edwards continues the Blue Mountains group. Last year ADRA officially took over the coordination of the Sydney group, still relying on Naomi’s marketing and coordination skills. Others have joined her in sharing the load of facilitating the sessions that are currently held on a Saturday every two months.

Today - An organisation of volunteers

The spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in all that ADRA does. Over the years we have been indebted to Stella Cornelius, to John Pollard and Paul Lewis, to Peter James of James Legal, and to Peter Robinson and Emma Matthews at ACDC and others who have assisted us with meeting rooms and storage space. The Premier’s Department assisted us when Paula Castile worked there, prior to our move to the Celestial Restaurant where we now meet. Many others have assisted in so many ways, including Evan Wills setting up the website and Alan McDonald string our records.

Paula recalls the move to ACDC with gratitude, especially for the comfort of the seating after years of very basic furnishings in some earlier premises when she had already injured her back and had learned to appreciate short meetings.

ADRA awarded Life Membership to Sir Laurence Street and Micheline Dewdney in 2007 and to Ruth Charlton in 2008. Linda Fisher became our fourth Life Member in 2010 and tonight Allan Parker has joined that select group. Life membership acknowledges the long-standing contribution and continued participation in ADRA activities of these special, extraordinary people.

Allan Parker facilitated the Board’s strategic planning meetings in 1999, 2000 and 2001. This practice has continued so that each year the ADRA Board holds a day’s gathering to consider the aims and priorities for the coming year. In more recent times Jane Houselander has facilitated the continuation of our discussions to develop statements of our vision and mission for 2013-2015.

ADRA - supporting and transforming the community of dispute resolution practice.

ADRA promotes excellence in the practice, theory and research of dispute resolution, and provides leadership, growth and direction within the profession.

In January 2013 Nicole Ash developed and distributed a survey to ADRA members. The responses showed that 89% of members who responded were either satisfied or extremely satisfied with ADRA services and 91% said they would recommend ADRA to a colleague.

Congratulations to you all for being part of this wonderfully productive, lively organisation!

With thanks to all the Board members who have worked for ADRA over the years and all the members who have supported ADRA’s activities but who have not been mentioned in this brief account.

Thanks, too, to Paula Castile, Linda Fisher and Val Sinclair who contributed to the development of this paper.

  1. The idea of ADRA was first formulated in 1986 but the group became an entity in 1987