Happy 30th Birthday AILA
On Wednesday, June 1, 1983, five people met in a Bond Street, Sydney, office to hold a planning meeting for the formation of the Australian Insurance Law Association.
The meeting was chaired by Michael Gill, now president of the international insurance law association, AIDA, with Frank Hoffmann, Margaret Roberts, Steve France and Robert Owen in attendance. Apologies were recorded from Syd McDonald, Chris Henri and John Hastings.
Two attendees from that inaugural meeting have since died. Broker Robert Owen, who was also a founder of the National Insurance Brokers’ Association and its third president, died in 2002. Loss adjuster Syd McDonald died in 2005, aged 80. He was a former president of the Australasian Division of the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters and of the Australian Insurance Institute (now ANZIIF).
We have spoken to Michael, Frank, John and Chris about their recollections of AILA’s birth.
The June meeting adopted the following aims, objects and purposes for AILA:
1. To consider and discuss matters of general interest arising out of the law (statutory and common), including law reform in Australia and such other countries as AILA may from time to time think desirable, in so far as it affects any branch of insurance.
2. To hear and discuss papers dealing with insurance law issues in Australia and other countries.
3. (a) To take such action as may be thought desirable by the association to further its aims and objects.
(b) Such action may include:
(i) Joining AIDA;
(ii) Collaborating with existing associations or bodies connected with insurance; and
(iii) Forming ad hoc committees or other groups for the purpose of comparing or considering reports or papers on such specific matters of law and practice as require detailed study.
4. To foster similar interests in those involved with insurance law in the Pacific and South-East Asian regions.
The meeting resolved that attendees would send Michael 10 names of potential members to be invited to join and AILA would become AIDA’s Australian chapter, with Michael as president and John as secretary.
John’s first task was to draw up a constitution and rules of association. Margaret Roberts’s “generous offer” to prepare draft letterhead was accepted.
And that was the start of what is now an Australia-wide organisation with 1,586 members spanning the insurance and legal fraternities.
AILA was formally launched on November 9, 1983.
While June 1, 1983, was the first formal meeting, AILA’s genesis actually began at the May 1982 AIDA World Congress in London. Michael was there only because he happened to be in London reassuring contacts that, while his then firm in Sydney was merging, it would still be ‘business as usual’. Sydney lawyer John Hastings, who had previously attended the October 1978 AIDA World Congress in Madrid, was also present.
The pair knew of each other, but it was their first face-to-face meeting. By the end of the London congress, AIDA’s then president, Belgian Simon Fredericq, had enthusiastically decided Australia should have an AIDA chapter with Michael as president and John as secretary.
Back in Sydney, the pair began having doubts. Michael told Resolve: “I wasn’t convinced we needed it, but we’d said we’d do something.”
John said: “There was concern Australia already had [separate] organisations that covered lawyers and others working in the insurance industry.”
But they gathered a group of people together to debate the question of whether an association was needed and discussed the issue over a series of lunches.
One of the first to join the group was broker consultant Frank Hoffmann, who told Resolve he and Michael and John initially envisaged “a very small, probably elite association” – 200 members was their ambition.
Michael said the group identified two areas that cemented their conclusion AILA was needed. The first was the fact there was no single organisation that encouraged everyone with an interest in insurance law to get together. Other industry bodies were specifically for brokers, adjusters, insurers, or lawyers alone.
The second impetus was two important approaching pieces of legislation – the Insurance (Agents & Brokers) Act 1984 and the Insurance Contracts Act 1984.
Michael said Robert Owen was strongly of the view AILA was needed to consider the new laws in depth, because no one was doing that.
The “founding fathers” tested the waters – the provision of 10 names from each saw a core of 160 to 180 people keen to join. So the AILA steamroller began.
Frank was surprised by AILA’s growth. “The way it skyrocketed was extraordinary,” he told Resolve. AILA filled a large niche in the education market that no one had really identified. At the time there was a dearth of “more sophisticated education”. The concept of organisations paying for their team members to attend “lectures” was “virtually unknown”, Frank said.
AILA created “cross-pollination” between insurers and the law, which was then a radical concept as both groups had previously kept with their own.
Frank said AILA’s ability to attract “superior insurance jurists” of the ilk of Justices Michael Kirby, Andrew Rogers and John Brownie, was a drawcard, bringing senior lawyers and insurance executives to presentations.
Chris Henri at the time was the Insurance Council of Australia’s general manager NSW/ACT. He agreed imminent legislation, including states and territories’ CTP and workers’ compensation laws, were a catalyst for AILA’s formation. There was great need for a forum to explore common issues among all facets of the insurance industry.
He credits Michael Gill as being “the driving force” behind AILA and was impressed with how quickly AILA went national and then worked with like-minded people and organisations to assist AIDA’s Asia-Pacific region expansion. Frank agreed, describing Michael’s contribution as “extraordinary and outstanding”.
Chris, who spent more than a decade on AILA’s national committee and was treasurer at one stage, described it as “a fantastic organisation” that has “achieved colossal heights and is set to go higher and further”. AILA soon gained respect in the political sphere. Chris remembers the elation he and fellow founders felt after they had met the then-NSW Attorney-General to explain that a proposed law was “not commercially viable”. The AG listened and the law was changed.
John Hastings held various official positions with AILA at national and NSW levels for more than a decade, including national president in 1988-1989. He was conference secretary for the 1994 AIDA World Congress in Sydney.
Frank, a former president of the NIBA-forerunner entity the Corporation of Insurance Brokers, and the NSW Insurance Institute (now ANZIIF), also held various official roles in the nascent AILA. He says AILA’s decision to ensure the organisation was self-perpetuating by having presidents’ terms of office restricted to no more than two years assisted in its continual rejuvenation.
AILA hosted its first national conference in 1983 in Sydney, which Michael said was “a cracker”. Guest speakers included Justice Kirby, who at that time was chair of the Australian Law Reform Commission. The conference made a profit and Frank told Michael to put the excess on the bar, which he did.
Michael says his motivation for dedicating so much time and energy to AILA’s foundation was to give people opportunities to grow their careers and their competencies.
He says AILA has created a “wonderful family”, with a core group of people who’ve been there since the early days joining with newer members, many of whom were not even born when AILA began.
“AILA has survived the global financial crisis and intense financial pressures on businesses, and it’s one of the world’s strongest AIDA chapters,” Michael said.
He appreciates the vast number of friends his AILA involvement has generated. He also takes “enormous pride” in telling Australia’s stories on the world stage. “We don’t do everything right, but we can show the world what we’ve tried – what’s worked and what hasn’t.”
He would like both the profession and the industry to more clearly see AILA’s value. AILA is reliant on input from legal and industry leaders, who will “only reap the rewards of AILA’s intellectual capacity if they’re prepared to invest in it”. The legal profession and the insurance industry’s “best and brightest” should be involved in AILA, he said.
Michael is committed to AILA’s role in developing “harmonious relationships with our neighbours”. He says Australia must assist emerging economies in the Asia-Pacific region to develop better laws, cost-effective dispute resolution mechanisms, and the like.