Robert (Bob) John Day AO (born 5 July 1952) is a former Senator for the State of South Australia. He was elected at the 2013 Federal election. Prior to entering politics, he was the founder of various home building companies operating in Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. He is married to Bronte (16 May 1981) and they have three adult children. Day has participated in sport (cricket, basketball and football) and is an accomplished musician(1). He obtained an unrestricted pilot’s licence in 1980.
Day’s career started in the SA public service at the Highways Department Materials and Research Laboratories (now the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure). He qualified as a Science Technician after studying at the SA Institute of Technology (now UniSA). After six years he resigned and started in the building industry as a plumber’s assistant. He attended the SA Plumbing School and gained registration as a qualified plumber. He subsequently gained registration as a general builder(2). In 1983 he founded Homestead Homes in South Australia and in 1996 Home Australia, which owned Collier Homes in Western Australia, Newstart Homes in Queensland, Ashford Homes in Victoria and Huxley Homes in New South Wales. These were all homebuilders in their respective States.
On Australia Day 2003 Day was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to the housing industry and to social welfare – particularly housing the homeless – and to the community (3). Later that same year he was awarded the Centenary of Federation medal for service to housing and charity. In 2005 he was awarded the inaugural Pride of Australia medal for ‘Community Spirit’ for restoring the village of Houghton and creating the Soldiers Memorial Walk and Remembrance Wall.
His strong interest in youth employment (4), homelessness (5), urban planning (6), federalism (7) and industrial relations (8) has been reflected in a wide range of appointments which include:
National President of the Housing Industry Association
Inaugural President of Independent Contractors of Australia
Director of the Centre for Independent Studies
Chairman of the Institute of Public Affairs’ Great Australian Dream Project
Chairman of the Bert Kelly Research Centre
Member of the Mont Pelerin Society
Secretary of the Samuel Griffith Society
Secretary of the HR Nicholls Society
Chairman of the North East Vocational College.
Patron of the North East Keep Kids Safe drug education program.
Member of the National Work for the Dole Advisory Committee.
Day was a long-time member of the Liberal Party of Australia (1987- 2008) occupying various roles including Federal Electorate Committee (FEC) President, Hewson for PM Campaign Committee (Industry) Chairman, Delegate to the Party’s State Council and was a recipient of the Liberal Party’s Meritorious Service Award in 2006. In 2007, following the resignation of sitting member Trish Draper, Day was pre-selected (unopposed) as the Liberal Party candidate for the Federal seat of Makin. The Party suffered a primary vote party swing in Makin of 6.4 percent compared with adjacent seat Wakefield (5.1 percent), Barker (6.4 percent) and Grey 9.2 percent (Australian Electoral Commission).
In July 2008, following the retirement of sitting member Alexander Downer, Day sought pre-selection for the Federal seat of Mayo and was endorsed by former Treasurer Peter Costello. He was one of 9 candidates. Following the pre-selection, Day resigned his membership of the Liberal Party citing ‘”manipulation of the pre-selection process to ensure the pre-selection of one particular candidate” over the other candidates (9). Day’s allegations were backed up by other Liberal Party members (10). The Liberal Party suffered a massive swing against it at the subsequent by-election (11).
Immediately following his resignation, Bob Day was invited to join Family First as its candidate in the Mayo by-election receiving 11.4% of the primary vote. Day was elected Party Chairman in November 2008 and in April 2009 was endorsed as Family First’s Lead Senate Candidate for the 2010 Federal election. In 2013 he stood as the Party’s lead Senate candidate in the Federal election and was elected as a Senator for South Australia.
Public Policy views(12)
Bob Day has been one of Australia’s leading campaigners for the restoration of housing affordability, particularly first home ownership. He has presented papers in international forums on housing and urban development, lectured at leading tertiary institutions and has been published in numerous journals.
He is a vocal critic of both urban consolidation policy ie squeezing more people into existing suburbs, and the introduction of urban growth boundaries which prevent the growth of cities. “Urban consolidation is a policy which has failed all over the world” Day says. “Whereas the Great Australian Dream of home ownership of a new house on a quarter acre block is eminently achievable when the facts are known” (13).
Day lays the blame for the housing affordability crisis squarely at the feet of State Government urban planning policies and their associated land management agencies. Day accuses these agencies of rationing land on the urban fringes of Australia’s capital cities creating what he calls an ‘artificial scarcity’ in order to make money depriving first homebuyers of getting a start in the housing market (14). Day says these State Govt agencies have done more to destroy the home ownership aspirations of young Australians than any other factor.
Day has been a long time advocate for removing the ‘barriers to entry’ to paid employment – particularly for young people. He has written numerous articles, papers and monographs on this subject. He also opposed WorkChoices believing WorkChoices did nothing to assist the long-term unemployed, disabled, former offenders and others get a job (15).
The Sydney Morning Herald (16) wrote in 2008:
“In 2002, as secretary of H.R. Nicholls, (Bob Day) blamed the award system for high unemployment and the social ills of drugs, crime, violence, poor health, teenage pregnancy and suicide. In a March 2005 financial forum speech, he likened workplace regulations and protections to ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ as he advocated his idea of workplace nirvana, called “Workforce SuperHighway”. Employment conditions would be determined solely between employers and employees. “Hours of work, rates of pay, holidays, sick leave, long-service leave, hiring and firing, would be agreed between the two parties”. The Courier, a local paper in the federal seat of Mayo, featured a small interview piece with Day. “Even on Work Choices – the controversial industrial relations reform that was the biggest single factor in the Coalition’s federal election loss, Bob Day said he shared the same views as his new party (Family First), which opposed the unpopular policy.” Former fellow Liberals were bent double with laughter, the article said. “It’s true to say his position was to oppose it but only because he thought Work Choices was too bound up with regulation and red tape,” said one former colleague”.
The Australian Conservative countered with a spirited defence of Day’s position (17):
Phillip Coorey’s left wing “rap sheet” on former Liberal:
“Given that Coorey acknowledged that Day had stated in a recent interview that he shared Family First’s views on the policy, Coorey’s comment was a beat-up. On the other hand, if, deep down, Day has in mind a more liberal industrial relations system for Australia, and if he believes a more deregulated system is in the long term interests of Australian families, it is conceivable that he might try to bring Family First around to his way of thinking. That’s the way the system works. In order to build a case against Bob Day, Coorey hit the Google button and produced the above paragraph from the search results.
Without context, Phillip Coorey’s potted summary of Bob Day’s advocacy across a range of industrial and social issues was misleading and unfair. In a sense, it was nothing more than a continuation of the industrial relations scare campaign the Australian political, industrial and media Left ran against the Coalition in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election.
Coorey was rather selective in his very brief review of Day’s published opinions. For example, the newspaper column on apprentices and their wages that Coorey cited advances an interesting theory on why Australia today has a shortage of skilled workers. The article appeared in The Australian of 18 Jan 2005, and Day wrote:
“The demise of apprenticeships had its origins in the heady days of Whitlam – a time when the chequebook was out and everyone was looking for a pay rise. The idea that modest apprenticeship wages should be increased significantly might have sounded noble enough on the face of it. However, lifting these wages beyond the economic value of their output only served to sound the death knell. You can only defy the law of economic gravity for so long before the law of unintended consequences bites back.
The essential feature of the apprenticeship system of the pre-Whitlam era was an indenture agreement between the apprentice (or more accurately the apprentice’s parents) and a qualified tradesman who would accept on-the-job training responsibilities for the apprentice and pay a modest wage. This wage was typically 10-15 per cent of the tradesman’s wage in the first year of the apprenticeship period with remuneration growing incrementally as the apprentice increased in knowledge, skill and productive output.
Under Whitlam, and spurred on by the trade unions, regulations governing apprenticeships were imposed through the Industrial Relations Commission at the commonwealth level, and the cost of a first-year apprentice almost doubled. These added costs flowed through in increments payable in following years rendering the engagement of apprentices completely uneconomic. The term “youth unemployment” began to have some currency. By 1990, youth unemployment was considered the single most important social problem of our time and the only apprentice many tradespeople would consider taking on was a son or close relative.”
Day pointed to the solution:
“Contributing to the decline in apprenticeships has also been the cruel lie, a lie that ironically gained currency during the Whitlam era, that only university graduates can find satisfying employment or even live a successful life.
The wonderful advantage of the old apprenticeship system was that it was an efficient and low-cost entry path into a successful career for young people from all walks of life.
Day’s analysis, perspectives and prescriptions might give Family First’s policymakers a fresh perspective in this area and a reason to take another look at the party’s industrial relations manifesto. With someone as eloquent and articulate as Day on board, Family First’s leadership might think again about its populist knee-jerk opposition to the Howard Government’s IR reforms.
Coorey’s Google search would have turned up this endorsement by former Treasurer Peter Costello when he spoke in support of Bob Day as the Liberal Party’s candidate in Makin:
“I can’t think of a better person to become the candidate here. I’ve known Bob for a long time, longer than either of us care to remember, he has been an extraordinarily successful businessman with his home building business and has created jobs for tens of thousands of Australians. That’s the reality – tens of thousands of Australians got started in life, got a job, got the ability to support a family because of your entrepreneurial efforts. And aside from your success in business Bob, you’ve been a great thinker and a great contributor to Australian political debate.”
The Coorey piece also ignored Day’s charitable work, his active involvement in his local community and the self-made nature of his business success (18).
Day is unapologetic about his opposition to workplace regulation. He cites examples of the many middle aged tradesmen who started their careers on low pay. “They were student builders. No different to university students who survived on meagre student allowances but ended up earning high incomes. Those tradesmen now own more than one house, cars, boats and send their kids to private schools. What’s wrong with that?” he argues.
• Want more revenue? Reduce the tax rate [The Advertiser, 12 May 2014]
• Address to The Tax Institute SA Convention (2014) [Address delivered on 2 May 2014.]
• Senate Inquiry into Affordable Housing (2014) [Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics.]
• Collision Course [Australian Conservative, 5 April 2013.]
• Where to next, Australia? [Originally published in the Adelaide Advertiser, 1 February 2013.]
• The Slayer of Protectionism [Originally published in The Spectator, 3 November 2012.]
• The Land Premium that’s Punishing Property [Originally published in Business Spectator,
20 September 2012.]
• State of the Unions [Originally published in The Spectator, 21 July 2012.]
2. SA Builders Registration Board.
3. The Australian, 27-Jan-03 ‘Dream builder helps the homeless’ by Andrew McGarry
4. The Leader 10-Sep-97 ‘Bulldozing the wall that stands in the way of jobs’ by Leonie Mellor
5. The Advertiser, 8-Oct-1993 ‘The man who gives away houses’ by Ed Rush
6. The Australian 23-Nov-05 ‘Planners put wise to wide, open spaces’ by Alan Wood
7. The Advertiser, 16-May-03 Page 20 ‘Balance of power tipped against our State’ by Bob Day
8. AFR 12-Sep-05 Page 3 ‘Government won’t hive off contractors’ by Mark Skulley and Mark Davis
9. The Australian 28-Jul-2008 Loyal Lib quits over Mayo by Jamie Walker
10. The Australian, 29-Jul-2008 – ‘Lib chief admits to Mayo concerns’ by John Wiseman
11. Australian Financial Review Page 5 ‘Coalition performs badly in byelections’ by Sophie Morris
12. The Australian, 6 August 2007, ‘Bob the builder means business‘ by Andrew McGarry
13. The Australian, 23-Nov-05 Page 16 ‘Planners put wise to wide, open spaces’ by Alan Wood
15. The Leader 10-Sep-97 ‘Bulldozing the wall that stands in the way of jobs’ by Leonie Mellor7
16. Sydney Morning Herald 15-Aug-2008 ‘Family with the odd black sheep’ by Phillip Coorey
17. The Australian Conservative 24-Aug-08
18. The Advertiser, 20-Apr-1995 – Page 16 ‘Gamble pays off for Bob’ by Nicole Lloyd