18 March 2024

First ISO chair, Bob Herbert, shares his memories of early successes.

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As ISO Victoria’s first Chairman, Bob Herbert saw the concept expand across Australia within a couple of short years. 

It was Bob, then Victorian Director of the Metal Trades Industry Association (MTIA), together with ministerial staffer Colin Edwards and well-known trade unionist John Halfpenny, who first proposed the idea of the Industrial Supply Office to the Victorian Minister for Employment, Jim Symmonds. 

The ISO office was set up in 1984, with Victorian Government backing. The search for an inaugural CEO saw Roy Lilley appointed to the top job. 

It wasn’t too long before the new ISO celebrated its first major success, with the project to build frigates at Williamstown. 

“Kim Beazley [then Defence Minister] was keen for 70 percent local content,” Bob said. 

“We hired the South Melbourne Football Club venue, which was full to overflowing with potential suppliers.” 

In the end, the work of the ISO saw the project achieve 80 percent local content. 

Bob also remembers ISO approaching medical facilities and hospitals to see what they imported and whether local suppliers had the capacity to replace those items. 

These early successes piqued the interest of MTIA’s National CEO, Sydney-based Bert Evans.  

“He said, ‘we’d better have one of those in NSW’,” Bob said. other states and territories soon followed. 

According to Bob, research in the late 1980s showed that every million dollars diverted to Australian companies created more than 31 jobs. 

Bob stayed with ISO, then ICN, until shortly after his retirement in 2004. He worked through changes of governments, with varying levels of support never wavering in his goal to boost local content. 

The work he did with the organisation still stands as one of his greatest career achievements. 

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