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Falling Into Mediation

My mediation career began in 1990 when I moved from South Australia to Queensland (Australia) and accepted a position as an administration officer with the Queensland Government’s newly formed Community Justice Program (CJP), totally funded by the Queensland Government and based on a mediation model being used in New South Wales within a non-legal process. I admit I knew next to nothing about mediation, however learnt quickly about the Intake and Mediation process. Two years later I trained as a mediator with my first mediation being with Laurence Boulle (Mediator, Chair National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council, Chair Mediator Standards Board, foundation member Bond University Law School) – very intimidating!  I saw the CJP change names to Alternative Dispute Resolution Branch to now being the Dispute Resolution Branch.  We began with free community based mediations being neighbourhood disputes; property settlement between separating couples; facilitations with environmental groups involving government agencies, conservationists and industry representatives, government agencies discussing policy changes, workplace planning; mediating workplace disputes. Today there is a small fee for some types of mediation however substantially they are fee free.

My roles during the 28 years with the Branch include coordinating the South Queensland Dispute Resolution Centre (Queensland has Dispute Resolution Centres in Brisbane, Hervey Bay, Mackay, Rockhampton, Townsville, Cairns); Training Officer (providing mediation training; conflict coaching; facilitation; workplace conflict; corporate training); Training Support Officer.  During these years I saw many unique pilot projects where we mediated between police officers and members of the public to piloting mediation in criminal matters between victim and offenders.  We paved the way for dispute resolution processes to be used in indigenous communities, training Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander mediators who provide traditional ways of settling disputes by ensuring communities keep ownership of disputes; use elements of customary law and practice; find solutions that are in keeping with their cultural values.  The Branch now provides Adult Restorative Justice Conferencing by bringing together the victim and offender to talk about how they can address the harm cause by the criminal behaviour.  Child Protection Conferencing now ensures the Branch provides a clear process where court ordered conferences allow all participants to discuss openly and confidentially issues involved in a child protection application. Parties to this conference include the convenor (an accredited mediator); legal professionals, parents; child/ren; support persons; rep from Office of the Public Guardian; rep of Office of Director of Child Protection Litigation who have the opportunity to discuss what is currently working well/areas of concern and risks for the child/ren named in the application/steps required to remedy concerns in the best interest of the child/ren.

I have watched mediation requests reach numbers where our funding was not available and innovative ideas were implemented to ensure parties would have an opportunity for mediation albeit not in as timely a manner as we would have liked.  Our community based mediation (neighbourhood disputes, family etc) showed between 85% and 90% agreement rates with 85% of parties still maintaining their agreements three months later. It was with excitement and anticipation I knew this process was working for the benefit of all parties involved as mediation is not just about parties reaching agreement, it is about educating and sharing team work and communication skills.

To have a successful mediation service, technology is required to capture client information and record data. We first used a very basic database and slowly, as funding allowed, upgraded to a newer version which could capture reports and complex data.  I worked closely with our IT Department to test new versions of our database and to ensure the information we required would be captured correctly.  This at times was frustrating as errors kept occurring and many mistakes were recognized, with lists made for corrections. And now today, parties can apply for mediation online via the Branch’s web site.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) implementation provided work for mediators as QCAT wanted parties to resolve matters and reach legally binding agreements before they were heard in a hearing before an Adjudicator.  Success rates hovered around 30% however have now moved to around 50% where parties now reach agreements before going to court, thus saving many dollars in court costs.

In 2017 I moved back to South Australia and I now work with the South Australian Police mediating internal disputes in a new innovative branch, implemented to decrease cases of workplace conflict, bullying and harassment.  I also provide conflict coaching and workplace mentoring where I have an opportunity to assist employees to increase their own communication skills and implement strategies to assist in difficult conversations. This position will allow me to continue my amazing career as I slowly transition into retirement.

My greatest satisfaction during my career has been convening child protection conferencing where helping children and families move forward from some very depressing issues of alcohol and drug abuse, emotional/sexual/physical violence to a healthy environment for the children, was heartwarming and encouraging.

The friends I have made in this amazing career and the difference I know I have made to people’s lives will stay with me forever.  The satisfaction of knowing every party has been given every opportunity to resolve their conflict and in the majority of cases they did just that… has been so gratifying.  This was a career I “fell into” and now I can look back with wonder, and know there are so many good things happening in the ADR/DR area, the future for assisting parties resolve and manage conflict is very optimistic.


Margaret Poulter

Commenced employment with the South Australian State Government as a typist in a typing pool, gained promotion as a supervisor, attended Adelaide University to learn about word processors, promoted to supervisor in a word processing unit. Moved to Queensland in 1990 where I applied for a position with a newly… MORE >

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