Arbitration In Contempt
Professor Blainey, the Leader of the Federal Opposition
(the Honourable John Howard), the Federal Opposition
spokesman for Treasury matters (the Honourable Jim
Carlton), other Members of the Commonwealth Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Before we receive the main oratorical dish to be set
before us this evening by Geoffrey Blainey, I should
like to offer a small hors d'oeuvre and, in doing so,
to say something about how we come to be here on this
In short, we are here because of the growing desire
on the part of mainstream Australians to see someone
set about repairing Australia.
First and foremost in that repair job is the need
to overhaul completely the system by which, in this
country, wages (and other conditions of employment)
Inevitably, that overhaul will also involve providing
new brakes on trade union power, which for too long
now has run out of control, with results that were
inevitable---our whole economy is now plunging downhill,
with an ever-lengthening rope of debt paying out behind
Before I come to those matters, however, I want to
spend a little time saying something in acknowledgement
of those who, for one reason or another, could not
be here this evening. Two in particular I mention at
the outset---Hugh Morgan and Barrie Purvis.
When the H R Nicholls Society first met on 28 February
last, it was Hugh Morgan who, that evening, delivered
what is now Chapter One of the Proceedings, on 'The
Nature of Trade Union Power'. Because of inefficiency
on our part and a characteristic sense of duty on his,
he is attending this evening another engagement to
which he had long been committed. He has however sent
me a message which, after expressing his disappointment,
goes on to say:
'The advent of the H R Nicholls Society will, I am
confident, rank in Australia's history with the discovery
of a major orebody, and tonight's book launching compares
with the production of the first refined metal.'
Barrie Purvis was one of the four moving spirits---
and one of the two initially moving spirits, the other
being Ray Evans---behind the formation of the H R Nicholls
Society. In his capacity as the Director of the Australian
Wool Selling Brokers Employers' Federation, he is currently
overseas, whence he has sent me the following message:
'Only the tyranny of distance keeps me from attending
tonight. My best wishes to all present for an enjoyable
and memorable occasion.'
I add only that, with impeccable timing, the October
issue of Quadrant---the editor of which, Mr Peter Coleman,
M.P. is also with us this evening---contains a slightly
shortened version of what it rightly describes as a
remarkable address given by Barrie Purvis recently
to an Industrial Relations Convention organised by
the Victorian Employers' Federation. I suspect that
that remarkable address must have been welcomed with
that degree of acclamation normally accorded to those
with the courage to throw dead cats into such Industrial
Relations Club rings. I commend the Purvis article
to all of you.
Let me now come to some more formal regrets and apologies.
The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations
(the Honourable Ralph Willis) has sent his sincere
apologies for his inability to accept our invitation,
owing to a prior commitment. So, I should say, has
his opposite number, the Honourable Neil Brown, Deputy
Leader of the Opposition and shadow spokesman on Industrial
Relations matters. Mr Brown has been good enough to
express the hope that the dinner will be an outstanding
success, in which hope he will not be disappointed.
The Minister for Industry, Commerce and Technology
(Senator the Honourable John Button) has conveyed his
apologies, it being not possible for him to attend
this evening. again, so has his opposite number, Senator
the Honourable Fred Chaney, who in his letter wishing
us 'good luck' says that 'the very intense reaction'
to the formation of the Society from certain quarters
suggests that those concerned 'are aware of the significance
of ideas in achieving change'.
The Premier of Tasmania, the Honourable Robin Gray,
has said that he would have liked very much to be able
to be with us, but the Tasmanian Parliament is sitting
this evening. The Premier of Western Australia, the
Honourable Brian Burke, has also sent his sincere apologies.
The Leaders of the Opposition in both New South Wales
and Victoria, Mr Nick Greiner and the Honourable Jeff
Kennett, both have commitments this evening in their
respective legislatures---Mr Greiner is replying to
last week's N.S.W. Budget Speech---which have caused
them to send their regrets. The Leader of the Opposition
in Western Australia, Mr Bill Hassell, has asked that
his apologies be recorded, and has also extended his
best wishes for a successful evening.
Regrets, for one reason or another, at their inability
to be present have also been received from a number
of other Commonwealth Parliamentarians, including the
Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Janine
Haines; Senator the Honourable Peter Durack; the Member
for Fadden (Mr David Jull); the Member for the Northern
Territory (Mr Paul Everingham); the Member for O'Connor
(Mr Wilson Tuckey); the Member for Parkes (Mr Michael
Cobb); the Member for Richmond (Mr Charles Blunt);
and the Member for Tangney (Mr Peter Shack). The Chief
Minister of the Northern Territory (the Honourable
Steve Hatton), in expressing his similar regrets, has
been good enough to express his 'best wishes for a
most successful launch'---an aspiration which, again,
we have every intention of satisfying.
I mention especially three distinguished Australians
each of whom, in his own way and from his own (in each
case separate) position in the political spectrum,
would have graced this gathering had he been able to
attend but each of whom has been unable to do so.
First, the Right Honourable Sir John Kerr, who honoured
the Society's Inaugural Seminar by his attendance at
dinner on the Saturday evening, has written to say
that he very much regrets his inability to accept our
invitation because of his absence overseas at this
time. Sir John's nicely understated paper, delivered
on the occasion of that dinner, appears as Chapter
Eight of the Proceedings.
Secondly, Sir Charles Court has written to say that
distance and other commitments make it impracticable
for him to be present, but that he sends 'every good
wish for a successful function'.
Thirdly, the Honourable Clyde Cameron, who will be
known to all present as having been a notable practitioner
(at all levels) in most matters which are the concern
of the Society, has written to say that, while other
commitments unfortunately prevent him from attending,
he 'wishes the occasion every success'.
Expressions of regret have also been received from
Sir James Balderstone, Sir Rupert Clarke, Sir Peter
Derham, Sir Frank Espie, Sir Noel Foley, Sir James
Foots, Sir John Holland, Dame Leonie Kramer, Sir James
McNeill, Sir Frank Moore, Sir Bruce Watson and Sir
David Zeidler. I feel sure that Sir Bruce would not
mind me mentioning that, along with his apologies,
he has been good enough to forward his donation!---
as, I should say, have a number of others.
Finally, I wish to mention one absentee who, though
not yet burdened with a Knighthood, would perhaps have
been more welcome tonight than almost any save our
special guests. I refer, of course, to Mr Charles Copeman.
Travel to Japan, from which he has only just returned,
has precluded his presence here tonight, a fact which
has caused him to send his deep regrets. Those regrets
are echoed, I am sure, by all of us.
Now that all those important courtesies have been
dealt with, let me say something briefly about the
H R Nicholls Society. I can be brief because, in a
most un-secret and non-conspiratorial manner, the Society's
whole proceedings to date are contained in the book
'Arbitration in Contempt', of which you all now have
My own Introduction to that work, and the letter dated
16 January, 1986 which appears at Appendix 1, set out
the reasons which led to the Society's foundation.
I shall not repeat them here tonight, other than to
say that, in short, they have to do with that task
of repairing Australia which I mentioned at the outset.
In discussing the problems which New Zealanders are
having with their labour market, and the need
for reform thereof, the New Zealand Business Roundtable
'The clash between labour market and other policy
settings is at the heart of Australia's current economic
difficulties, which offer a telling example of what
happens when economic policies are incoherent and inconsistent'.
Just so---albeit a trifle humiliating to have our
current economic difficulties so accurately, and so
pithily, diagnosed by a New Zealand business group.
I must make a note to put them in touch with the Confederation
of Australian Industry, which I think also used to
have some ambitions to represent employers.
Notwithstanding that 'clash between labour market
and other policy settings which is at the heart of
Australia's current economic difficulties', our Government
is currently considering major legislative changes
to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act,
and other associated legislation, to intensify that
clash. This it proposes in order to give effect to
the shameful conclusions of the Hancock Report. In
passing I recommend to your notice on that topic both
Hugh Morgan's paper in the Proceedings referred to
earlier, and the paper by Mr Gerry Gutman which appears
at Chapter Twelve.
Our present Government used to talk a great deal about
its 'consensus' approach to policy questions, particularly
where those questions were potentially socially divisive.
Now if there is one proposition on which, among people
across the length and breadth of Australia, a true
consensus does exist, it would be that our trade
union bosses today have too much power.
In the face of this undoubted consensus, what is our
Government contemplating? It is contemplating legislation
which would give our trade union bosses even more power.
In particular, it is contemplating legislation which
would remove all legal processes relating to trade
unions from the realm of real law, and real courts,
and place them in a Labour Court (or perhaps more accurately,
Labor Court) to be newly created for that purpose.
The so-called 'Justices' of this new kangaroo Court
would be those legally qualified Deputy-Presidents
of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission
who, for the rest of the week would be sitting in the
Commission within which they presently operate.
In a directly related area, the Government has already
unsuccessfully sought to repeal Sections 45 D and 45
E of the present Trade Practices Act, which as you
all know contain the 'secondary boycott' provisions
of that Act. It is suggested that, having been rebuffed
by the Senate in that endeavour, the Government will
now seek to achieve indirectly what it has failed to
achieve directly. It would do this by providing, under
its new legislation, that actions brought under Sections
45 D and 45 E should be heard, not in the real Courts,
but in its proposed new kangaroo Court---this on the
grounds that the jurisdiction of that Court (sic) should
embrace all matters to do with industrial relations.
What H R Nicholls would have said about this particular
put-up job is difficult to imagine in detail, but I
do not think words would have failed him.
The H R Nicholls Society has no power to prevent the
government pursuing this oppressive course. We are
after all a mere discussion society. In keeping with
that role, however, what we do propose is that, as
soon as the new legislation is introduced into the
Parliament, we shall immediately convene another major
Seminar to have it examined from all angles by speakers
competent to do so. We are quite determined that the
Government, and its fellow-conspirators within the
trade union movement, are not going to succeed in further
enhancing the already excessive power of trade unions,
and undermining the rule of law even further, in this
At this moment we cannot be sure of the timing of
that Seminar since it will, as I say, depend upon the
Government's timing with its proposed legislation.
Meanwhile, however, I take this opportunity of mentioning
that planning has commenced for another Seminar of
the Society, to be held on Saturday 6 December next.
There will be five speakers---plus a speaker at the
dinner with which we shall conclude on the Saturday
evening---who will address the topic of 'Trade Union
Now some of you may think that to talk of 'reforming'
our trade unions is a contradiction in terms, and there
is certainly much evidence for that view. It is not
however my own view, or that---so far as I am aware
- of any of the contributors to 'Arbitration in Contempt'.
What is clear, however, is that our trade unions have
suffered the fate embraced by Lord Acton's famous dictum,
that 'Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'.
It is to that process of corruption---using that word
in it's widest sense---that our 6 December Seminar
will basically be directed.
I understand that the 'Gillies Republic' programme
has been so far departing from even the ABC's nowadays
debased standards of objectivity as to attempt to paint
this Society as some kind of Australian version of
the South African Broederbond.
Defamations of that kind will not be dealt with by
mere argument. Australia is however a democracy, and
will remain so notwithstanding the attempts of trade
union bosses, arrogant Governments or politically affiliated
public corporations to render it otherwise. We have
no intention of being intimidated by this or any other
public misinformation campaign on these topics. We
are going to go on fighting -and with the help of people
such as yourselves, we are going to win.
After all, I ask you, why should mainstream Australia
submit to the kind of people who are prepared to defend
the power of trade union bosses as that is exercised
That being said, let me now finish on a lighter note.
As a young man I had the privilege of attending for
some years an Oxford College of which, many years previously,
the Warden had been a notable eccentric named Spooner.
He it was who gave his name to Spoonerisms. Thus, on
sending down a young man who had more than ordinarily
disgraced himself, Warden Spooner told him that he
had 'tasted his first worm'. He had been caught red-handed
while 'fighting a liar in the quad'; accordingly, he
was to leave immediately 'by the first town drain'.
These pleasurable, if doubtless somewhat nostalgic,
recollections came back to me recently when re-reading
the text of an address by the Commonwealth Minister
for Trade (Mr John Dawkins). This address, on 'The
False Patriots of the New Right', was delivered by
Mr Dawkins last Australia Day.
Mr Dawkins offered no evidence for his offensive charge
that these people of whose views he disapproves are
'false patriots'. Nor, more recently, has he supported
his even more offensive charge that a man such as Charles
Copeman, or members of the H R Nicholls Society more
generally, have been guilty of what he called 'treasonable'
However unhappy the fact may be from Mr Dawkins' standpoint,
the truth is that the views---and the associated basic
values---he has been attacking are those of mainstream
Australia. If words still mean anything, to describe
mainstream views as being on the Right---Old or New---is logically meaningless.
Nevertheless, as I have remarked elsewhere, Mr Dawkins'
Australia Day speech is in fact something of a gem
of its kind. Reading it, one can see why in Government
circles Mr Dawkins is regarded as a shining wit. Warden
Spooner would undoubtedly have agreed.
Thank you for your attention.