Arbitration In Contempt

Repairing Australia

John Stone

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 historic occasion.

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) are determined.

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 it.

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 copies.

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 recently said:

    '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 way.

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 Reform'.

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 today?

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' behaviour.

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.