Let's Start All Over Again

Award of the Charles Copeman Medal

Senator Nick Minchin

Thank your for inviting me to present the Charles Copeman Award for 2006 to Richard Colebatch.

This gives me the opportunity to congratulate the Society on its work over many years to change workplace relations in Australia.

I have not been actively involved in your Society, but yours is a cause that has interested me for most of my life.

My family has a history of having to deal with trade union misbehaviour.

At about the time I was born in the early 1950s my father started a security business in Sydney called 'Metropolitan Security Services', or MSS.

Over the next 16 years my father built MSS into the biggest privately-owned security company in Australia, with around 1200 employees.

He had to fight the unions all the way.

I was thus brought up as a child in an atmosphere of my father trying to build a business, provide jobs but fighting the unions.

Recently my father recorded his life's history in an autobiography.

I'd like to quote to you a couple of paragraphs to give you the flavour of his union battles.

    War with the Miscellaneous Workers Union brought charges of Nazism from a virulent left wing. MSS was reminiscent of Hitler's SS. Our black uniforms, superb motor-bikes and stormtroopers caps were real grist for the Bolshevik mill. The Australian Council of Trade Unions, under an avuncular man called Mr Monk, demanded I declare aims and objects. I did so in front of the entire council and earned a bit of legitimacy. But the priceless publicity continued.

    A particularly bovine union organizer thought he could out-drink me and pressed me in my cups to find my true motive. I told him I wanted to become a millionaire. The paranoid people in militant unionism called that cunning fascism.

It didn't end there. In 1970 criminal elements of the old Painters and Dockers Union stole $1 million from MSS' Melbourne Headquarters---which ultimately led to Dad selling the company to Mayne Nickless.

As a child I'd seen myself eventually going into MSS---so the Painters and Dockers really changed the course of my life.

At the ANU I studied Economics and Law, and my most interesting subject was Industrial Relations.

I was highly motivated by my background and my studies to take on the unions via a career in IR.

However I was at the ANU in Canberra between 1972 and 1976, when Australia had three Federal Governments, and experienced the worst Government we've ever had.

So instead of a career in IR, I have spent my working life fighting the political wing of the union movement---the ALP---first as a Liberal Party official and now as a Senator and Minister.

I am fortunate to have spent 10 years in Government---keeping the ALP out of government and doing good things for Australia.

IR Reform has of course been a key cause for our Government---and we were frustrated by the Senate for our first 9 1/2 years.

Our recently-enacted new IR package has been a great achievement, although I acknowledge it has received mixed reviews in the community.

It is of necessity a complex package, given that it seeks to take over the State IR systems via the Corporations power in the Constitution.

I know some of you don't think our new package goes far enough but I would ask you to remember that in Government our job is to strike the right balance between good policy and good politics, and I think this package does that.

My real purpose tonight is to present the Charles Copeman Medal to my fellow South Australian, Richard Colebatch.

Everyone here is familiar with the extraordinary courage and determination shown by Richard to give his workers the choice to be independent contractors.

We know about his long dispute with the NUW in Victoria, which resulted in the closure of his Melbourne business.

And now his Adelaide plant has had to be placed in administration.

All Richard has ever wanted to do is run his business, provide jobs for his workers, and give them a choice to be independent contractors.

Richard is indeed a worthy recipient of the 2006 medal.