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
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
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
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
Richard is indeed a worthy recipient of the 2006 medal.