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Address of Welcome
The Lord Mayor of Newcastle,
Alderman John McNaughton
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for your introduction. There are among you
tonight some who will know that my being here to bid
you welcome to Newcastle has not been without some
local controversy. I should say, however, that I see
it as my duty as Lord Mayor of this city to accept
invitations such as yours and to welcome to Newcastle
those people and groups who show an interest in our
I confess, however, to some bewilderment as to your
purpose in selecting Newcastle for such a gathering.
If Newcastle was intended to provide your members with
an opportunity to rub shoulders with some 'industrial
rough company' or to provide a plangent background
for your wisdom, then you chose unwisely indeed.
The reputation of the H R Nicholls Society precedes
you and the prescriptions associated with its name
are at sharp variance with the preferences and practices
of this city.
It is true, of course, that Newcastle is perceived
as having a poor industrial relations image; yet its
record during this decade is one of accomplishment
and change, especially in the industrial relations
arena. Indeed, Newcastle today is more the victim of
those who set the agenda with generalisations than
it is of its own industrial practices.
I do not present myself to you as an industrial relations
expert. However, I would like to put before you a picture
of some of the developments taking place here which
may not be known to you, and indicate our preference
for an alternative model to that suggested by your
In the past decade some $9 billion of capital projects
and infrastructure have been completed in Newcastle
and the Hunter region, with virtually no industrial
disputation on construction sites. This huge investment
grew out of the so-called energy crisis of the late
1970s: the industrial and social pressures thus created
called for innovative control measures.
Chief among these was a series of individual site
agreements which eliminated demarcation problems, and
put in place feasible and accessible dispute-solving
Now the detail of those agreements I will have to
leave to others to pursue, but the result has been
that massive capital projects in the public and private
sector have been completed on-time and on-budget, with
considerable dollar savings to the investors concerned.
Some comparative figures of performance make interesting
reading. Time lost on some of these major projects
in the region costing about $4 billion are:
Tomago Aluminium Smelter 2.9
Alcan Aluminium 0.03
Hunter Valley No 1 Coal Preparation Unit 0.02
Kooragang Bulk Loader 0.0
Time lost on the giant Bayswater Power Station between
1980 and 1985 averaged 1.87 per cent annually.
Compare that performance to the 14.16 per cent time
lost at Loy Yang Power Station and the 25-30 per cent
loss on the first attempt to build the Portland Smelter.
Time lost at the Wagerup and Worsley Refineries in
Western Australia was up to 12 per cent.
This successful performance by the Hunter Valley did
not occur by accident, particularly since this is a
region where, in the past, industrial relations were
often characterised by bitter disputes between organised
labour and capital.
Success occurred for three main reasons:
- Our industrial relations community recognised the
huge challenge it faced and was prepared to create
- Those solutions were arrived at through careful
negotiation based on a common willingness to co-operate
and to build systems that were fair to the parties,
considerate of the community, and civilised for the
- The region is the first in Australia to have a resident
Deputy President of an industrial tribunal, capable
of working in both State and Federal jurisdictions
where circumstances warrant.
The fact is that, without exception, the parties to
the agreement, and particularly the trade unions, have
kept their word to honour the agreements they made.
Variations of these early site agreements are still
being implemented at the rate of about 30 a year in
the Hunter Valley and Northern New South Wales.
The system is an achievement which in its time-scale,
extent of investment and large numbers of people involved,
is without precedent or parallel in Australian industrial
and developmental history. The system acknowledges
the inevitability of conflict, but puts an onus of
performance on the parties themselves, within a framework
to which they have mutually agreed.
It is an achievement of which we, as a city, are proud,
and which I am particularly pleased to draw to your
I suppose the lesson of that experience is that Newcastle
has very good grounds to resent being taken for granted,
or being stereotyped.
It is true, of course, that the image of the past
lingers. Whilst the first of our new agreements was
put in place 10 years ago, it is only in the last two-and-a-half
years that the success of site agreements has been
in the public domain.
The idea of co-operative agreements between labour
and management is, however, taking hold in other sectors,
including the metals sector and manufacturing.
There is now a 'culture' of industrial activity in
this city that is based on positive negotiation, co-operation,
and getting the job done.
The process is painstaking, and some industrial sectors
such as coal mining (which has historical and social
peculiarities known to you all) are slower to change
But, the process of change is well under way. We have
the advantage that the process was begun and consolidated
in a favourable economic climate, and the 'culture'
that has resulted is coping constructively with the
rigours of restructuring our industrial base, making
our industries more competitive, and introducing a
new technological base for employment generation.
I make these comments in my formal welcome to Newcastle
so that you do not begin your Conference by imagining
that Newcastle is a 'push-over' industrially, or that
it fits a convenient stereotype.
The industrial systems evolving here are unique: they
are embraced by employers and respected by unions.
They are a Newcastle solution to a Newcastle problem,
and their application elsewhere is, I submit, an innovative
alternative to both the formulas of the 'industrial
relations club' and the prescriptions of your Society.
There is no room in Newcastle for division and confrontation.
That said, I will conclude by saying that although
I disagree with most of what your reputation suggests
you stand for, I formally welcome you to Newcastle.
In declaring your Conference open, I trust that it
may draw some positive contemporary comfort from its
being held in a city of industrial innovation, co-operative
spirit and proven industrial relations achievements.
I formally declare this Conference open.