Back to Basics
When the conference conducted by the H R Nicholls Society
at Mooloolaba, In July 1987, (see The Light On The
Hill for the proceedings) was drawing to a close,
members of the Society from Newcastle urged that the
next conference should be held in their home town.
This invitation the Society accepted with pleasure.
This volume of proceedings contains almost all of
the papers given at the H R Nicholls Society's conference,
conducted at Newcastle, on the weekend of 19th---21st
February 1988. The conference was entitled 'Back to
Basics', a tide reflecting the view that Australia's
labour market and industrial relations problems are
so deep seated that it is only through the most searching
and radical analysis that any progress can be made
towards effective reform.
The conferences run by the Society have now developed
a tradition of vigorous debate, animated conversation,
and a social camaraderie much valued and enjoyed by
the members, supporters and journalists who attend.
The Newcastle conference was very much part of this
tradition. A wide range of Australian industrial life
was canvassed. The shipping and stevedoring industry,
the steel industry, the coal industry, the hospital
and medical services industry, as well as the broad
range of institutional and political problems bearing
on the labour market, were discussed, in depth, by
people with particular authority in their fields. It
is not necessary to summarise these papers in this
It is reassuring to note the changes in perception
and thinking that are discussed in The Hon Ian Viner's
keynote paper, Reflections of a former Minister
for Industrial Relations. Ian Viner was the difficult
Minister, against whom the IR Club schemed and plotted,
and whose downfall the Club finally accomplished early
in 1982. As the paper given by shadow minister, the
Hon Fred Chaney, demonstrates Opposition thinking has
improved greatly since Ian Viner was sacked.
The Society invited David Clark, columnist for the
'Australian Financial Review', to respond to Senator
Chaney's paper. However much improvement has occurred
in the Opposition's thinking, it is still not enough
for Dr Clark who discussed Senator Chaney's paper in
critical terms. The essence of his remarks was published
in the 'Financial Review' three days later and we publish
a facsimile of that column on pages 33 and 34.
On the Labor side of politics the Federal Treasurer,
Paul Keating, nominated labour market reform 'as the
last great area of change to be accomplished' in an
address to the National Press Club on May 26th 1988,
not long after this H R Nicholls conference took place.
Doubtless the Treasurer would deny any connection between
the two events. But his comment demonstrates that whilst
the Government has maintained an outward show of satisfaction
with existing institutions and arrangements, inwardly,
concern is mounting as economic problems manifested
by growing debt, uncompetitive exchange rates, crippling
interest rates, erode the confidence and self esteem
of key government ministers.
Labour market reform is now moving to the centre of
political debate, and the role of the H R Nicholls
Society, in promoting debate and argument, increases
in importance as this occurs. This volume of proceedings
is a valuable contribution to this vital debate.