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Why the Accord has Failed: Discussant II

Ray Evans

Thank you Mr Chairman but I will have to stay here because my printer does not work and my comments are on this machine in front of me.

I agree with Paul, Des Moore has written a valuable paper and it will be studied for a long time. I disagree very strongly with his conclusion. I think the Accord has been an outstanding success. A great success--- almost a world beating success---it was only a tied Senate vote as I recall that stopped a repeal of Section 45D and E and that repeal was a major plank of the Accord only defeated by a tied Senate vote and that vote seems to me to indicate just how great a success the Accord has been. You can only judge success or failure when you look at the aims and the ambitions of the parties who signed the Accord back in February of 1983. That happened you may recall just after our new Governor General was dethroned as leader and our present Prime Minister enthroned as leader of the Labor Party. And if we read the Accord and I urge you all to go back and do it sometime, particularly on page one, where all of the important facts are set out.

You can see very clearly that the aims and ambitions of the parties to the Accord had nothing to do with what Des has been talking about. Those aims and ambitions were to firstly make sure that no-one could blame the trade unions for unemployment. Secondly to give legitimacy to the ALP as it was running into the election and those ambitions were in the context of the Flinders by-election which Peter Reith had just won, that was in December 1982 and Fraser's wage freeze was receiving majority support in the public opinion polls. You will recall that the Metal Trades Union campaign had caused an increase in unemployment from 7 per cent to 10 per cent in three months during 1982 and I put it to you that at that time despite the collapse of the morale within the Fraser Government that the Trade Unions, the CAI, the ACTU, the arbitral system were facing amazing crises of confidence. Now, that was in 1982, January/February 1982. If you go back two or three years before that you may recall that the ALP having lost the 1977 election had seriously considered breaking its ties with the trade union movement, there was a school of thought there which said we are never going to win government whilst we are tied to the millstone of the trade unions and that was seriously put forward, seriously discussed, seriously considered. But in the event they decided it was too hard. What to do, what could the ALP do instead of cutting away that millstone and the answer was a brilliant answer, let's turn this problem into an opportunity and the Accord did that. The trade union millstone was turned into a superb electoral opportunity and it has remained so ever since. The Accord proclaimed no-one was responsible for unemployment and that the unions in particular were quite blameless. But hand in hand the ACTU and the ALP in government could control inflation, control wages, reduce unemployment and improve living standards and it was marketed with great skill and we are familiar with that skill and Paul Houlihan referred to it.

Now somewhere in Boswell's life is the story of Samuel Johnson saying something like this:

    'When your butcher tells you his heart bleeds for his country you do not think for a moment that he will enjoy his dinner any the less'

and the great concern of the ACTU and the ALP is not for the plight of the unemployed but for regaining legitimacy for the trade unions and for winning government and I argue that that legitimacy for the trade unions has been sustained. My example proving my argument is the rapid escalation of Simon Crean from ACTU President to Prime Minister designate, it has all happened within two weeks. Paul Keating it was said to me yesterday by a very experienced Canberra watcher has lost the will to live and within weeks, two weeks, Simon Crean has been plucked out of Moscow~, given a safe seat and the chatter concerning his prime ministerial capacities is filling all the newspapers and you have to concede it is done with enormous professionalism and furthermore we find in the press it is becoming increasingly accepted that the only proper training ground for our future political leaders is the trade union movement. Day by day we are told if you are looking for confidence you go to the ACTU. The conservative side of politics has nothing to offer and that too is part of the legitimacy development process which I think is a great plus for the Accord.

I want to take issue with Des in an important sentence in his paper where he says and I quote:

    'It is reasonable to include that in terms of wage restraint the Accord has so far not performed significantly differently from a deregulated market'

I would argue very strongly that the Accord as played a role, you can never quantify it, in reducing real wages and prosperity in this country. But our response to the Accord and to the issue of a de-regulated labour market surely should be that a de-regulated labour market would give rise to an increase in real incomes in this country which we haven't seen for over one hundred years. The language of the Accord, the language of your paper Des, I argue, is still dominated by a Keynesian orthodoxy which is totally irrelevant to Australian economic conditions and once you start getting trapped by that language I think you have conceded fare more that you ought to concede.

The Accord has been designed to sacrifice prosperity for the workers in order to maintain the legitimacy of the ACTU and to guarantee the career structures for its officials. I think probably I have said enough, what we have been talking about in many ways is measuring success and failure on two different scales. In the terms of signatories and the writers of the Accord they have done extraordinarily well and other problems about falling living standards are fundamentally irrelevant to them.