No Ticket, No Start---No More!
The Central Business Districts (CBDs) of our major
cities are currently experiencing a major building
boom. Cranes are sprinkled across our metropolitan
skylines and financial analysts speculate on how much
of Australia's foreign debt is accounted for in the
explosion of new office space which will soon be competing
From the H R Nicholls Society's point of view the
most important thing on the building sites is the notice
prominently displayed at the site entrance. Usually
bearing the building company's logo they proclaim 'No
Ticket---No Start'. These notices constitute a triumphant
assertion of trade union power and privilege.
The theme of the H R Nicholls Society's sixth conference,
held in Canberra in March 1989, was a challenge to
this assertion. Peter Costello gave the keynote address
in which he discussed the defences to compulsory unionism,
all of which hinge on the so-called free rider problem.
Compulsory unionism is now a major issue dividing the
two major political parties. Mr Costello's rebuttal
of the union position is of major consequence for future
debates in Australia and New Zealand on trade union
As at all H R Nicholls conferences papers were presented
in Canberra on important industrial disputes. On this
occasion it was the live sheep dispute of 1978, and
the society was privileged to have two of the key participants
in that dispute, Mr Ian McLachlan, and Mr David Trebeck,
present accounts of it.
The Australian wheat industry had been recently shaken
by a, at times, bitter debate over partial deregulation.
Two key protagonists in this debate, John Hyde and
David Hawker, one formerly and one currently a federal
member for rural seats, gave papers which discussed
in theoretical and practical terms the implications
of this debate for the wheat industry and for Australian
Joe Thompson, formerly secretary of the Vehicle Builders'
Union, and President of the Labor Council of NSW, presented
a paper in which he argued strongly for a trade union
structure in which each plant had one, and only one,
union. His experience of the motor car industry provided
examples of multi-union plants which had led to deleterious
economic consequences for the industry and Australia.
Vern Routley, Secretary of the Society, also urged
enterprise unions as the key to better economic performance.
One of the key elements of the present Prime Minister's
successful 1983 election campaign was the Accord between
the Australian Labor Party and the ACTU which had been
signed a few weeks before the election. This Accord
has been central to both the Government's and the ACTU's
thinking, policy and rhetoric. Opinion is divided on
the economic and social merits of the Accord, and this
division of opinion cuts through all sectors of Australian
opinion. Des Moore of the Institute of Public Affairs
argued at this conference that is was possible to demonstrate,
on purely economic grounds, that the Accord had not
been significant in maintaining employment. His paper
is an important contribution to that debate.
Understanding trade unions and labour markets requires
an intellectual framework built up of both legal and
economic elements. Professor Michael Porter and Professor
Geoffrey de Q. Walker developed and extended that framework
in their papers.
Education is a major industry in Australia and one
which commands a large portion of the budgets of both
state and federal governments. The problems of Australian
education have been recognised by many political leaders,
including Senator Button and Mr Hawke. There has been
little analysis of the way in which the rise of teachers'
unions have contributed to these problems. Two papers,
one by the President of the Teachers' Association of
Australia, Andrew Brideson, and one by Professor Ross
Parish outlined the problems which unionism, coupled
with government ownership and control, have caused.
This Canberra conference of the H R Nicholls Society
was judged by all who attended to be an outstanding
success. The publication of the proceedings will be
a permanent contribution to the debates and the reforms
which the Society was founded to promote.