No Ticket, No Start---No More!


NR Evans

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 for tenants.

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 privilege.

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 politics generally.

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.