The Society's XIVth conference, "Standing Fast", held
in Canberra on May 14-15, 1993, had been planned prior
to the Federal election of March 13,1993. During the
pre-election period, and then during the campaign,
virtually every political commentator was convinced
that, despite the GST, the Coalition would win, despite
the evidence from the polls that it would, at the very
least, be a very tight finish.
The trade unions saw the election as a make or break
situation and poured every resource at their command
into campaigning, particularly during the last week
and particularly in the marginal seats.
On election night it soon became clear, even as the
Tasmanian results came in, that the ALP would be returned.
In the final result it was a very narrow win, (1500
votes distributed in the key marginal seats) but the
Keating Government was nevertheless returned with an
increased majority in the House of Representatives.
Immediately after the election the pressure on the
Coalition, both from within its ranks, and from outside,
to abandon hard won positions was immediate and unrelenting.
Particularly on protectionism, and on labour market
reform, the clamour for a return to the policies of
Fraser and McEwen became almost deafening. The ABC,
"The Australian", and the Melbourne "Age" amplified
During the two weeks following the election the positioning
of the candidates for leadership posts within the Coalition,
and the campaigning issues upon which the candidates
staked their claims for support, are worthy of record
In the leadership ballot John Hewson defeated John
Howard 47 to 30. After the elimination of five other
candidates Dr Michael Wooldridge defeated Peter Costello
45 to 33 for the Deputy Leadership. From the press
of the day we can get some idea of the issues that
swayed the members of the parliamentary Liberal Party.
In the "Age" of March 17,1993, we read, under Mark
- "Few doubt the intelligence of Mr Costello, who as
a barrister won the Dollar Sweets Case against union
power in the Victorian confectionery industry.
- "But his critics privately argue that he represents
the values that the voters rejected on Saturday. As
an anti-union champion and a foundation member of the
conservative H R Nicholls Society, Mr Costello is seen
by many as part of, not a solution to, the party's
Mr Costello's identification with The H R Nicholls
Society might, arguably, have cost him the Deputy Leader's
post in that ballot. But in the two months following
the election the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, in two
major speeches, took up the issue of unemployment and
of the compelling need for labour market reform. He
used words which gave his supporters within the trade
union movement cause for public concern and led the
ACTU to spearhead a campaign against changes which
would have allowed enterprise agreements to be endorsed
by the Industrial Relations Commission, without trade
This was a breach of trade union monopoly of employee
representation which the ACTU was not prepared to accept.
The ACTU and its affiliates unleashed a major campaign,
in the process humiliating the Minister for Industrial
Relations Mr Laurie Brereton at the ACTU Congress.
The outcome of this ACTU counter-attack was the Brereton
Industrial Relations Reform Bill, 1993, which, if it
is passed and survives challenge in the High Court,
will do very great harm to Australian economic life
and will jeopardise any improvement in employment.
The lesson we have to draw from the 1993 Federal election
and its aftermath is one which Lord Salisbury, the
great British Prime Minister of the late C19 knew well.
"History"', he said, "is the record of a series of
reactions in the strong workings of mens' passions.
In any great conflict what will be seen as the aim
of Providence? Our foes will say the stroke; our friends
The central problem which faces all Australians as
we ponder the great moral scandal of our unemployed
is this. The legal privileges and monopoly power of
the trade unions, and the law making capacity of our
arbitral tribunals, join together to form the lion
in the path negating any prospect of getting those
unemployed people back to work.
This is also the central problem facing the trade
union movement, and we should not be surprised if its
leaders continue to deny its existence. We are up to
Accord Mark VII. These documents, one suspects, will
soon be published in Latin in order that they might
share the ecclesiastical authority accorded to papal
encyclicals. Each Accord seeks in its own way to deny
the existence of this great problem.
The first Accord, February 1983, had this to say about
the unemployment which was causing great concern at
the end of 1982 and early 1983.
- "The parties (ie the ALP and the ACTU) have also agreed
that no new policy approach, however radical and innovative
will be capable of meeting, in the short term, the
parties' prime objective of full employment. Overseas
and domestic factors continue to produce the sobering
conclusion that while an alternative policy approach
would enable a sustained recovery to occur and would
reduce the plight of the unemployed no rapid solutions
are to be found for a return to full employment."
Those words were written over ten years ago. We are
up to Accord Mark VII, and unemployment is worse, and
the prospects for full employment, under our present
labour market regime, are regarded by most observers
as a mirage.
The papers presented at the Canberra conference covered
a wide range. Ian McLachlan gave the keynote speech
and in this speech he broke new ground in the Mabo
debate. In the future it will be difficult to appreciate
why this speech was seen at the time as a watershed,
but he was the first Coalition frontbencher to publicly
state his grave concern at the drift in Coalition policy
on Mabo, and the danger to Australia's well-being implicit
in the High Court judgment.
David Brewer, General Manager of the Tiwai Point Aluminium
Smelter, (near Invercargill at the southern tip of
the South Island of NZ) gave a paper on the great changes
which have occurred at the smelter since the NZ 1991
Employment Contracts Act had come into effect. This
Act has had an increasingly dramatic impact on the
whole NZ economy, and the productivity and morale changes
which have taken place at the Tiwai Point Smelter are
indicative of a new workplace culture spreading throughout
NZ. The implications for Australia are obvious. Regrettably
this paper cannot be published at this stage.
Professor Judith Sloan, Director of the National Institute
of Labour Studies at Flinders University in Adelaide,
discussed recent attempts by the Industrial Relations
Commission to adapt to changes in public opinion, changes
in government policy, changes in union attitudes. Her
forthright and perceptive paper was illustrative of
her growing influence in the national debate.
Barry Hammonds is a New Zealand born shearing contractor
who has built up a business in Western Queensland,
a part of Australia that has been suffering from a
prolonged drought. He has teamed up with Graeme Haycroft,
a Sunshine Coast consultant who has applied the principles
of the Trouble Shooters Case to the shearing industry.
These two men have between them offered a ray of hope
to the drought affected and economically depressed
Queensland pastoral industry. Barry Hammonds' story
of his imprisonment for breach of the award, and his
subsequent triumph at the Barcaldine Court, is one
of the great chapters in the history of freedom in
Australia. The Society was privileged to hear this
laconic and quietly-spoken shearer tell his story,
and to listen to Graeme Haycroft play the supporting
One of the major figures behind the changes that have
taken place in Coalition thinking over the last decade
has been Michael Kroger, President of the Victorian
Division of the Liberal Party from 1987 to 1992. Michael
was Guest of Honour at the Canberra Conference and
he discussed the way in which the organisation and
membership of political parties play a very important
role in the political life of the nation.
This conference was attended not only by many of our
Canberra and Sydney based supporters, but also by many
who travelled hundreds of miles in order to come to
Canberra. It was a stimulating and morale boosting
weekend, and this volume of proceedings will rank with
many of our most important conferences.
N R Evans President
April 13, 1995