top of page

We are winning the debate over industrial liberties

President's perspective

The ACTU Congress next month will decide the trade union movement's strategy leading up to Australia's next state and federal elections and beyond. This month we feature ACTU secretary Greg Combet's address to the National Press Club of 13 September, made on the occasion of the release of the movement's policy discussion paper, A Fair Go At Work, which is to be debated at the Congress. At the beginning of his press club address, Combet ventures the view 'that we are winning the debate over these laws'. His judgement was validated within days of the address, when media reports surfaced suggesting that the government is already planning some token retreats from its draconian industrial relations regime. Greg Combet's speech is essential reading for anyone who wishes to keep abreat of developments.

The Evatt Foundation will continue to contribute to the defence of Australia's industrial and civil liberties. Our site now has a comprehensive coverage that shows the deep bias of the Howard government toward big business. Two of the most important papers are those by Braham Dabscheck and Bradon Ellem.

Braham Dabcheck's essay describes the development of "The Contract Regulation Club", the group of employer interests, political players and their ground troops who give practical reality to the government's vision for an industrial relation nirvana; a place where workers fully understand and willingly embrace the leadership and decisions of management. Dabscheck gives a useful description of the systemic capture of industrial relations by the Contract Regulation Club.

I would only add that in 1982, Ian Viner, the then minister for industrial relations, declared at a meeting of the United States Chamber of Commerce in Australia that he would introduce legislation to establish US type industrial relations in this country. Although the then prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, panicked and quickly transferred Viner out of industrial relations, this highlighted the way that the industrial relations component of what we call 'economic rationalism' is a product of American capital:

Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their shareholders as possible.

- Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (1962)

In his article, 'Beyond Industrial Relations, WorkChoices and the reshaping of labour, class and Commonwealth', from the journal of Labour History, Bradon Ellem rounds out the historical analysis. He concludes:

What WorkChoices means for labour, for organised labour, is problematical indeed given such a massive re-alignment of class and state power and ideology. For if the aims of the new Act are as ambitious as they seem, if it is the greatest re-working of employment regulation Australia has seen, then a concomitant re-ordering of the union movement may be necessary - all this after at least a decade under siege. Maybe the darkest hour is right before the dawn.

While we still await the Australian High Court decision on the governments extremist laws, our liberties remain under threat, including the basic freedom of association, the right to organise and collective bargaining. President of the ACTU and former executive committee member of the Evatt Foundation, Sharan Burrow, deals with the implications in her article "International support needed: WorkChoices and international standards".

"This highlighted the way that the industrial relations component of what we call 'economic rationalism' is a product of American capital."

Another dimension of the Howard government's assault on working Australians is its welfare to work(choices) policy changes, which amounts to punishing the poor. The welfare to work changes will exacerbate the problems of the poorest workers facing unemployment and a ruthless industrial relations structure. Using the usual weasel words of welfare 'reform", the current legislation will cut benefits in practice, once again following the US model that has been developed over the past fifteen years or so. The strategy of privatising services is designed to remove the direct government role in education and training and assistance when unemployment hits.

The most respected charitable and welfare organisations have revolted at the unfair burdens. An Evatt Foundation Sunset Seminar, to be held this evening (Tuesday, 26 September), will feature three experts in the field, Dr John Falzon, chief executive officer of the St. Vincent de Paul Society National Council, Kathleen Swinbourne, president of the Sole Parents Union and Gerard Thomas, the policy and media officer for the Welfare Rights Centre as part of the National Welfare Rights Network.

John Kenneth Galbraith: 1908-2006

We are indebted to Evan Jones, whose reflections on the life of John Kenneth Galbraith we reproduce in this Evatt Newsletter from the Journal of Australian Political Economy. Jones points out that, after the Second World War, Galbraith "wanted the market economic system to work for the good of all, but he confronted the large corporation as the elephant in the room. It broke the rules, and, here is the crunch, it was never going to go away." As Evan says, Galbraith was a phenomenon in his own right, an author of prodigious output, an almost unparalleled stylist on matters economic, and a major public figure. This year, the Evatt Foundation's annual publication, The State of the States, will focus on the state of the public sector, in memory of J K Galbraith.

Baudrillard and New Media

Another person who has a great and challenging mind is Jean Baudrillard. At the time when social and political activists attempt to understand how the social and political culture is developed and manipulated we should welcome William Merrin's "The horizons of a programmed reality: Baudrillard and new media", an original essay on this important thinker published here for the first time by the Evatt Foundation. At a time when many people have been caught up in the 'ecstasy' of all the new means of communication, Baudrillard supplies a challenging check on the experience of "the over-proximity of all things" in our 'hyperreal' world.

Other articles

In other articles in this Evatt Newsletter, Julia Gillard outlined her plans for a cooperative arrangement with the states on health at the annual Earle Page college politics lecture, entitled "From Earle Page to turning the page." Carmen Lawrence discusses her new book, in which she has used her skills as a psychologist, former premier and minister to essay on Fear and Politics. On the basis of his experience with his own book, My Israel Question, Antony Loewenstein critiques the Israel lobby's attempts to silence his and other contrarian voices in the debate about the Middle East. We also publish two papers from Evatt's June Sunset Seminar on Nuclear Power, by Frank Muller and Richard Broinowski.

Art and Politics: 'Mas' Evatt and the Evatt Collection

The Secretary of the Evatt Foundation Jeanette McHugh and I attended the opening of the exhibition of paintings and drawings by Mary Alice Evatt (1898-1973) and material held in the Evatt Collections, Special Collections, Flinders University. The exhibition is being staged in the Flinders University City Gallery of the State Library of South Australia, North Terrace, Adelaide. The exhibition surveys the work of this accomplished artist and her lifelong advocacy of contemporary art, containing a wealth of fascinating material.

A time to rejoin or join Evatt

If existing Evatt Foundation members have not rejoined, this is a reminder, now is the time. If you would like to join us and support the Foundation, you would be most welcome.

Finally, I wish to thank readers for your feedback. By all means keep the messages and letters (and criticisms) coming; but, also, please be patient, for we are presently working on introducing a better system for publishing your letters on the Evatt site.

Bruce Childs President Evatt Foundation 26 September 2006


bottom of page