Media coverage of the IRSV 50th Anniversary Event (Incorporating the Sir Richard Kirby Lecture)

Our recent 50th Anniversary Event attracted industry media attention.

Please find below the article that featured in Workplace Express on 17 October 2013*:


Talk to unions, Hawke advises Abbott

"Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke has urged Tony Abbott not to turn his back on trade unions, arguing that they have been overwhelmingly a force for good in Australia. 

Speaking at the Victorian IR Society's 50th anniversary lunch in Melbourne this afternoon, Hawke said the current prime minister and the Coalition government should not regard trade unions as an "antagonistic force". 

"They've made mistakes, for Christ's sake, of course they've made mistakes," he said. 

"But historically [the union movement] has been an enormous force for good in this country, and it makes all the sense in the world to work co-operatively with them." 

Hawke said the decline in union membership was a world-wide phenomenon, linked to technological change and increased workforce participation by women. 

"You don't now have the large aggregation of workers in one place, in factories and so on, the way you did before," he said. 

Hawke cited the increased ability for people to work from home as an example of technological change making it harder for unions to recruit and organise workers. 

He also said women "generally" found it more difficult to participate in unions, although he applauded the "enormous increase" of women in leadership positions in the movement in recent years. 

"There are these basic economic, demographic factors that are operating, so it's not just a question of the unattractiveness of unions, although that may be a factor in some areas." 

Hawke said he had "a good personal relationship" with Abbott, but quipped that some of the prime minister's colleagues were "absolutely bloody crazy". 

He said the PM should follow his summit model and convene a meeting of unions, business, welfare and church groups, but he stopped short of advocating an outcome in the nature of the Accord. 

Hawke said the purpose of the meeting would be to let participants know the "exogenous economic facts" and the optimal economic policies for the circumstances. 

"Whether, out of that, there would come a natural impetus for an accord or something like it, is a matter for that meeting." 

Answering a question from the audience, Hawke said the Coalition had been "badly scorched" by Work Choices, and was now using the language that they want to "bring the pendulum back". 

"Well, that sounds nice," he said, before repeating that he wanted Abbott and his colleagues to regard the union movement in a positive light. 

"If they get that mindset, then things will work out," he said. 

Asked about the pilots' dispute in the late 1980s, Hawke said it was a "tragedy" - for the pilots. 

He said he pleaded with the pilots' union leadership to abandon their pay claim, given that the union movement generally had committed to wage restraint at the time. 

"That wage restraint had been operating for several years from 1983 and had demonstrably, according to every economist here and overseas, been in a very large part responsible for the improvement and the increased competitiveness of the Australian economy," he said. 

He said he told the union leaders: "You are not going to succeed. If necessary, I'll smash you. It's not what I want to do, but I have to [in the national interest]." 

"They didn't get the message. I thought it had been put rather clearly," he said. 

"So we got the army in, the navy and the air force, and you know the result.""


*This article has been reproduced with Workplace Express's permission.

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