Bill's Speeches

Launch of DVD: Waltzing Matilda and the Sunshine Harvester Factory

FAIR WORK AUSTRALIA, MELBOURNE
10 AUGUST 2012
10:30 am


  Sorry I’m late. I realise that if this was still the Work Choices era I would’ve been given a warning. But because my little child seemed to wake up every hour-and-a-half last night I’ve been running slow, so now I’ll just seek the right to request leave to be a little late.

 I don’t want to panic any of the employer associations here that is not necessarily a sign of what we will do with our response to the Act, just another personal apology.

 It is a pleasure to be here. The book is good – I won’t quiz everyone on the video in case you haven’t got around to seeing it yet, but I recommend it.

 I’d like to acknowledge the work of Deputy President Hamilton and of course the people at Fair Work Australia who assisted in this, because this book is a valuable addition to our knowledge about workplace relations in Australia.

 It is interesting that Waltzing Matilda has had more recordings than any other Australian song. I’m not sure that we necessarily thought that Reg Hamilton would be the pillar following the tradition of the Comets, U2, Bill Haley and The Pogues. And of course the song has been inspiring Australian athletes for the Olympic Games. And again, the one good thing about your child being up overnight is I did get to see the K4 gold medal.

 What is also good about launching this book here in Melbourne is that Waltzing Matilda gets played by every honoured artist – and Meatloaf – at our own secular sporting mass, the AFL grand final. I’ve had the opportunity to have a look at the photos, the detailed research and the timelines – and in the time honoured tradition of all politicians I checked the index. But it was of course between many years ago, so I managed to get over the omission of ministers.

 But the book does certainly take us through a lot of key achievements which still echo down through the ages, like Waltzing Matilda itself.

 I felt at home reading this book. When I say that, it talks about the Australian Workers’ Union, the Australian Shearers’ Union. It talks about Sunshine, which is the home of the harvester factory which I now represent in my electorate.

 I saw some of the debates about fruit picking and packing and piece rates which I, too, in subsequent decades, had the opportunity to negotiate.

 I saw the family day for Adelaide Brighton cement workers back then – I’m not sure whether they would get that family day now. But certainly they had the chance to be all involved in the cement industry.

 I even looked at that photo of Alfred Deakin in an era when Liberals were liberal. So I felt very at home reading this book and consistent with a lot of the things which I’ve seen. I should also say in reading this book I’d draw your attention to the dip tins by the grape pickers in the South Australian vineyards in the early 20th century. These dip tins are still used, although less and less, by Australian blockies even today.

 Having a look at the manual hand shears from the late 19th century reminded me of course of the debates about the wide comb dispute only 30 years ago.

 Canvas bags – standard issue for hops pickers in Tasmania in the last century. Still, canvas bags used by fruit pickers today.

 The Coolgardie Safe where meat and dairy products were stored, particularly on the goldfields.

 Again, it’s a reminder of our own history.

 I liked reading about the dispute at the Dagworth station where there were regrettably over 100 shots fired between unionists and non-unionists and police. I’m pleased to report that in the great tradition of industrial relations in Australia, no one was hit.

 And just proof that we can always learn, in part one of the book – footnote 57 – there’s a reference to Abraham Lincoln. And I thought I knew most of the quotes in defence of trade unionism in Australia, but I wasn’t aware that the great emancipator himself had supported the right to strike – and without necessarily having a bargaining in good faith requirement first. Not that I would go back to Lincoln’s era – that is not, again, an interpretation of our response to the Act.

 But what I do think is that people who don’t know their history are destined to forget it and destined to make mistakes that have been made in the past and Reg Hamilton’s book does go to our history.

 I know as Minister for Workplace Relations that history shapes our views and our contemporary existence and indeed our future. It shapes our institutions.

 Plato once said that poetry is nearer to vital truth than history. Whether or not that inspired Reg to use Waltzing Matilda, I don’t know. What I do know is that when I read Reg’s book I’m reminded of the civilizing impact of our industrial relations – not the least I have to say the civilizing impact of being an industrial relations commissioner or deputy president can have upon people.

 And I did note that on page 15 Reg has written about strikes. Reg has actually written: “A strike involves one or more employees stopping work as a means of placing pressure on their employer to agree to a demand...” This is what I like about one of the former – one of the senior policy people at ACCI. He then writes: “...to agree to a demand such as improved pay and conditions.” So he obviously appreciates that strikes have helped better the workers.

 I don’t want to say any more, but I do want my children to have access to important parts of our history – this book contributes to that. I think in a very modest way it’s part of what your new president’s mission is, to open up Fair Work Australia – not just to resolve matters, but to help inform and educate and, ideally, prevent disputes. And I think this book teaches that history.

 I would submit to you that this book passes the ‘BOOT’ test. Readers will be better off overall against the price of the purchase. So I hope many people, and my kids, get to sit in the summer shade to find the heart and history of our modern society by reading through this significant contribution. Congratulations.   

  ENDS-