A presentation by Bill Thompson to the Vintage Reds ACT on Tuesday 17 September 2019 at the Tradies Club, Dickson ACT 1
Bill acknowledged the Ngunnawal people, the custodians of this land and the land on which we met, and paid his respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples past and present.
I was appointed as the North Queensland Organiser by the Municipal Officers Association (MOA), Queensland Branch, in July 1985. The union later to merged with others to form the Australian Services Union. My area of responsibility was the northern half of Queensland, or that area above a line drawn between Birdsville inland to Bowen on the coast.
It was a difficult time to be appointed, as the South East Queensland Electricity Board industrial dispute had been raging (and that is not too strong a word) for five months, and it was the year in which great changes were occurring in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community councils, not the least in their governance. With the introduction of the Deed of Grant in Trust (DOGIT), a significant disruption in the administration of those councils had occurred.
Much of what follows is anecdotal and personal observations. But here I must digress.
Have you heard the joke about the bloke who went to the doctor – he had a monkey growing out of his head. Tell me said the doctor, “how did this begin?” Well, said the monkey, “it started with a spot on my bottom’. At the risk now of enraging the Queenslanders in the room, I need to set the political scene in Queensland in 1985.
“Rural, backward, racist, populist, authoritarian and corrupt”. So said Seymour Martin Lipset an American political scientist, who in the context of the USA said “every country has a South”. We in Australia have a North, in this case Queensland under the Bjelke-Petersen Government, which had been in office since 1968. The definition suited Queensland to a ‘T’, as the Liberal-Country Party (later the Liberal National Party), well entrenched both politically and within that society, was resolutely opposed to change, unless it was to the detriment of its political enemies. Queensland was to prove the political monkey on the back (not the head) of the Australian body politic for decades. No doubt, a sentiment shared by Gough Whitlam.
Now to return to the actual circumstances.
A white-collar local government union, the MOA had been eager to extend its coverage of its federal industrial award, into Queensland community councils. In one respect it was a defensive move as it feared that in its absence the Australian Workers Union (AWU), a state registered body, would try and fill the vacuum with an amendment to its state award, knowing full well the Bjelke-Peterson Government would readily concur. Both wanted a Queensland state award with the AWU respondent.
The AWU Queensland Branch had form. It had colluded with successive state governments, including Labor governments, ever since the disastrous shearers’ strike of 1891. The MOA had made application to the then federal industrial body, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, to register what was later to become the Municipal Officers Aboriginal and Islanders Community Councils Award 1985, a proposal that reflected the existing industrial circumstances elsewhere in Queensland local governments.
On the penultimate hearing day at the Federal Industrial Commission, the state government industrial advocates, who had registered as a party to the hearing, were shown a number of documents by one of the MOA representatives after the close of the hearing. The documents were not tabled and therefore off the record. Their content is unknown. We do know that on that hearing day, the lights in the Premier’s Office burned long into the night.
On the following hearing day the State Government capitulated and the case for the AWU collapsed. The MOA had a new federal award to which it was respondent. The contents of the documents have never been disclosed and as far as I am aware only one person amongst the MOA advocates knows what was divulged, and he is not telling.