ABOUT RAY EVANS

The following is a recent address given by Des Moore, Publicity Officer of the HR Nicholls Society, to Turk’s Head (one of the organisations created by Ray Evans) on October 8, 2014″:

Although I am a bit concerned about talking to a “prickly” group,  I feel honoured to be invited by Patrick Morgan to offer a few words on our good friend, the late Ray Evans. I welcome the opportunity to do so in the presence of his wife, Jill.

I say only a few words because the importance of Ray’s contribution to our society really warrants a book. Yet despite the enormous number of PhDs being written are any of them offering to do what would be a fascinating one on Ray? Ray himself would doubtless be saying from his grave – that is exactly what you would expect from our universities!

However his death did produce extensive praise from certain quarters on his enormous contribution to the debate on a wide range of public policies spread over about 25 years. It is almost sufficient to simply recall that he played major roles in establishing and developing the HR Nicholls Society, The Samuel Griffith Society, The Lavoisier Society, The Bennelong Society and The Galatians Group. It is quite remarkable that he had the capacity to run these groups with only limited financial and other help.

Importantly, he did however receive help from the courageous decision of Hugh Morgan to take him on board at Western Mining as a speech writer and from Chairman Arvi Parbo for agreeing that he should continue framing the 200 speeches he drafted for Hugh. One of those – titled “Yellow Cake Bob” after the Hawke government banned uranium mining – probably cost Hugh his position on the board of the Reserve Bank. Needless to say it was a serious risk for shareholders and a Chief Executive Officer to  agree in 1982 to employ Ray when he wrote in his job application  “The culture wars I now believe to be embedded deep in Western Civilisation … are fought out in every institution. We see them in the churches, within political parties, in the media, in the universities and in corporations”.

As Hugh pointed out in his eulogy, Ray once described himself as the in-house theologian and inserted in speeches frequent direct quotations from the Bible.

But to have a house theologian would not have been one of the stated objectives of Western Mining.

The gospel according to Ray played a vital role in his life and philosophical outlook, and in the public policy pronouncements he made.  The citation inscribed on the Copeman Medal bestowed on him by the HR Nicholls Society was written by someone who also made an enormous contribution to public policies as Secretary to the Treasury. I am referring of course to John Stone, who was the first President of the HR Nicholls Society when, after his resignation from Treasury, he became a Senator. It is not my purpose today to compare the two but you may wish to reflect on the courage each had in being prepared to speak out in public in ways which often challenged apparently accepted views – and which many would have regarded as “not the done thing”.

The Copeman medal citation includes a specific reference to a famous Christian allegory written on The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. The full citation is:

“Ray Evans: in recognition of his unparalleled contribution to public policy discourse in Australia, including (but not confined to) his central part in the formation of the HR Nicholls Society and its role throughout  the 25 years of its existence. A rock of constancy in a sea of corporate cowardice, he has always placed principle above personal advancement. A steadfast friend and an honourable opponent, he is epitomized in John Bunyan’s everlasting words: ‘Who would true valour see/Let him come hither;/One here will constant be,/Come wind, come weather’”.

I cannot claim to have read more than a small portion of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress but it contains many references not only to the importance of such behaviour as honesty and morality, which go to the heart of western civilisation, but also to the failings which occur in the realities of life of all humans. Until I checked Wikipedia I was not aware that Bunyan wrote from prison for 12 years because he broke the then existing religious monopoly of the Church of England under the Conventicle Act. Such a breaking  of  a monopoly would naturally have attracted Ray’s sympathy.

He must have also been attracted by the numerous characters named in Pilgrim’s Progress.  Bunyan’s figurehead, who he naturally named “Christian”, had to deal with many characters on his pilgrimage to the Celestial City and these included  many who have counterparts in modern society and who would have rung home to Ray. Characters such as Pliable, Mr Legality, Formality, Hypocrisy, Faithful, Flatterer, Mr Feeble Minded and Giant Despair come to mind.  It is in one sense remarkable that such human idiosyncratics  seem to have prevailed since the publication of Pilgrims Progress  as long ago as 1678.

I am not acquainted with the Galatians Group which Ray formed but it goes without saying that Ray’s advocacy of Christian principles was important. Bunyan’s Christian, and his companion Hopeful, were imprisoned, beaten and starved by Giant Despair (who wanted them to commit suicide), but they managed to find a way out – in short, hope prevails.

This brings to mind that many of today’s Christians, and others, living in the Middle East have been slaughtered by today’s Giant Despair and the desperate need we face to overcome what has come to be known as the death cult. For some time I have been running my own version of Bunyan trying to convince the Mr Pliables that Giant Despair is the greatest threat to the survival of mankind. But I keep on running into the Mr Feeble Mindeds who Ray would have recognised.

My closest involvement with Ray related to the regulation of workplace relations. Both of us sought legislative changes to allow individual choice under the common law. In my case that started before I left the Federal Treasury after 27 years. In addition to seeking that end through the HR Nicholls Society, I was commissioned in 1998 by the then Minister for Workplace Relations, Peter Reith, to publish a detailed analysis of “The Case for Further Deregulation of the Labour Market”. Prior to that Ray and I had both welcomed Keating’s 1992 speech  indicating that the industrial relations system “is finished”…and we have now come to do things in a new way”. Indeed I still recall Ray telling an HRN conference that it may soon have little to do.

But as it turned out Keating was allowed by the union movement to make  only a miniscule reduction in regulation and it was not until 1996, after Howard’s electoral victory,  that Peter Reith was able to secure some major improvements  through the Workplace Relations Act of 1996. However, as Hugh Morgan pointed out in his eulogy, Ray was unforgiving of the Kernot- Reith political deal and complained that it showed a failure to understand the benefits that flow when, as he put it, “freedom becomes legal”.

Ray’s refusal to accept compromises in order to get a political result was  a basic  feature of the man. He was constantly pricking our consciences because we failed to measure up. But this sometimes made him difficult to work with in an organisation whose members did not all accept a strategy of going all out for the final objective. Some would argue that it might have made it harder to realise the objectives of the organisations Ray established.

At the HR Nicholls Society I experienced more than one such difficulty. One included a threat by Ray to resign if the HRN board agreed to invite the head of a business association to speak at a conference after he had negotiated with the incoming Labor government on  possible “acceptable” increases to the regulatory legislation.

A similar difficulty related to the extent of deregulation which the Society might put to the Howard government in 2004 after it was returned to office  with an increased lower House majority and a majority in the Senate. I initiated a letter to Prime Minister Howard and Workplace Relations Minister Andrews, drafted with the help of Ray and John Stone, seeking an inquiry into the regulatory arrangements and signed by 20 prominent citizens, which became known as the Gang of 20. Ray signed the letter but preferred that it not go out as an HRN Society letter.

However, the discouraging response from Minister Andrews led Ray to try personally, with Bob Day (then an important house builder),  to persuade Andrews to change his mind. As it happened, I ran into Ray and Bob in Parliament House as he came out of seeing Andrews and as I was proceeding to an interview with Howard just down the corridor. Needless to say, I did not succeed getting past Howard’s chief adviser, Peter Crone (now working at the Business Council of Australia).

The Copeman medal citation for Ray refers to the “corporate cowardice” which he experienced in trying to persuade CEOs and Chairmen to support his organisations and their objectives. While this is not the time to examine that fault, some excuses are warranted, such as the apparent futility of obtaining results at the political level, the selective threats from unions to corporations who support reforms that would have adverse effects on unions, and so on.  Charles Copeman was one of the few who did not retreat and who succeeded in achieving a major increase in productivity. It is puzzling that business associations did not gang up.

But Ray did succeed in attracting support from some leaders in the community, albeit mostly from those who had retired from active business or political life. In the case of Aboriginal Affairs Ray persuaded three leaders to help with the Bennelong Society which held its first conference in October 2001. The first board included former Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Senator John Herron, Peter Howson and former Labor Minister Gary Johns, as well as an Aborigine, Maroochy Barambah. I think it is fair to say that Bennelong had a significant influence in moving policy away from the separatist approach that Nugget Coombes had persuaded successive governments to pursue. So much so that Ray was able to hand over the running of the Society to Gary Johns.

Finally, I make a diversion arising from the recent visit by my eldest son and his wife to Austin in Texas. I do so because, in his eulogy at Ray’s funeral, Bob Day made much of the visit to Texas by both himself and Ray some years ago. Bob reported how friendly the Texans are and how well the State of Texas seemed to be doing economically. One aspect of their visit was that, just as my son and daughter in law heard, Bob and Ray were told that the lower house of the Texan Parliament only meets once a year unless there is urgent business to which the State government  should attend. I don’t think Bob mentioned Ray’s reaction to that but I feel confident that he would have endorsed the Texan belief that governments should play a minimal role and that private enterprise should be allowed to flourish.

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