Ray’s Career as an Advocate

Hugh Morgan delivers a tribute to Ray Evans:

One always knew the presence of Ray by the frequent burst of extraordinary laughter that no one could miss as having come from any other person. I will return to his laughter trade mark later but recall the first time we met in Sydney in late 1981 when attending a meeting of the Centre of Independent Studies  and Ray approached me having already written to Sir Arvi Parbo seeking a job. Ray recalls this event in his farewell remarks to WMC colleagues and others in August 2001 and the following is drawn directly from some of that presentation.

The story of how I got to Western Mining as it then was in April 1982,is an interesting one, and is summarised in the letter I wrote to Sir Arvi Parbo in November 1981. A week or so later after despatching the letter I found myself attending a seminar in Sydney organised by Greg  Lindsay who had recently established the Centre of Independent Studies. Hugh Morgan who was a Trustee of CIS was also there, and rather nervously, I introduced myself and told him that I had sent a letter to Sir Arvi looking for a job. “yes indeed” said Hugh and pulled it out of his coat pocket.’

‘What have I done since (joining)? I’ve been a soldier in the culture wars”  He recall’s of  the 1980’s  the distemper evident in the universities observing –  ‘The slogan which these many hundreds of students chanted mindlessly as they marched (being) ‘Hey Ho – Hey Ho – Western Civ has got to go”

“The culture wars’ he wrote …’ I now believe to be embedded deep in Western Civilisation”. ‘The culture wars are fought out in every institution. We see them in the churches, within political parties, in the media, in the universities and in corporations”.

Out of these battle he notes the close friends that develop and one such friend was Bert Kelly who changed political life in this country having  attacked protection ‘making it intellectually and morally disreputable’. Bert Kelly he recalled as being a great Hero.Ray was grateful to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser for having decided to slash university subventions that required the Engineering School at Deakin to be shut down and with the predictable fear of losing his job discussed what he might do with a friend and proffered in response as to what he might do replied  he might be a good speech writer to Arvi Parbo. His friend said ‘Why not ask?’  and so that is exactly what he did.

I have since the fateful set of events that brought our lives together shared a friendship and professional association of which I could not have imagined would be of such impact on my life. It is so with  many  present today gathered to  pay  respect to this remarkable man.

Since his death  we have seen  tributes to Ray of which he would be justly proud. His seminal contribution to public debate has been publicly recorded in many media reports this week.

Each recall Ray’s early years  with  membership of the Labor Party and his Presidency of the Melbourne University AL P Club, as a young member of the Federated Fodder Fuels Trades Union and becoming the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Deakin University. Where and when the conversion from centralised socialist ideology of the ALP  took place I never enquired but his compass on the morality  of life and relationship came squarely from his Christian beliefs and the political guidance from Edmund Burke.

When asked what his function was at WMC he once replied he was the ‘ in house theologian’. This was reflected not only in the structure of the speeches he prepared for me but also in frequent direct quotations from the Bible. I shall never forget the look of astonishment by Minister Cylde Holding, and Minister Barry Cohen at a conference in Canberra  presenting on behalf of the Australian Mining Industry Council an address  following that of the Minister who had waxed lyrically of the Sacred Spirits of the Aboriginal community, a text from Genesis c 1 v 26 directing man to have dominion over all that lives and moves on the earth. Uproar prevailed. Gerard Henderson later commented he ‘could see paint peeling off the ceiling!’  Graffiti appeared on Melbourne walls – Morgan for Pope!

Ray never shied from a battle and nor from a good argument. There were then  and remain no shortage of issue to address.

Ray held a special sense of resentment for the placid response of the business community to the corrupt concept to central wage fixing and indignation at the consequent cost to the community, lack of competiveness that ensured for industry and exclusion of the poor from being able to offer their labour at a price satisfactorily to themselves. For this he fingered as the evil source Mr Justice Higgins – Henry Bourne Higgins the designer of the Commonwealths power with respect to Conciliation and Arbitration and the first appointed Judge to the Arbitration Court. Ray famously described him as a ‘ nut who, to the great detriment of this country, found himself able to give legal form and substance to his fantasies’. The Act established legal privilege and monopoly power for trade unions that no other individual or organization possesses in Australia. ‘The unemployment rate’, he wrote in the AFR in November 2002, ‘is the outward sign of an insane system of intrusive detailed regulation of employment relationships  bequeathed to us by Henry Bourne Higgins, the thin-skinned do-gooder who thought he could play God in the labour market’.

One has to recall even now just how the industrial relations climate at working level was throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s.   Industrial relations expectations to determine award outcomes were entirely a one way street of employee enhancement, often generated not only at on site level but nationally through a close working relationship between unions and its officially related entity the ALP. In many cases very unpleasant working conditions were the outcome. Ray worked in an office that  had first hand experience of thuggery within it’s mine operations. Dealing  with Bruce Wilson of  the AWU  from the comport of Head Office was one thing  unlike the burden undertaken by Mine Managers and their families.

This was but one example of the in-house experience Ray observed even well after he had determined external advocacy  as essential to bring about fundamental change in the Industrial Law. The public argument had to be taken into the national arena stripped of corporate political compromise, pressure or retribution.

The creation of the H R Nichols Society  by Ray with  John Stone, Barry Purvis, and Peter Costello  has unquestionably influenced the tide of thought of employment arrangements in Australia.

Ray as the President of HRN was unforgiving of political accommodation in industrial affairs management. Even  of the  Work Choice legislation  he denonounced  it as the Kernot-Reith deal. To Ray it was incredulous why there was not the understanding  of benefits that flow ‘when freedom becomes legal’.  I would pause and repeat those words –  ‘when freedom becomes legal’.

At his retirement from the HR Nicholls Society I was pleased to read a comment from Ken Minogue, the lexicographer, his great New Zealand friend living in London.

‘HR Nicholls was obviously a Troublemaker of great talent, especially for pompous judges. Ray as president stands in a significant line of business. Whistleblowers these days are sometimes celebrated, but Troublemakers are less appreciated. Ray is a ‘Troublemaker Extraordinaire’ – except that (as Dr Johnson would say) – the cheerfulness keeps breaking through. And when it does, his great gusts of laughter blow away whole mists of folly and nonsense. So he has made the H R Nicholls Society itself a great Australian tradition, even if halfway around the globe, my glass is raised to him.’

Ray  was a great organiser and it was both this skill and aptitude that gave rise to the organisations of which Bob has already spoken – the Samuel Griffiths Society, the Galatians Group, the Lavoisier Group, the Bennelong Society, the Savage Club monthly lunch and the Australian Lecture Foundation. All of these entities were ones in which Ray played either an initiating role or a major contributor to their establishment and subsequent intellectual nourishment.  These were the entities through which he was able to project his commitment to the culture wars.

Ray designed nearly 200 speeches for me. It was not without concern at the content nor the challenge they presented. I worked with wonderful people led for most of my working life with WMC by my Chairman Arvi Parbo but I did have several people who did not fit the normal corporate tradition in my office and Ray was pre-eminent . The remaining staff did express concern and on occasion made  deputation to Ray expressing great worry for the company and would he please mend his ways. Ray suggested they come and see me if they had a problem. I never heard directly from them but the corridors spoke loudly of apprehension.

That apprehension was not without substance. Engagement in the culture wars had its hazards.

In January 1984 I delivered a speech to the Australian Business Europe Association thought to be a harmless account of the status of uranium issue in the context of the ban on uranium mining in Australia and the divisions within the Labor Party of this policy. Couched in the most moderate language  it bore Ray’s imaginative title “Yellow Cake Bob.’ The following day’s headlines back home needless to say did not make Bob happy.  My subsequent term for reappointment to the Reserve Bank Board not surprisingly led to  replacement with the more reliable Sir Peter Abeles.

Notwithstanding the intellectual challenge Ray presented to those in his company his presence was infectious , his cheerful demeanour always accompanied  by a consistent optimistic outlook. He was always brimming with ideas and enthusiastically challenging  every aspect of life both to himself and of expectations of others.

Life for Ray was to be celebrated. And celebrate he did. That laugh  was always present sometimes to the embarrassment of others.

Jill recalls being in a theatre with Ray to see the film ‘Passage to India’  when Ray saw cause to let out a raucous laugh but he was alone in the appreciation of the event that stimulated that response. A lady several seats away turned around and in a loud voice proclaimed ‘Who brung him!’

His love of music and especially of the Church Choir gave him the escape from the rigorous of debate and argument. His  battle with the accumulation of books in his library and Jill’s vain attempts to find additional space to house them was a constant source of attention for Ray had not only an enviable recall of historical and political events and colourful stories but was supported by a reference library of great magnitude. It occupied his room floor to ceiling and every other space in the house  he could negotiate with Jill to occupy. It is fitting that it is dedicated to the Bert Kelly Research Centre in Adelaide.

I want to thank those who wrote the media accounts of Rays life and contribution – John Roskam of the IPA in the Australian Financial Review, Dominic Kelly of The Age and Andrew Bolt in The Australian. Andrew was the beneficiary of Rays personal strength and moral support that he records in the most beautifully constructed account entitled ‘ A very fine man has died today’  that only comes from someone publicly demonised but who drew strength  from Ray’s continued  encouragement. Adam Bisits  and John Stone of the H R Nichols  Society,  Tom Bostock’s kind comments circulated to the Evans, Tuesday  Savage Club Lunch Group and  Scott Ryan’s address in the Parliament and Ron Manners with the latest Mannkal edition.

And to Jill we all hold you in admiration for the love comfort and care you lavished on Ray particularly  during his great time of crisis and without which we would not have shared the last six years.

Ray’s influence upon events particularly in the outcome of the Culture Wars will continue to have lasting impact upon Australian society. His Career as an Advocate is without peer in our generation.

‘We are poorer for his passing but richer for his being’

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