The ethical deal

Who is John Galt? An Australian takes the megaphone

It is part of the columnist’s job to spark debate through controversy. The use of rhetorical flourishes for dramatic effect is an essential tool of the trade. When the rhetoric so distorts reality to make a political point it becomes propaganda. The threat to public discourse occurs when the propaganda goes unchallenged.

The ‘class warfare’ debate has now descended into fantasy, with the depiction of Australia as the embodiment of the dystopia depicted in the classic libertarian novel Atlas Shrugged.

We are now living, according to Grace Collier in her debut column in the Australian Financial Review (‘Unions’ corrupting power,’ Friday 1 June), in a dangerous dystopia; an unaccountable world in which ‘the unions have become the big end of town,’ their writ enforced by major law firms, independent tribunals and the courts.

She paints a picture of vast conspiracy. Legal muscle [has become] an essential part of the standard union armoury. Law firms are ‘emerging as enforcers for union dominance and might.’ The Workplace Ombudsman, it is inferred, is also an extension of the shadow state. In a previous article for The Australian (‘Reverse onus traps Gillard in corner,’ 9 May 2012), she argued that the judiciary is also suspect because labor laws allow for uncapped penalties and the courts have been given the power to ‘make any order it wants.’

It is essential, she concludes, to ascertain ‘where the union money comes from and why.’ The power, she claims, derives from diversified funding mechanisms, including, crucially the industry superannuation funds, who are the creatures of and subservient to the union secretaries who the Prime Minister is ‘accustomed to taking instructions from.’

Her claims of a union conspiracy that has created a shadow state are so far-fetched to be risible, or it would be if the public policy discourse had not become so poisoned that they might actually be believed.

The repeated question in Ayn Rand’s novel is ‘Who is John Galt?’, a metaphor for frustration at the evils of collectivism. Here in Australia there is no mystery. Grace Collier, an industrial relations consultant at Adelhelm by trade, has appropriated the persona.

The Adelhelm website describes Ms Collier as specialist in negotiations and Employment Agreement settlements, culture change and relationship building’ who has been herself an official for a number of unions, where she presumably found evidence of this nefarious plot that can be revealed - at a price.

The article may have a purpose in spruiking the attendance numbers at her firm’s seminars on how employers should deal with more informed union adversaries. As a contribution to public discourse it is as useful as reading Ayn Rand. Not much.