The Trade Union Training Authority Act 1975: Background, Debate and Implications

Phil Drew

The passage of the Trade Union Training Authority Act 1975 was the formal beginning of a bold experiment in government funding for trade union training. The Act, proclaimed on 8 September 1975, just two months prior to the Whitlam government’s dismissal, created the Trade Union Training Authority. The Act had been supported by the Coalition, but was subjected to an inquiry and amendments to the Act during its time in office. On the return of the Coalition in March 1996, after the Labor governments of 1983–96, TUTA was abolished effective 30 June 1996.

       The article has two parts. The first explores the background to the legislation. The second examines the debates over the Bill in federal Parliament, the issues that were raised and their implications. It will be seen that TUTA was established at a time that was unusually favourable to trade union training, with a federal Minister for Labour who had long supported the concept, and an Opposition broadly supportive of the idea.

Part 1: Union Training as a Government Responsibility

Why was there a move to publicly fund union training?

The main supporting argument for the Bill was that unions were a major constituent of Australian society, representing 53% of the workforce. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act and the state industrial relations acts placed onerous responsibilities on unions. There were significant changes under way in labour law, the Clarrie O’Shea penal clauses dispute was still fresh in people’s minds, and technological change was having a growing impact on the world of work. Finally, the level of strikes and wage rises at the time demonstrated in the minds, even of Coalition members, that unions were a force to be accommodated.

       A further justification was that, at the time, there were more than 300 registered unions, many of which were quite small. Only a few unions had shown interest in, or had the capacity to conduct, training for their officials and workplace representatives (shop stewards, union reps, union delegates, etc). A few unions had established relationships with academic institutions to conduct training. A major benefit, at the time, of government intervention was that courses would of necessity be multi-union. For the unions that built solidarity and broadened awareness, and for conservatives, it would avoid funding the ideological philosophies of some unions.

Momentum towards trade union training

Interest in the idea of union training in the late 1960s was informed by observations of what existed internationally. There were several models from which to choose: those which were academically based, in Britain and the US, which often involved lengthy courses of study, and were a form of mature-age access to university; those which were of short duration and practically oriented (mainly in Scandinavian countries) with substantial residential colleges; and the Soviet model, in which likely candidates were sent to multi-year courses of training.[1]

       By 1972, interest in a much-expanded form of union education/training had emerged in Australia. In addition to the 300 plus unions, three national trade union peak bodies had been established: the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations (CCPSO, later Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations (CAGEO), and the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations (ASCPA). The impetus for union training came mainly from ACSPA and CAGEO.

       The 1967 ACTU Congress determined to increase fees to employ an education officer. Following the election of Bob Hawke to the ACTU presidency at the 1969 Congress, Peter Matthews, an Englishman and Oxford graduate, was appointed in April 1970. He had worked for the Trades Union Congress in the UK, and worked at the University of Sydney Extension Board in Newcastle and then Wollongong. In 1968 Matthews, with Bill Ford, edited a volume on Australian trade unions[2] that noted the lack of skills among many union officials, and called for improvement. Prior to his appointment to the ACTU, Matthews was involved with the conduct of the residential summer schools.

       State labor governments in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania had, in 1973, begun to provide funding for the appointment of a union education officer and to fund some courses. In WA and Tasmania, funding was channelled through the respective Labour Council, and in South Australia through the Workers’ Education Association (WEA). Appointments were Michael Beahan in WA, Sean Kelly in Tasmania and Colin Macdonald in SA.

       An article in the Australian Quarterly by prominent Queensland labour historian and Labor Party activist Denis Murphy (“A National Trade Union College”, Dec. 1972), argued the need for government funding of trade union education. Murphy noted that unions were expanding from more traditional roles, for which education was equally necessary, into finance, housing and cooperatives. This, it was argued, strengthened the case for a national trade union college.

       Clyde Cameron, who had entered the federal Parliament in 1949, had been South Australian State Secretary of the Australian Workers Union (AWU), and had been a long-time adversary of the AWU Federal Secretary, Tom Doherty. In contrast to Doherty, Cameron had supported rank and file influence in unions, and had waited 23 years to become a minister in an ALP national government. He became Minister for Labour and Immigration, effective 19 December 1972.

       In July 1973, the ALP 30th Federal Conference in Surfers Paradise endorsed a highly detailed motion by Clyde Cameron which led to the formation of an Interim Committee of the Australian Council for Union Training and subsequently to TUTA. The motion, as passed, was:

Item 12. Trade Union Training

All other countries comparable with ours have recognised the crucial importance of an effective and well-led trade union movement. They eagerly devote enormous amounts of money, time and effort in providing training for leaders and potential leaders of their trade unions in such subjects as industrial law, advocacy and negotiation, psychology, organisation, safety, history and politics, public speaking, chairmanship, participation in management, and organisational strategy.

The Australian Government must also recognise that there is the same urgent need for trade union training. It must establish by legislation and wholly finance centres of trade union training in each State. These must be open to union officials and rank and file members alike, and operate in a coordinated fashion with a National Trade Union College which will provide advanced courses for students and award overseas [scholarships] for students of special status.

Each State centre must be administered by a State Council consisting of director, three delegates appointed by the Trades and Labor Council, one delegate each from A.C.S.P.A., and one from C.C.P.S.O. in the particular State together with an educationist appointed by the Minister under the chairmanship of an officer of the Department of Labour approved by the Minister.

The National trade union College, which shall be responsible for the coordination of the work performed by the respective State centres, must be administered by an Australian Council for union training consisting of the national director, three delegates appointed by the A.C.T.U., one delegate appointed by the A.C.S.P.A., and one from C.C.P.S.O., together with one delegate from each State Labor Council under the chairmanship of the Secretary of the Department of Labour approved by the Minister.

The respective Councils shall have the right to appoint their own directors, lecturers and supporting staffs and to determine their own syllabi and curricula.

With the election of a federal Labor government in 1972, the way was now open for government-funded union training.

Part 2: Passing the Trade Union Training Authority Bill, 1975

Given the heavy legislative program of the Labor government, the Bill to establish TUTA was not introduced to Parliament until 6 March 1975.[3] The second reading debate took place in the House of Representatives on 23 April. In the Senate, debate took place on 15 and 28 May and returned to the House of Representatives, with the amendments accepted, on 2 June. The Act was assented to on 6 June but not proclaimed until 8 September 1975.

       Although the TUTA Bill was not presented for more than two years after the December 1972 election, Clyde Cameron (Labor, Hindmarsh SA) Minister for Labour and Immigration, had been active. He established an Interim Committee of the Australian Council for Trade Union Training (November 1973) comprising Dr Ian Sharp, Head of the Department of Labour, three representatives of the ACTU, one representative each from ACSPA and CAGEO, and one each from the state labour councils, and provided funding for courses in several states and for the summer schools.[4]

       Cameron had also encouraged the national Interim Committee[5] to start work on the design of the national trade union college[6], and ground was broken at the Wodonga site in early October 1975. The selection of Wodonga for the college arose from the creation of the regional growth centre Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation (1973–2014) by the Department of Urban and Regional Development (DURD) under Tom Uren, and on Cameron’s indication to Peter Matthews[7] that acres in the Albury-Wodonga Growth Centre were available immediately, but land in Canberra was more problematic. State interim committees had also been active developing and conducting courses.

       One final element in the successful creation of TUTA was time Cameron spent with Malcolm Fraser (Coalition Opposition leader when the Bill being debated) as Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations. Fraser had been strongly courted by Cameron. Fraser also visited many trade union offices. By the time he became Leader of the Opposition he had developed a broader view of trade unions and their role in society than some of his colleagues.

       Key contributions to the debate in the House of Representatives are outlined below:[8]

Clyde Cameron (Labor, Hindmarsh, SA) said at the commencement of the debate on the Bill on 6 March 1975:

       I can say to the House now that there is no absolute need to bring down legislation on this subject. The Bill is therefore an expression of the Government’s intention that what it is already doing will be the subject of continuing parliamentary scrutiny.[9]

Cameron stated the Bill’s purpose as the:

       provision of adequate training facilities for trade unionists – both their leaders and their rank and file members … (with) training programs designed specifically for their needs.

He noted that despite more than 50% of workers being unionised, public resources for training unionists are “negligible compared with those available for management training”.

       Interestingly, Cameron said that there were “too many unions”, as did conservative Sen. Raymond Steele Hall (Liberal Movement, SA) as an interjection into Sen. Button’s (Labor, Vic.) address. Button agreed. Sen. Wright (Liberal, Tas.) had spoken favourably about the influential Donovan Report[10] into trade unions in the United Kingdom, published in 1968, which drew attention to the multiplicity of unions and some detrimental effects this might cause.

       Cameron did not call for union amalgamation to reduce the number of unions, but amalgamation did figure in several addresses during the debate. Sen. George Georges (Labor, Qld.) responded to another Sen. Hall interjection “Why do you not get up and advocate amalgamation?” Sen. Ivor Greenwood (Liberal, Vic.), while focusing on communist influence in unions, was granted leave to insert in Hansard an address by prominent left-wing unionist John Halfpenny, in which Halfpenny described a radical form of amalgamation.[11] Sen. Reginald Bishop (Labor, SA and Post Master General) in his reply noted that easier amalgamation was a component of proposed changes to the Conciliation & Arbitration Act, which was being held up by the Opposition. He also indicated that union amalgamation was one of several methods for tackling inflation.

       The uniqueness of the Australian conciliation and arbitration system and its implications for unions, and the need for training, was also noted by Cameron. It was left to others to expand on this point (see below).

       Public support for union training was also justified by Cameron because of wider social and economic changes that were occurring:

       Technological change, acceleration in the economic growth rate, the changing industrial relations scene with collective bargaining and worker participation in management, and growing complexity of awards and legislation all add to the demands placed upon today’s union official. The workforce is now better educated and unions are having an increasing impact on society. It is crucial to better labor relations that those who do business on behalf of organised labor know and are able to articulate the views of those whom they represent. At the shop floor level, the shop steward traditionally fulfils a formidable number of duties. He is a vital link in the chain of communication that ought to operate between shop floor and management.

Cameron identified two major features proposed under the Bill:

  1. “trade union training to be offered by a national college and State centres which are established solely for that purpose.” This training must be a “special responsibility of the union movement to formulate its own training schemes to accord with its own ideas and not to leave them to outside institutions”; and
    1. “paid educational leave.”[12]

Cameron continued that there were some programs run by publicly funded tertiary education institutions (such as the Graduate School of Management at UNSW) which were attended by some unionists, but the programs were not designed specifically to develop the expertise of unionists as officials and members in the union movement. This fact justified separate training for which there was ample international evidence. He did not rule out cooperation with tertiary institutions in the future.

       Cameron concluded by outlining the structure and machinery proposed in the Bill.

Tony Street (Liberal, Corangamite) Coalition Shadow Minister for Industrial relations, led for the Opposition on 23 April, 1975 when the Bill was returned for its second reading.

       Liberal policy, according to Tony Street, was that:

We support the concept of trade union training. We support the concept of a National Council for Trade Union Training.

However, he went on to say:

We would seek to have established in appropriate educational institutions programs specifically designed to meet the needs of trade unionists. To assist in that purpose, we support the concept of a National Council of Trade Union Education whose task it would be to develop special relationships with the appropriate educational institutions to see that the content of courses specifically met the needs of trade unions. Training would be required in a wide variety of subjects at different levels to assist unionists in the execution of their official union duties. Subjects would include, among other things:

The provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, its principles and purposes

The functions and duties of shop stewards

The question of union rules

How to run an office

The relationship of branch and federal offices

How to serve a log of claims

How to seek variation of an award

The provisions of workers compensation.

We strongly believe that appropriate courses should be conducted as far as practicable in existing educational and training institutions. Trade union education and training should not be shut off from other forms of education. Where subject matters overlap, courses should be conducted jointly for unionists and industrial officers.

He expressed some concern at the ‘isolative’ approach of separate training cut off from existing educational institutions. But he did accept:

the necessity of special courses directed specifically towards union officials and potential union officials to train them to cope with the increasing complex demands being made on them.

Street also accepted that a wide range of issues were relevant for union training “including knowledge and understanding of human relations”. He recognised claims in support of union training which used more innovative learning strategies when lauding:

courses run by the Department of Labor Relations and Consumer Affairs in Queensland. These courses are open to all with a legitimate interest in industrial relations and utilise group discussion techniques as part of the training to enable trade union officials and industrial officers to gain an appreciation and an understanding of each other’s point of view.

Street noted the provision outlined in clause 5(c) of the Bill:

I draw the attention of the Minister particularly to this aspect of it (Clause 5c) – “including that performed by bodies and institutions other than the colleges and trade union training centres”. I ask the Minister: Could this give the Authority power to control future or existing training programs at universities and colleges of advanced education and technical colleges, such as I referred to a moment ago, which are conducting courses, even where the Authority had made no financial contribution to them?

While accepting that the union training would be specific to the skills and knowledge required to be an effective trade union officer, Street wanted individuals (not just elected representatives) to be accepted in courses and hinted that at some stage such individuals “could, say, become legitimate challengers in union elections”.

       While employers were, he said, generally in favour of union training, there had been occasions when those receiving paid training leave had, upon returning to the firm, “become dedicated to destroying the partnership approach to industrial relations”.

       ‘Jobs for the boys’ (failed Labor candidates for example) being appointed rather than “the best people in its councils … and on its staff” was another potential concern.[13]

       Street noted an article in the Communist Party newspaper Tribune by Max Ogden, then Victorian Education Officer of the AMWU. Ogden claimed that the AMWU’s shop steward training program had radicalised members. Despite this comment Street felt that union courses of ideological indoctrination “have not been successful”.

       Street called Cameron’s view that the Labor approach to union training corrected an imbalance with government funding of management education ‘nonsense’, as anyone could attend such courses.

       In response to a later interjection by John Dawkins (Labor, Tangney, WA), Street stressed that TUTA should not conduct courses for single unions.[14]

       In conclusion, Street hoped that the Authority would work to dispel the ‘we’ and ‘them’ attitude in industrial relations.

Malcolm Fraser (Liberal, Wannon, Vic.) former Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations and now Leader of the Opposition, joined the debate as the eighth speaker (after Cameron, Street, Dawkins, Ian Macphee (Liberal, Balaclava, Vic.), Laurie Wallis (Labor. Grey, SA), John McVeigh (National Country Party (NCP)), Darling Downs, QLD) and Keith Johnson (Labor, Burke, Vic.), possibly reacting to the tone of the comments (see below) by McVeigh, and the understanding that some Coalition Senators intended to speak in opposition to the Bill. Fraser specifically supported the Bill, subject to amendments, and endorsed Street’s view that a National Council for Trade Union Training would arrange for tertiary education institutions to provide the required training. Fraser emphasised the Coalition’s failure (including his own) to recognise the necessity for trade union training at a time when tertiary education was being expanded. He demonstrated the impact of his time as Shadow Industrial Relations Minister, talking with trade union officers, when he emphasised:

… the two different concepts or approaches possible in relation to trade union training. … The Minister has chosen the approach of establishing a separate institution where the course, under the guidance of the national council, will be devised. The alternative approach would have been to have the national council establish special relationships with bodies such as the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, which has always had a close and useful link with the trade union movement. The secretary of the Trades and Labor Council in Melbourne still lectures at the Institute on a regular basis. There has been a long and continuing and useful link between that organisation and the trade union movement in Victoria.

Our concept would have been to blend the courses on to bodies such as that or the University of New South Wales so that trade union training could become part of the general educational stream. I think it is worth noting that the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation of Australia pays the University of New South Wales to run trade union courses for that union.

He went on to recognise that the lack of formal qualifications on the part of some participants would require specialist training, and that the range of subjects was likely to include difficult issues such as the effect of different industrial jurisdictions at state and federal level, workers’ compensation, and running an office. He also noted that not all unions supported the approach taken in the Bill.[15]

       Fraser concluded by discussing the amendments the Coalition proposed:

The first amendment suggests that a member of Parliament from each side of the House be on the national council. I hope the Minister will feel that that is a proper principle and that members of Parliament should be interested and concerned in what is done. That might lead to a better understanding and a better debate in this place, with more reason and less passion than is sometimes the case. I know it is the objective of the Minister to have industrial relations debates in this place with reason, less passion and more understanding than there has been at some times in the past.

In that thought he was to be disappointed. The tenor of the debate on the Bill, though ostensibly bi-partisan, was certainly full of passion. In the Senate, it was a bun fight. Some Coalition speakers gave vent to their anti-union views, but finally accepted the legislation. Fraser, the Headmaster, had spoken.

The Debate

The opening to the debate by Cameron and Street was straightforward. There was bi-partisan support for the legislation, though the Coalition expressed a preference that existing tertiary institutions should provide services for a National Council of Trade Union Education, rather than a dedicated institution for trade union training.[16]

Labor speakers took the opportunity to remind the Opposition of their record in government. They explained and justified the approach taken in the legislation, noting that tertiary education institutions had failed to provide for representatives of workers, and that new training methods and training facilities were more relevant to the educational needs of trade union representatives. Several spoke from experience on union training courses.

       Mick Young (Labor, Port Adelaide, SA): “between 1949 and 1972 the movement fared very badly under legislation presented to the House by the Government formed by the conservative Parties”. Wallis added: “the record of the Liberal-Country Party government, over the years has been one of an anti-working class government”.

       As indicated earlier, the Australian industrial relations system has unique aspects. The implications for unionists, and the need for training, was outlined by Joe Riordan (Labor, Phillip, NSW), a former NSW Assistant State Secretary (winning the position in 1952 on an anti-communist ticket) and then Federal Secretary of the Federated Clerks Union from 1958 until he entered Parliament in 1972. His long years of experience allowed him to make clear the difficulties the system created:

there is a dichotomy of power between the State parliaments and the national Parliament. The Australian Parliament can legislate only in respect of interstate disputes, and then only to establish means for the settlement of industrial disputes that extend beyond the limits of any one State. We should recognise that by way of practice the various State legislatures have had a monopoly in the fields of workers’ compensation, safety procedures – in the main – and, to some extent, long service leave. This situation creates difficulties in that an employee, a shop steward, a junior trade union official and even a senior trade union official have to look at 2 sets of statutes, State and national, in order to ascertain the rights and obligations of the union and its members.

Labor speakers stressed:

  • that unions had a rightful place in Australian society, representing 53% of the workforce;
    • that funding for management training was substantial, but for unions nearly non-existent despite their importance to the functioning of society;
    • the wide range of skills required and obligations imposed on union officers;[17]
    • that major changes were occurring in society impacting relationships in the workplace such as:
      • application of automation to work
      • increased employment of women
      • changes in the already complex and different (especially for migrants) system of conciliation and arbitration with its complex jurisdictional differences
      • increase in collective bargaining
      • interest in safety at work[18]
      • expanding activity in union enterprises, in credit unions, welfare, ‘child minding’
    • need for specific training in short courses, in purpose-designed premises, rather than in existing tertiary institutions whose buildings were not designed for short intensive courses, nor were staff equipped with the relevant skills or experience;
    • rejection of: joint union-management training creating ‘buddy buddies’; union officers as ‘good functionaries’; ‘sleeping beautifully with capitalism’; of a bi-partite system of training unions and employers together;
    • that some unions that had accessed training at tertiary institutions because there was no alternative;
    • acceptance of amendments proposed by the Coalition for representatives of the PM, Opposition Leader, and Minister for Education to be involved in a governing body;[19]
    • the system of conciliation and arbitration obliges the parties to take an adversarial approach (Sen. Button).

Coalition speakers all supported the Bill. Some took a relatively positive line, recognising that unions were important, major players in society and worthy of recognition while indicating ways in which training for unionists could contribute to improved industrial relations, greater productivity and improved working life. All took the opportunity to note, however, some of the ‘costs’ of the nearly three years of federal Labor government. Some emphasised this more than others, and clearly baited Labor in the Senate with numerous interjections and tirades against unions.

The more positive Coalition speakers (Macphee in the House and Senate, Margaret Guilfoyle (Liberal, Vic.) in the Senate) stressed:

  • their support for the Bill, as it was similar to their policy of a National Council for Union Training;
    • their approach would have integrated union training into the tertiary education system rather than isolate it;
    • concern that separate training would deny free exchange of views and understanding between management and the trade unions (Guilfoyle);
    • doubts about what would be the nature of training required (concern about left wing ideology);
    • interest in such topics as job restructuring, job enrichment, job design, job satisfaction, job dullness, job turnover (these latter a factor in strikes and sickies), improvements from computers (Macphee);
    • an actual interest in the structure of TUTA, suggesting that it represented a positive view of appropriate federal-state relations (Guilfoyle);
    • interest in whether training would include discussion about commercial ventures, such as trade union enterprises (Guilfoyle);

The more negative Coalition speakers (McVeigh and Philip Ruddock (Liberal, Parramatta, NSW) in the House and Douglas Scott (Liberal, NSW), Wright and Greenwood, plus Steele Hall in the Senate) drew attention to:

  • the social changes the Labor government were introducing; “the acid corrosion of a socialist welfare state is staining the idea of a responsible society and cluttering up the money printing presses”; … “trade union leadership in this country is in urgent need in not only education but also responsibility” … “the heartless platitudes of Hawke, Carmichael, Halfpenny and others who quite apparently have grown up in an environment where those who supply the capital, take the risks, and create employment and security are to be opposed” McVeigh);
    • that unions were once very necessary “ … in 1830” … but not so much today. He went on to say, however, “it is very desirable that we credit to the trade union movement and its development a considerable portion of the improvement that has taken place.” (Sen. Wright);
    • emphasis on contemporary events in the UK concerning an increase in the power of unions “The most obvious shift in the locus of power has been towards the trade unions”. (Sen. Wright); “We, the weaker, are about to set up an authority to educate the stronger.” (Sen. Hall), who quoted from Paul Johnson, editor of The New Statesman: “… unions have refused to recognise the limits of their historical role. … they have flatly declined to allow the smallest diminution of their power to press the sectional interests they represent”; “The trade union movement in Australia is an immensely powerful institution”, (Sen. Greenwood), who saw the influence of Communist officials growing from 20 in 1937 to close to 1,000 in 1974;
    • objection to “belly-aching pommy shop stewards in this country who are disrupting so much of the industry in this country”, Sen. Scott;
    • quoting from John Halfpenny: “trade union power should be directed towards challenging the very basis of the present system and replacing the power of employers,” Sen. Greenwood gained leave to include Halfpenny’s address in 1974 to a UNSW conference.[20]

Sen. Bishop (Labor, SA, Postmaster-General) in reply, complained that everyone seemed to be in favour of the Bill, but the Opposition was using it as an opportunity to attack trade unions. He provided a list of the courses and activities that had been funded to date, and responded to comments by Senators (such as whether persons not an official could attend courses, to which he replied that it was up to the various councils of the Authority). Minor amendments were agreed in committee, mainly due to changes proposed by Street in the House. The Bill returned to the House, where it was passed on 2 June 1975.


Some interesting ideas were floating through these debates which would have long term effects. Perhaps the most startling was the seeming acceptance by prominent members of the Coalition parties, including the Leader of the Opposition, that the trade union movement, at that time representing 53% of the workforce, was “here to stay”. As the unions could exercise such immense power, as they had at times over the previous ten years, conservative leaders decided that rather than opposing them, and this Bill, an accommodation was necessary.

       A second idea, from both sides of the debate, was that union amalgamations would probably be beneficial. This was a somewhat strange view, particularly from the Coalition side, because if unions, as fragmented as they were at the time, were so powerful, wouldn’t fewer, larger unions be even more powerful? But considering the bipartisan support for trade union training, the real irony of the effect of amalgamations came much later, with the strategic unionism process begun after the publication, in 1987, of Australia Reconstructed,[21] because the amalgamations were an important factor in the eventual demise of TUTA. They led to the change of policies by TUTA, allowing single union courses through placing trainers with these larger unions, accompanied by an allocation of significant funding as well. As more and more training was conducted in-house by individual unions, less was conducted in ways which provided opportunities for participants to understand the wider issues facing trade unionists outside their own union. Solidarity was lessened.[22]

       A further idea was that it was the uniqueness of the Australian industrial relations system that more than anything required the training of union officers and representatives. Yet the gradual rejection of the centrality of the federal Commission from the late 1980s resulted in the major changes of enterprise bargaining and the eventual sidelining of the Commission. Indeed, several of the Labor speakers in the debate voiced support for collective bargaining.

       The Coalition had some difficulty in seeing trade union training as a unique activity, being rather more akin to Workers Education Associations, or various non-certification based adult education programs. They wished to see it within the framework of certified tertiary education. This mindset was evident in many of the parliamentary addresses. To some degree during the Fraser government period, however, the model upon which the Act was based, that is, a statutory body in which unions determined training philosophy, and training practice which were provided in short courses, was accepted.

       The Coalition were in a difficult position. Fraser had drawn attention to the Coalition’s preference of incorporating trade union training into already existing tertiary institutions. However, he had developed a view of trade unions as an integral part of society that should be accommodated, having seen their power demonstrated in their role in opposing the C&A penalty clauses, in the rejection of absorption of the over award payments in the Total Wage decision of 1966, in their ability, for a variety of reasons, since December 1972 to raise wages by some 60%, and in their role in opposition to the Vietnam War. Because of these issues, and the siren song of Clyde Cameron, the Coalition’s leadership determined to support the Bill.

       What is interesting is that, very soon after the passage of the Bill, Fraser and the Coalition were in office after the Dismissal. Instead of simply stepping in to amend the Act to follow their preferred model of trade union training, the Coalition stood by a decision made by Fraser to conduct a tripartite Committee of Inquiry. It seems clear that the union man, Harry Hauenschild president of the Trades and Labour Council of Queensland, employer John Menz from South Australia and the chair, Commissioner Alan Paine, resisted departmental advice.[23] A great deal of evidence was presented as to the rapidity with which TUTA courses were taken up and the variety of unions involved. Many unions and unionists made submissions, including as the committee visited each TUTA Centre. There were amendments to the Act under the Coalition government, which will be analysed in a further document, but TUTA grew massively under Fraser, from less than 20 staff to more than 100. That figure did not subsequently grow under Labor from 1983-96.

       This acceptance of unions that featured in the debates was not to last after the Coalition returned to power in 1975. Forces within the Liberal Party, less inclined to accommodate unions, and in employer organisations and companies, began to shift the Liberal Party to the right. Several developments signify this shift. These include changes to the Trade Practices Act 1974, introduced by John Howard (Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs) which outlawed secondary boycotts through Sections 45D and E of the Act. These provisions encouraged a range of actions from certain employers, employer associations and conservative activists. The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) in particular became more active, becoming involved in disputes over live sheep exports, wide comb shearing, and the Mudginberri abattoir dispute (1978–85). In 1986, the Robe River mining dispute, the formation of the H.R. Nicholls Society and the Dollar Sweets dispute assisted in the development of a more coherent philosophy of anti-union action.

       With the return of the Coalition to government in 1996 the scene was set for the closure of TUTA, the waterfront dispute and the introduction of the Work Choices legislation.


[1]      The author worked with the International Labour Organization, conducting programs in former and not so former Communist countries (such as Mongolia and Vietnam) at which the notion of short practical courses for union workplace representatives was a revelation. Their experience was that suitable candidates were taken out of their workplace and sent to university for five years.

[2]      P.W.D. Matthews and G.W. Ford (eds.), Australian Trade Unions, Sun Books, Melbourne, 1968.

[3]      And also, perhaps, some reluctance in the caucus given some unions were not certain of the approach, a point mentioned by some of the Coalition members in the debate. There may also have been resistance in the Department.

[4]      Including in 1975 funding for a number of women to attend the 1974 summer school.

[5]      There were interim committees in each state chaired by a senior officer of the Department.

[6]      Once the National Trade Union College was named the Clyde Cameron College, the large containers of equipment on which the CCCP(roject) was imprinted led to the local notion that it was “Red Square” at which communists were be trained.

[7]      Peter Matthews was Education Officer of the ACTU, and was seconded with two others to the Interim Committee.

[8]      Twelve MPs took part in the debate in the House (in order): Cameron, Street, Dawkins, Macphee, Wallis, McVeigh, Johnson, Fraser, Young, Ruddock, Riordan, David Connolly (Liberal Bradfield, NSW) and ten in the Senate: Bishop, Scott, Button, Wright, Mulvihill, Guilfoyle, Steele Hall, Young, Don Cameron (Clyde Cameron’s brother, Lab. SA) and Greenwood.

[9]      Several Opposition speakers noted this statement. McVeigh (NCP, Darling Downs) saw it as a positive. It “indicate(s) that even in the Australian Labor Party there is some appreciation of the role of Parliament.” Ruddock saw it as a threat: “if the Opposition did not give the Government the sort of Bill that it wants on the terms and conditions that it wants, the Government would go ahead and do what it wanted to do anyway because it has the money – it is sitting on the treasury bench and it does not matter what the Parliament says or thinks.”

[10]    Report of the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers Association (1968).

[11]    Halfpenny stated that many amalgamations were takeovers by larger unions of smaller ones. This new approach involved a combination of unions, each “quite strong and large and none being compelled to amalgamate to survive”.

[12]    Paid time off for trade union education was a component of paid education leave contained in International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 140. Coalition speakers noted the Convention and that it involved tri-partite agreement. Tony Street (Liberal, Corangamite, Vic) accepted that, as yet, paid leave was not mandated suggesting that, had it been mandated in Australia, it would have weakened the argument for ‘separate training’ and the Coalition would have sought a tri-partite approach.

[13]    Frank Doyle former Queensland AFULE Secretary had been elected to Parliament in 1972 but lost in 1974. He was appointed Queensland director in February 1975, resigned 14/11/75 and reappointed 15/12/75.

[14]    A policy which continued until major changes in the allocation of funds from 1993.

[15]    Throughout the years of its existence TUTA faced antipathy from some unions on both the left and the right. Some union officials took a view that it would threaten their positions (suggested by several Opposition speakers). Others feared that trainers would be of the opposite political view to their union.

[16]    The programs supported by Labor state governments in WA, SA and Tas. were for trade union education. However, Cameron was clearly thinking ahead when he moved Item 12 at the 1973 ALP Federal Conference. It called for trade union training. It was explained at the 1974 Summer School that if the Interim Committee was to be for trade union education control of it might have gone to the Minister for Education, Kim Beazley.

[17]    Sen. Button mentioned: “They (obligations) are very considerable. It is true to say that a good trade union official in Australia must have first of all a knowledge of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. He must have a knowledge of the rules of his union. He must possess, if possible, something of the arts of advocacy. He should know something about economics. He should know something about the art of negotiating and he should, if possible, have qualities of leadership which are not required by vast numbers of people in our community exercising responsibilities for which they receive the same sort of remuneration. In addition, he has the added burden of knowing that if he does not perform in these areas and does not reach up to the requirements which go to make up a sort of ‘six million dollar man’, he has to face at periodic intervals an election which might result in his losing his job.”

[18]    The focus at the time was very much on ‘industrial safety’. Interest in ‘occupational health” was stimulated in part by awareness in TUTA of the US 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the UK 1974 Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the work of South Australian epidemiologist Tony McMichael and of Matt Peacock, ABC reporter involved in exposing the hazards of asbestos. He also was a trainer for six months at the College.

[19]    Only Mick Young opposed that idea, saying, “I think that to have 3 members of Parliament on the council would be something which in later years we may regret. It seems to me that in that way we may interfere with the proper conduct of the College and with the proper setting of the syllabus for those people who attend the trade union college.”

[20]    UNSW 1974 Symposium New Developments in Trade Union Interests & Activities “Union Views” by John Halfpenny Victorian State Secretary Amalgamated Metal Workers’ Union Thursday, 21st November 1974.

[21]    Australia reconstructed: ACTU/TDC Mission to Western Europe. A report by the mission members to the ACTU and the TDC, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1987.

[22]    One of the distinguishing features of TUTA until 1993 was that its courses were multi-union. Doug Melvin, a participant in TUTA courses in Victoria, South Australia and at the Clyde Cameron College, Wodonga, wrote recently in a contribution to Remembering TUTA: “Overall the great advantage of TUTA was that it brought delegates from other unions together to share experiences. This is something sadly lacking today as unions do their own training for their members without exposing members to experiences of other unions and unionists.” Bill Kelty, shortly after the 1993 re-election of Labor stated “TUTA is about putting back to the affiliates the responsibility for doing their own training, especially basic training. In the last couple of years there has been a lot of change in TUTA. TUTA now has put in place a service more in tune with the needs of affiliates and the question of the requirements of their industries and enterprises.” The Canberra Times (ACT) Sat 3 Apr 1993, p. 43.

[23]    Despite the Paine Committee report being broadly in favour of what TUTA was doing, the Department continued to press for restrictions upon TUTA. The pressure is outlined in articles by Bruce Juddery in The Canberra Times from March 1977 – April 1978. Juddery described “A subterranean but vigorous bureaucratic battle has been joined over the future of TUTA.” The Canberra Times (ACT) Tue 19 July 1977, p. 9. The main concern of the Department was the autonomy that the Act creating a statutory authority provided to TUTA.