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Opening address by Senator Peter Cook, Minister for Industrial Relations, at the 3rd national conference of the total quality management institute, Wrest point conference centre, Hobart, monday 11 may 1992 (8.45 am)

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Thank you, Alan Findlay,, for your kind introduction. Thank you, our world-famous Rosny Children's Choir: that was a wonderful way to start the working week. And good morning to everybody at the start of the 3rd National Conference of the

Total Quality Management Institute.

It's said that nobody is more enthusiastically wedded to reform at the coalface than devotees of TQM. So I suppose I could be accused of coming all this way to preach to people who are already converted. It's a criticism I can take. The more one gets to know about workplace reform, the more one

realises how much more there is to learn. We'll all learn a great deal from this conference: you from your attendance over the next couple of days and I from the reports I shall get of the proceedings.

‘ I don't need to spell out in chapter and verse the history of how reform has become so urgent and so critical for this country. With all the natural wealth we had at our disposal, we were able to afford the luxury of years of the inward, lazy

thinking that comes with prosperity that's unearned. By the 1980s, just about everybody with whom we do business had a huge jump on us. We had insulated ourselves from it all. Any number of studies were repeating the same general point: we'd

fallen dangerously behind our competition, particularly in productivity and quality standards. Our customers were getting restive. And we had no time at all to do something about it.

I might say that finding urgent ways to solve chronic problems is a difficult political, as well as economic, development. It entails constantly having to tell the people whose electoral goodwill is a government's lifeblood that it's cold

shower time: the old cozy days are gone: we have to get out there and mix it. It's an experience no government has had since the days of reconstruction after World War II. I'm proud that neither the Australian Government nor the Australian people have flinched at the task.

The Government has tackled it by policy development, by jaw­ boning, by financial and other kinds of support, whatever way we can. And we've done it all with an unprecedented degree of social cohesion.

Reform at the coalface is a complex and often frustrating business. Changing hearts and minds always is. It can't be done in five minutes. It can't be done by somebody in Canberra signing a piece of paper. It can't be done by

regulation. You can't put new technology into old work



conditions. You can't demand that workers be smarter, more responsible and more sophisticated and still leave their brains out at the factory gate. New work organisation can't co-exist with old hierarchies. You can't buy reform programs off the peg, like computer games.

The only really simple thing about the reform issue is this: reform of industry begins with reform of the workplace and reform of the workplace begins with industrial relations. Adherents of TQM would appreciate this.

I have a brief commercial at this point. It's for a publication called Industrial Relations at Work and it's the result of the Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey which was conducted by staff of my Department. AWIRS (as we call it) is the most detailed analysis ever done of what's happening in the Australian workplace. In the process, it has produced a most arresting picture of the degree of difficulty we face in climbing over the reform hurdle. AWIRS found

extensive and diverse change at workplace level. But it also found that there are many managers who want change but can't get it. And the main reasons for this aren't irresponsible unions or lazy workers. They're corporate policy or lack of

financial and other resources.

So reform isn't a simple matter of cutting wages, or deregistering unions, or cancelling awards, or making people work longer hours and all the other brainwaves of politicians, academic theorists and other noisy bystanders. It's a very

complicated business and the complication is aggravated by the fact that successive governments have run away from the whole issue.

This government has bucked the trend. As I said a moment ago, we have mounted a range of programs to support workplace reform. We've allocated $40 million to our Workplace Reform Program, for example. Its broad aim is to support tripartite

reform programs in specific sectors or industries: local government, for example; textiles, clothing and footwear, food preserving.

I have before me at the moment a proposal to support a mobile unit to promote English language and literacy training in Tasmania. There's a broad coalition of forces involved in this: the Tasmanian Trades and Labour Council, the Tasmanian

Confederation of Industry, the Tasmanian Fishing Industry Training Board, the Tasmanian Division of Adult Education and IBM Australia.

Another reform activity which we're supporting is the Australian Best Practice Demonstration Program. In fact, we've allocated $25 million to this program over a two-year period. It's designed to encourage Australian companies to

identify, promote and use world best practice in their own operations. It's run by my Department with the Australian Manufacturing Council and one of the things about it that


gives me great pride is that John Prescott, CEO of BHP and one of our most successful industry leaders, is actively involved in its operation. A tripartite mission helped by the Program to investigate best practice in Japan, the US and Europe

issued its report only last week. I'm confident that it will be a stimulating contribution to debate on this crucial reform issue.

More than 400 companies have applied to take part in the Best Practice Program. This is encouraging in itself. But it also indicates that consciousness of the need to transform our workplace culture is wide and growing wider. The business people involved in it such as Mr Prescott and Dick Warburton

of Du Pont (Australia) — who led the overseas mission, by the way -- happen to be leaders in the movement for high-quality change in Australia. The companies which bid to be included in and supported by the Program have to be able to show that

they already have change programs planned or in action. They also have to agree to spread the news about their change progress to other companies. So awareness spreads — not only of the need for high quality change, but also of the rewards

that it can bring. The result is that we have in this program the active support for change of the most ambitious and potentially the most productive 400 companies in Australia.

I've dwelt on the Best Practice Program today for a particular reason. One of the things that has been said of the Baldrige TQM Award in the US is that it's "a strong predictor of long­ term survival" for the companies involved. I believe that

this is also becoming true of the Best Practice Program.

The overseas mission identified several elements which were common to all the leading edge operations that it studied. I'll finish with some brief remarks about just one:

"extensive consultation and communication with unions and employees to develop a shared understanding and commitment to corporate goals and strategy".

It shouldn't need remarking here that the knowledge and co­ operation of all involved in a company -- unions, employees, management, stakeholders — should be mobilised if performance and quality are to be lifted. It stands to reason that — if

the work culture is weak because the work environment is arid and unfriendly -- results will be below potential.

ANM is a Tasmanian company (and a Best Practice Program participant) which observes this point. Indeed, the Federal Government is helping the company to fund a tour of Europe and America by employees to study best practice.

I mention ANM because its workplace relations offer an example of commonsense to its industry, in contrast to APPM which appears to have declared war not only on its employee representatives but also on the whole community of Burnie. APPM has its reasons, I suppose. But, as Premier Groom has


made clear, it's behaving in an odd and counter-productive way if it genuinely wants to get the co-operation and respect from its employees that ANM has.

If your management policy is that employees should come to work expecting to be fired, you're turning your back on a valuable company resource. If on the other hand you use the experience and knowledge of everybody in your workplace,

everybody and your workplace will be rewarded. Nobody can afford to return to the old ways in which the boss gave out the orders and the workers just carried them out. Those divisions aren't only outmoded; they're also positively harmful to the enterprise. The point should be axiomatic.

TQM — like all the avenues of practical reform -- depends on the involvement and support of all the workforce. This obviously is to the benefit of management, employees and stakeholders: everybody involved. But the benefit goes much wider. Don Peterson, a TQM devotee who was chairman of Ford, remarked recently about "America's rediscovery of co-operation as a national strength".

This is the central point of the Government's reform agenda, and it's a text for conferences such as this: to help each other find ways to make products of the highest possible quality at the lowest possible cost in the least possible time to the greatest possible benefit of all involved. It's easier

to say than to do. It's a lot harder -- indeed, it's just about impossible -- if one group or another is kept out of the process.

I emphasise this absolutely crucial point wherever I go on the reform trail. It's the reason I have such pleasure in being asked to be here today: co-operation, communication and participation are central to the success of TQM and all reform mechanisms which can give the whole community such enormous benefit. I look forward to the reports of this conference and

I wish all here great success in your deliberations.

Thank you.

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