Keating pays tribute to 'exceptional unionist'
At a gala dinner at the ACTU Congress last night, former Prime Minister Paul Keating paid tribute to former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty.
At a gala dinner at the ACTU Congress last night, former Prime Minister Paul Keating paid tribute to former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty. IT WAS the Paul and Bill show, together again after all those years.At a gala dinner at the ACTU Congress last night, former Prime Minister Paul Keating paid tribute to former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty.Mr Kelty, secretary of the ACTU from 1983 to 2000, was "Australia's most exceptional trade unionist", Mr Keating said.Lesser union leaders would not have acknowledged the economic problems Australia faced in the 1980s, Mr Keating said."A lesser ACTU secretary," Mr Keating said, "would have gone for the smother and hung on to the old system like a familiar old blanket".Without Kelty, he said, Australia would not have a national superannuation scheme.Nor would Australia have an enterprise bargaining system that had allowed the economy the flexibility and resilience to see the country through turbulent financial times.Among the crowd of 1000 union members and delegates was another Labor hero, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.Mr Kelty had spotted the huge structural defects in the Australian economy in the 1970s, Mr Keating said.He saw, Mr Keating said, tariffs that asked Australians "to pay much more than they should have paid for their shoes, their shirts, and the things of life - while promoting industrial sloth".Instead, Mr Kelty had worked with the Hawke and Keating governments, and knocked inflation on the head."Few would realise that at the heart of the anti-inflation constituency was Bill Kelty - not some corporate wiz or a Business Council supremo," Mr Keating said. "They wouldn't have a clue how to break the back of inflation."But Mr Kelty knew inflation "put the biggest monkey on working peoples' backs as it tore away at their savings and their income and saddled them up with larger mortgages", Mr Keating said.Mr Keating struck out at the Labor Party of the late 1990s, who he said had "forfeited Labor's ownership of [economic achievement]".Mr Kelty said today was a testing time for the labour movement and unions, and launched a spirited defence of the Gillard government, lauding the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National broadband Network as among its greatest achievements.He said Australia was dramatically restructuring as radically as it had in the 1980s.And he said there was a role the labour movement could play again, as it had in the 1980s. "We took the cuts, and we took the pains and we argued that this country would be better off in the future," Mr Kelty said.