Things You Learn Along The Way By John Menadue

According to Wikipedia: “John Laurence Menadue AO (born 8 February 1935) is an Australian businessman and public commentator, and formerly a senior public servant and diplomat. He is currently a patron of Asylum Seekers Centre, a not-for-profit that provides personal and practical support to people seeking asylum in Australia.”

Here are some highlights from his 1999 autobiography:

* As a country boy from South Australia, I grew up in White Australia. Malayan students at university college unknowingly reflected White Australia back to me. It was an unpleasant experience. They changed my life and triggered my 45-year commitment to promoting Australia’s relations with Asia. Aldous Huxley described this change process: ‘Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with
what happens to him.’
A sceptical university professor unwittingly helped me draw a link between Christian values and social justice.
Gough Whitlam awakened a new world of ideas and opportunities for me. I am ever in his debt.
My first wife’s death in 1984 humbled me. I didn’t have the spiritual and psychological resources to handle the circumstances in which I found myself. It helped me to understand my vulnerability. I learned the hard way that success and status weren’t really important in the end. They were props that made it easier for me to shut out my inner voice. We learn best in hard times.
In the Catholic Church I encountered the same problem as in so many other institutions: the alienation of people from leaders who, despite the rhetoric, do not feel they are accountable. Power is inevitably abused.

* I am the son of a Methodist minister. That probably says more about me than anything else I can say about myself. So much of my life and how experiences affected me is predicated on my first 15 years in a Methodist manse.
Self-improvement and a strong work ethic were a part of daily life. We had to be ‘up and doing’. Idle hands made mischief. My sister and I were told that if we believed in something, the energy and enthusiasm to achieve goals at study or sport would come. Hard work and determination would produce better results than flashy brilliance. We
had a duty to try to make the world a little bit better.
My family were temperate, not given to wild flights of fancy or excess. Alcohol and gambling were taboo. Methodists were earnest. Time and effort should not be wasted on the superfluous.
I have never escaped the imprint of this upbringing. A close friend of mine often told me that I confused earnestness and competence. I think he was right.

* The Methodist Church was at the centre of our lives. An evangelical movement, Methodism grew out of the established Church of England in the mid-18th century. Methodists were dissenters and ‘methodical’ in
their devotions. They found that the Church of England had lost spiritual vitality. Their reform movement finally broke away and pursued its own course with emphasis on the New Testament, a very personal spiritual experience and social concern. The enthusiastic and confident singing of Charles Wesley hymns, set to Welsh tunes, and evangelical preaching are my warm and nostalgic recollections of Methodism. At church, bosomy organists pedalled furiously to get maximum volume out of the organ and led the singing at the top of their voices. Methodism was born in song.

* My father, Laurie, seldom referred to hardships. He was quite laconic. Although intelligent and an avid reader, he went only to fourth grade of primary school and then only for three days a week.

* He got into arguments with fundamentalists who thought he should be preaching more ‘fire and brimstone’. He saw them as very narrowminded and mean people. He knew that life was a lot more complicated than they thought. They hurt him a lot. His temper flared with them, but always passed quickly. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, but
not very active.

* Sickness was a respite. It was her way of asking for help.

* The first week in all those schools was painful. Even today, I feel alone in a schoolyard. I can still smell the bitumen playground in a February heatwave when we started at the new schools. On the first morning my mother would escort us. The headmaster would try to cheer us up, but didn’t help much. If you feel alone on the inside, outsiders can’t really help. Beth would be with me. She would be lonely too, although she was a better talker than me. But sisters are not much use in the schoolyard. You can’t stand talking to your sister all day. At
lunchtime I would quickly eat my mother’s soggy white sandwiches with tomato sprinkled with sugar, then I would sit close to a group of boys and wait until they started playing with a tennis or cricket ball. Then I would join them uninvited. I knew that I was good at sport and, given half a chance, I would be admitted to the group. Sport was
my way out of loneliness in the schoolyard.

* Those three years in the air force were the greatest years of my father’s life. He often spoke of them: the pleasure of male companionship after female-dominated local churches, travel to new places like Townsville,
new work and status, and without the grind of the circuit and the financial problems and parochialism that went with it.

* We had a highly developed puritan view of right and wrong, with an exaggerated sense of guilt–whether it was about alcohol, gambling or sex. God would love us if we were good and probably not otherwise. I was hard on myself
and hard on others. A good Methodist boy had to live by a strict moral code. There was to be no playing around with girls. Illegitimacy was a common subject of discussion at home or in the schoolyard. The stigma of illegitimacy was terrifying—a fate almost worse than death. What amazed me was that, despite the stigma, people kept doing those things outside marriage. What was the attraction? It takes a while to work that out of one’s system. It probably explains why, in later life, I found my Irish friends so attractive, and harboured a vicarious longing for their
lifestyle. How could you enjoy life, feeling guilty? We didn’t discuss many emotional or psychological issues within the family. There were no therapy sessions in our house. We knew the rules very clearly. Within those boundaries, Beth and I were expected to work things out for ourselves. We knew what had to be done and were
urged to get cracking. We learnt that we were responsible for success or failure. There was no point in blaming parents or the ‘system’.

* I had a stereotyped view about Asians as poor, unskilled workers or hustlers working street stalls in Bombay and
Singapore. A threat! But in Australia in 1953 there was a group of articulate and educated young Asian students. Their presence was reassuring. Not surprisingly the push to abolish White Australia came out of the universities and, particularly, Melbourne University. I recall the pamphlet Control or Colour Bar, published a few years later, which argued the moral case against White Australia but recognised that there had to be some restrictions on numbers or it would frighten the Australian community.

Lincoln College changed so many things for me. That experience, and other ‘foreign’ experiences, whether in Australia or Japan, taught me about Australia and myself. We are not often changed by the intellect but by experiences of the heart and emotions. As a result their influence is long lasting. It is also painful to admit error and then change. No wonder the Israelites murmured against Moses. They preferred the predictable life of slaves in Egypt rather than change and be free and uncertain in the wilderness.

* For those like me leaving university at the end of 1956, there was seldom concern about a job. It was simply a matter of picking and choosing. It was a lucky period for most Australians. There was economic growth and widening prosperity. For Prime Minister Menzies the British Empire still held sway and the countries of our region were becoming more prosperous but no threat strategically or economically. There was largescale white immigration. Aborigines looked like disappearing as a people and a problem. Foreign investment was pouring in. God seemed to be in his heaven and all was going well in our closed white world. The one cloud on the horizon was communism, with conservative governments everywhere thriving on anti-communist rhetoric. The ‘red menace’ was exploited to the limit.

* Re: Gough Whitlam: The tongue that could entertain could also lacerate. A Senate colleague was described as having a ‘conflict of disloyalty’. He retorted to a New Zealand academic in Canberra who irritated him that ‘the
best New Zealand academics make it to Oxford and Cambridge and the second raters make it only to Canberra’. A Liberal Member of Parliament, a former Presbyterian minister and oil exploration executive was referred to as ‘his oiliness’. He said a certain minister owed his promotion not to how he stood in Cabinet, but how he crawled outside

Whitlam usually preferred to throw his barbs from a distance in a letter or speech and then withdraw. There was no hand-to-hand combat. He avoided close confrontation if at all possible. I never saw him in an intense head-to-head argument…

He said that no matter how much he drank, no one would believe that he was drunk—and no matter how little a certain political opponent drank, no one would believe he was sober.

* He was always dignified, a quality which the Australian public greatly admired, particularly after the embarrassment of ‘Silly Billy’ McMahon as prime minister. McMahon had been asked in 1971 by Time Magazine about his
vision for the future. He requested from his press secretary the ‘file on the future’, and on being told there was no such file McMahon replied that he had nothing on the future.

* Opposition is a hard and thankless life. It destroys more Opposition leaders than it makes prime ministers. Whitlam described the problems he faced in his 1957 Chifley Lecture. ‘The way of the reformer is hard in Australia. Our Parliaments work within a constitutional framework which enshrines Liberal policy but bans Labor policy. Labor has to persuade the electorate to take two steps before it can implement its reform, first to elect a Labor Government, then to alter the Constitution.’

* In Los Angeles I met the Black Panthers, whom I had read so much about and admired for their radicalism. They were no ‘Uncle Toms’, pleading for a place in the sun; they confronted white racism head-on and didn’t pull their punches. I made a line for their newsstand to buy their weekly newspaper. An act of solidarity I thought, as I handed my 50 cents to the tall, imposing black man. Once I took the paper I was greeted with, ‘Fifty cents won’t save you, whitey’. So much for brotherhood.

* In 1963 and again in 1967, I was enthralled by Israel’s struggle to maintain democracy and its institutions and practices under unrelenting outside pressure. It was thrilling to see Israel’s modesty after its 1967 victory. We
met Prime Minister Eshkol and Foreign Minister Eban. On return to Canberra I inquired from the Israeli Ambassador whether our children might be able to live and work on a kibbutz with its communalism and socialist inspiration. He was delighted and said he would pursue it with me when the children were ready. In 1971 I visited Israel again. Israeli modesty had turned to arrogance. Solidarity with others had become contempt for the Palestinians they had displaced. The only opinion that seemed to count was their own. The King of Jordan, who had lost territory on the West Bank to the Israelis, was now derided as the ‘Mayor of Amman’. I forgot about the Israeli kibbutz for the children and from that time became increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinians. It seems to me that only more blood and tears lie ahead.

* Aside from poverty, two things struck me about India. The first was how firmly the British parliamentary and legal systems were rooted and how fervently they were admired. They loved things English. Politicians and bureaucrats we met spoke like Peter Sellers. The other thing that struck me was how India had copied some of the worst features of British bureaucracy, particularly its pedantry and pettiness.

* Queensland was the pilot state for Whitlam to publicise his policies and to hone his skills in the electorate. Up and down the state in 1960 and 1961, he recited figures to prove that Queensland was getting a raw deal from the Menzies Government, whether it was on roads, education or health, or whatever unfavourable comparison he could make. Queenslanders, even the most conservative, responded to the antisouthern and particularly the anti-Canberra message. It was very tribal, as if Whitlam was barracking for Queensland in a State of Origin football
match. He laid it on with a trowel. The story fell on very fertile ground in Queensland. Here was a great state, the ‘sleeping giant’ ready to develop but being restrained by unfair treatment from Canberra. Later, BjelkePetersen developed this story into an art form, blaming all his mistakes and problems on Canberra.

* Like most Australians we also had something of a cultural cringe—we were impressed by things British. In policy development we were influenced by the British Labour Party, particularly its National Health Scheme. The Wilson Labour Government had also promised Britain ‘a white-hot scientific revolution’, whereby science could open up new
economic and social benefits for British people. We worked hard on both health and science policy, influenced by the British experience.

* Nothing could illustrate Whitlam’s ‘crash through or crash’ attitude better than his speech to the Victorian Conference of the ALP on the evening of 9 June 1967. It was the most courageous and passionate speech I ever heard him make. He was in the lion’s den, living dangerously that night.

* (1967): I found Murdoch attractive. He was not part of the business or media establishment; he was a nationalist without colonial cringe and he was politically to the left of centre or at least had more of an open mind than
many other businessmen… Working with him for seven years I saw what drove him. It was not making money, as useful as that was, but gaining acceptance by and then influence with people in positions of power… Shy and reserved, he felt slighted by the establishment. He was dismissed as the ‘boy publisher’, the young bloke who had returned
from Oxford in 1953, ‘Rupert the chick’, young and fresh-faced. At Geelong Grammar, which he had attended in the late 1940s, he was ‘Red Rupert’. He wanted recognition and acceptance by senior business and political leaders in the way his father had enjoyed. Menzies and Holt had no time for him.

* The Australian national newspaper: Murdoch saw a market niche for a slightly left of centre newspaper, although he spent a lot of his life tugging it back from the left when he came under pressure from his business friends. He saw a broadsheet newspaper as a means of gaining political acceptance that his tabloids could not provide. He was also committed to national development and saw a national paper as essential to that. He didn’t particularly care for state governments. Throughout his public life and also privately he was a nationalist and a republican. He never took British awards, despite the fact that he could have expected that they would be offered to him. In
the end it was an Australian award that he accepted rather than a British award. Even though he later took American citizenship I always found him aggressively Australian.

It was a very courageous decision to launch the Australian and he lost a great deal of money over many years. When I was there we were losing about $20,000 a week, a lot of money in the late 1960s. On quite a number of occasions during industrial disputes Murdoch mused, ‘What’s the point of continuing; it’s losing so much money’. But to his credit he hung on and the Australian progressively became a financially successful paper.

* When someone fell out with Rupert Murdoch—and it was usually an editor—he would get that person out quickly. I don’t think he ever left anyone in his organisation who was disaffected. He rooted them out, gave them a package and sent them on their way. He created a highly personalised business culture. But every king needs a knave, or a fool, to tell him the truth. There weren’t many knaves or fools at News Limited in those days.

* Murdoch had a very good financial reporting system that Merv Rich, the financial controller, developed. Rich never seemed to show any interest in the content of the newspapers. I thought that amazing. Using Rich’s system, Murdoch could check quickly what was happening around the world in his business units. He was also a great telephoner, ringing any time of the day or night. He had a great telephone technique: long silences. We are usually frightened of silence. Following those long silences Murdoch was told a lot more than was ever intended. We
blundered in.

Cynthia often said to me that I was in danger of losing my identity to other people and confusing myself with the job. I ignored her advice. I was idealising others to make it easier to live with myself. I submerged myself and made personal compromises for the sake of my career and the esteem and recognition that came with that. The role became the man. In Rupert Murdoch, a Business Biography, published in 1976, Simon Regan commented, perhaps with some perception, how I played the game.

The opinion in Holt Street is that John Menadue is the bright boy in the Murdoch camp. Not a lot is heard of him publicly and he seems to be a bit of a loner in Mahogany Row (the nickname for the executive part of the Holt Street building).

He is a first-class and experienced in-fighter. Although he shows the customary loyalty to Murdoch, he is very much in command of his own tactics and claims he only refers to Murdoch on matters of great importance. He is not a typical Murdoch executive to be so high in the hierarchy. He is a new boy without the usual ‘up through the organisation’ background. It was generally felt that the ‘Adelaide Mafia’ were unsure of him.

Before joining Murdoch, John Menadue was in Whitlam’s ‘bright young men team’ and had built a fair reputation in this field. He combines a bit of whiz-kiddery with cool political judgement. He is concise and precise as a business-man and is first class at managerial decision-making. Within the intrigues of Mahogany Row he is a central character.

He is smooth and dapper, soft spoken and a bit of a charmer. He oozes an aroma of executive power and is
extremely sure of himself. He has shining bright teeth and one gets the feeling he cleans them with razor blades. He has extraordinary eyes which have a softness to them around the edges while at the same time a penetrating glint screams out from the pupils.

There is a certain style to top executives which distinguishes them from others. The fact they are well fed and
expensively clothed is not really it. Fat executive faces can have a lean and hungry look. It really is quite undefinable. But, whatever it is. John Menadue has it.

* I had not then appreciated the damage that was to come from the media that Murdoch owned or influenced. I did not foresee how far ‘infotainment’ would go in persistent and unwelcome invitation to voyeurism and ‘dumbing down’. There is no question of good or bad, right or wrong. In the world of market shares, everything is relative. It is
all a matter of personal taste. To the Murdoch media now, talk of quality is snobbery.

The cultural and moral relativism of some modern media today reminds me of those lines of Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov: ‘It’s God that’s worrying me. That’s the only thing that’s worrying me. What if he doesn’t exist? Then if he doesn’t exist man is the chief of the universe. Magnificent! Only how is man going to be good without God? That’s the question. Without God all things are lawful. They can do what they like’. I also had not appreciated how the media would become the cause of so much social envy and alienation. The media urge us daily to buy more and consume more. We are encouraged to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. The lifestyles of the wealthy and famous, however vacuous, are flaunted before us. They are held up as our role models. Personal worth is confused
with personal wealth. People who are doing it tough could be forgiven for feeling alienated when they see the good life of the famous and consumerism projected daily in the media.

The visual nature of the media also contributes to frustration and fear in a new way. It often seems that news does not occur unless there is a TV camera to cover it. As a result, the media is highly visual, with a heavy focus on violence and disaster. It provides dramatic pictures. No wonder old people particularly are fearful about crime as they watch commercial television.

* I do think that Murdoch’s powers are overestimated, particularly by politicians. Murdoch’s papers are influential but, more importantly, he can pick public moods and trends and reinforce them. He will back political winners who he thinks can be made kings. Whosoever wins, Murdoch is determined not to be a loser. It didn’t need a king-maker to conclude that Whitlam would win in 1972, Fraser in 1975, Reagan in 1984, Thatcher in 1987 and Blair in 1997. Murdoch’s political power is that politicians think he can make or break them and they are not prepared to chance their careers on a gamble to find out. The perception is enough. Politicians now fall over themselves to advantage or at least not to disadvantage Murdoch. He often does not have to ask for favours; they are offered. With Keating he didn’t even have to pay his respects at the Lodge. Keating called at Murdoch’s Red Hill residence.

* Whitlam was brilliant as Prime Minister but not so much at ease leading a team, something I had learned as his chief of staff in a small office in Opposition. In three years he had three Treasurers and three Deputy Leaders and reshuffled his Cabinet four times. Seldom was political strategy discussed in Cabinet. It was submission after submission, most of them promoted by public servants who, not surprisingly, did not know what the political strategy was. Graham Freudenberg rather tenderly described the reactions of some staffers to the Government’s
problems: ‘we were rather given to tears in the Whitlam Government’.

One thing I learned above everything else working with Whitlam in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was that execution of policy was just as important as, if not more important than policy itself. Wise and effective execution must go hand in hand with good policy. Whitlam was a remarkable policy innovator, but the means to execute policy were often an afterthought.

* Prime Minister Fraser was an inspiration to work with on immigration and multicultural affairs. The contradictions in the man kept multiplying. His commitment to non-discriminatory immigration was deepseated. He buried White Australia as no other prime minister had.

In 1975, population growth due to immigration was the lowest for 30 years and the lowest this century if we exclude the Depression and war years. It was Fraser who was responsible for accepting a large number of Indo-Chinese refugees after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Those refugees, supported by the generous Australian community response, were the decisive turning point in moving Australia away from White Australia.

* Japanese learned well the lesson of Takeda Shingen, a famous Japanese general, that ‘People are the castle, people are the battlements and people are the moat’. I was impressed by the care that Japanese put into people
relationships. I often cringed at how poorly we reciprocated. I am still embarrassed by it; courtesies not being acknowledged let alone reciprocated, being late for appointments and showing little interest in what Japanese guests are saying.

* In a mono-ethnic and consensus-based society like Japan there is not sufficient grit in the system to force change. The dissenter is punished.

* The ghost of White Australia followed me all over Japan. I spoke to scores of chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs and business groups throughout the country. In Japan, ambassadors are always a drawcard regardless of the merits of the individual or what he or she says. It was also a pleasant opportunity to get around and see the country. I told
these community groups about Australia and how relations were improving with Japan. But at question time, and invariably the second or third question, depending on whether they had had a sake or two, was ‘That is all very well, Ambassador, but what about White Australia?’ Coming from a country with a racist past and present, I found that red hot. I pointed out that, despite our history, Australia in the 1970s had the least discriminatory migration policies in the region. But they didn’t believe me.

I was irritated and challenged by the Japanese questions, and determined to do something about it, particularly when I returned to Australia. On reflection, and particularly after the reaction I have encountered following John Howard’s equivocation on Pauline Hanson, I think that I got it partly wrong. Japanese were not so concerned about
our discrimination against Asians and Africans. It was discrimination against Japanese that offended. Some leading Japanese businessmen told me in 1998 that we have admitted too many Chinese!

* I told him that I had been promoting the Working Holiday Scheme but confessed that I was having difficulty in selling it to the Australian bureaucracy. I explained the scheme. He said, ‘Leave it to me. I will see what can be done at the Tokyo end’.

At Prime Minister Ohira’s press conference at the conclusion of his visit, he said that Japan would be delighted if it were possible to negotiate a working holiday agreement between Australia and Japan. He said that Australia had expertise in such schemes and that perhaps an agreement with Australia was possible. Suddenly there was renewed interest. The Japanese had helped me outflank the Canberra bureaucracy.

I returned to Australia at the end of the year, September 1980, as Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I was able to pick up the proposal and conclude the agreement. There was no real opposition, only caution and lethargy. There were plenty of precedents for such a scheme. All that was required was a little enthusiasm to push it along. Malcolm Fraser and Ian Macphee, the Minister, were strong supporters.

It was a real breakthrough, considering the racial history of both countries. I regard it as more important than the dramatic growth in Japanese tourism that came later when I was at Qantas. From that scheme, over 70,000 young Japanese have come to Australia on working holidays and about 20,000 young Australians have gone to Japan. It provided a real enrichment of the relationship between the people of our two countries.

* In my first week in the department in September 1980, there was a major immigration advertising campaign in Manchester. I got reports from delighted staff about how 11,000 people queued up to inquire about immigrating to Australia. I didn’t feel the same delight. I told the staff that if we put a similar advertising campaign into Manila or into Singapore we would have had even more in the queue. I sent a senior officer from Canberra immediately to tell the UK Regional Office that things had to change. Special advertising in the UK only was cancelled on the spot. We had to advertise on a non-discriminatory basis and where the most skilled applicants could be found. For the first time we commenced advertising the business migration scheme in the Far Eastern
Economic Review in Hong Kong… Applicants feared that if they looked too black they wouldn’t be admitted.

* We took advantage of government policy to cut expenditure by proposing cuts in programs that reflected the earlier preferential and discriminatory days of ‘Bring out a Briton’. Since 1945, over two million migrants had received assisted passages at a cost of over $500 million. More than 50 per cent of the money went to UK immigrants. We proposed to end all assisted passages immediately. Macphee told me that in Cabinet Deputy Prime Minister Anthony and Treasurer Lynch said that there would be an outcry from the Government’s pro-British
supporters if we did so. Fraser supported Macphee and in April 1981 the Government removed the favoured treatment that UK immigrants were receiving. There was no outcry. Part of the annual savings was used to fund expanded English learning for non-English-speaking migrants.

* Macphee and I were particularly concerned about racial violence in Western Australia against Asian immigrants which, we were advised, was provoked by some immigrants from Southern Rhodesia. Macphee agreed that we should attempt at immigration interviews to assess whether applicants were sympathetic to the non-discriminatory policies of Australia and would settle happily in Australia, or try to carry on their racism in their new country. It was important in terms of suitability for settlement in Australia. It is very difficult to administer such criteria.
Racists are usually smart enough to hold their tongue in interviews. But we made an attempt.

* One issue that did worry me was that treatment of the 50,000 ‘illegal immigrants’ in Australia was not evenhanded. Illegals were people staying in Australia without proper papers. Australians had an erroneous view, and probably still do, that illegals are here because they jumped ship or arrived on refugee boats. That number is miniscule. The largest number of illegals in Australia were British tourists who came legally and then stayed illegally after their entry permit expired. Those who were reported as ‘illegals’ by neighbours, contacts or just busybodies, were invariably non-white and non-English-speaking. The assumption was that if you were white you were probably legal. If you were Asian or from the South Pacific the chances were you might be in Australia illegally.
So the reports we received about possible ‘illegals’, which we had to act on, gave us a very heavy skew against non-whites.

* In the department we were under pressure to develop a population policy for Australia. What was an optimum population? After discussion with Macphee we resisted, for several reasons that I still find compelling.
The primary reason was that ‘population policy’ was really code for ‘stop immigration’. It was coming from the green anti-development groups. It is ironic that almost 20 years later the Greens have been joined by
Pauline Hanson to resist immigration. We also believed that, in contrast to a heavily populated Asia, Australia has space, resources and opportunity. With a small population we have a moral obligation and it is also in our
self-interest to increase our population. We were also certain that immigration had brought great vitality and development to Australia, so why should we turn our back on new, enterprising people in the future? Since my days in Japan I have always favoured a significantly higher population for Australia: nearer 50 rather than 18 million.

* I believed then and still believe that in a referendum on the question, ‘Should we have more Asian immigrants?’, the response would be ‘no’.

* it is loyalty to Australia which binds us together, not blood or ethnicity.

In Australia in the 1980s there was overwhelming support from politicians and all parties for the migration program. There were niggles around the edges from right-wing and anti-development groups but there was strong support. That has been a great feature of migration and multiculturalism in Australia. It has been supported by all the major opinion leaders, whether they were in politics, business, unions or the media. The only significant exception over many years has been John Howard. He first broke bipartisanship in immigration in 1988 when he was Leader of the Opposition and again as Prime Minister in 1996.

* Customer service took a lot of my time. Public enterprises like Qantas had great records in engineering and technology but customers were a bit of a nuisance…. As Australians we often felt that providing and receiving service was a little demeaning—it was something that other nationalities were good at, perhaps the Italians, but not us.

* My other main focus was staff attitudes and loyalties. There were many examples of unacceptable attitudes. Susie and I were on a Qantas aircraft that was forced to make a stop in Darwin because of a minor technical problem. Under provisions of their award, cabin crew could insist on an overnight rest break in Darwin or fly some additional hours and take the plane to Sydney that night. The pilots decided to fly on to Sydney and arrive before curfew. But the cabin crew said they were too tired and voted to stay in Darwin. So all the passengers were off-loaded for a night in a Darwin hotel. Over sandwiches and coffee at the hotel I heard the cabin crew at the next table planning their evening at the casino. I pointed out their selfish behaviour and the damage they were doing to Qantas and in the long term to their own jobs. They complained to their union about my abruptness and wanted an apology. I refused. There was clearly a long way to go.

* When I was travelling, I would usually go and have a chat to cabin crew in the flight kitchen and ask, ‘What are the loads like lately on the flights you have been on?’ It soon became clear that to them a high passenger load was a horror trip with more work.

* The telephone taught me what life would be like after Qantas. Asked, ‘Who’s calling?’, I would reply, ‘John Menadue’. Then I would be asked, ‘What company are you from, sir?’ I was confronted by that. It seemed that unless I belonged to a company or a group, I was a non-person.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
This entry was posted in Australia. Bookmark the permalink.