George Polites RIP

One of the greatest political geniuses of Australian history has just today gone to God, aged 100. He was the representative of employers across Australia from the 1950s through until the 1980s, with his great achievement the formation of the Confederation of Australian Industry in 1977. The CAI was intended to be the employer equivalent of the ACTU, providing a forum in which employer organisations from across the spectrum of industries and sectors could come together to discuss strategy and tactics in the face of the tremendous anti-business attitudes that typically prevail among those who believe our wealth and prosperity is a free gift of nature.

It was my good fortune to be hired as the economist for the industrial relations division in 1980 and eventually became the Chief Economist of what is now the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry where I remained for 24 years. But among all of those whom I had the privilege of working with, there was no one who had George’s ability and vision. It was from him I learned most of what I understand about politics and the political process. I am always astonished by those who abandon some political leader because they fail to achieve 100% of what they want. From George I learned the patient art of politicking and the need to think about what is possible and how to achieve ends across large spaces of time.

He was the equal of Bob Hawke in his ability to sit down and negotiate an outcome, but sought none of the limelight and was content to work in the background working the room so to speak to get the things he wanted. He always thought of me as far too much of the economist, too devoted to the market, but I have to say that in many ways I carry within me his own vision of the kind of world I would like to live in, and his desire to ensure we create an industrial environment that is both productive, and dare I say it, fair to both employers and employees.

Having written the above I have had a look at The Oz and The Age to see if there is any mention of George but there is none. The only photo on the net is the one above, taken when he was already a very old man. He left CAI back in 1983 so it is not all that surprising that the world no longer remembers. But I remember, and I am sure Bob Hawke remembers, just as all of us veterans of the ancient world of industrial relations. The ACTU blathers on about fairness and justice, but it was people like George Polites who made such outcomes as near as possible in the real world of sharks and wolves that we inhabit and always will.

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18 Responses to George Polites RIP

  1. Todd Myers

    RIP George. Beautifully written, Steve.

  2. Behind Enemy Lines

    That’s finely remembered, Steve. We should all be so lucky. Thanks.

  3. Bushkid

    Thanks for reminding us. Another one we’ve missed in recent years.

  4. Old School Conservative

    Thanks for the invigorating trip down memory lane Steve.

  5. Tom

    I remember Polites in the 1970s as one of a semi-anonymous cast in the industrial relations landscape when most of the oxygen was sucked up by the giant Hawke ego. Thanks for this great insight from the employers side, which simply did not get a run at the time in the daily press, which was dazzled by Hawke and sundry other Trades Hall crooks like Norm Gallagher, of the Builders Laborers Federation.

  6. Herodotus

    A familiar name from the past. We no longer seem to have employer groups with a strong commitment to sensible outcomes. It’s a dismal age indeed when “economists” like Garnaut and Stern can spruik the ruin of a nation and be given prominent coverage without demur from the guardians of the press.

  7. win

    Yes a name from the past ,a man to be honoured and who helped navigate Australia’s road to wealth .Dismal indeed when industrial groups headed by the likes of Heatheer Ridout systematically aided and abetted the destruction of the manufacturing industries and the ability for ordinary Australians to become self sufficient by their own toil

  8. Nob

    An “Australian Story” that really did need to be told.

  9. Rafe

    I think he should have read Hutt on the strike threat system and joined the H R Nicholls Society.
    Lets see how Gerard Henderson temembers him.

  10. stackja

    Public Interest or Vested Interest
    The Role of the CAI in the Regulation of Australia’s Labour Market
    Des Moore*
    Bill Kelty and the ACTU are well known to the public. When Mr Kelty and Mr Keating were putting together the wage tax package which was to be the centre piece of the ALP’s election strategy, the tv cameras preceded the ACTU Secretary through the Canberra airport and focussed long and close on his briefcase. TV viewers were being invited to ponder over the dark secrets contained within that briefcase.

    Contrariwise, the contents of Brian Noakes’ or Ian Spicer’s brief case have never been of interest to tv cameras. Most Australians would assume the CAI to be something out of ‘The Spy who came in from the Cold’. The CAI, however, has become a key institution in our labour market regulatory apparatus, and is at the very centre of the cyclone which has been whipped up by the farmers, the miners, the small business sector, and the H R Nicholls Society, in seeking to reform our industrial relations institutions.

    We do not know when the CAI was conceived, but it was born on 1st December 1977. Mr George Polites was its midwife. He had been executive director of the Australian Council of Employers Federations. The other major player in employer industrial relations organisations had been the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, run by Mr Bill Henderson. In 1972 these organisations agreed to jointly use the augmented ACEF staff as the Central Industrial Secretariat. When CAI was formed, the ACEF and the ACMA were the foundation members with the 11 state and territory Chambers of Manufactures and Employer Federations.

  11. John A

    Hmm, any relation to Colin George Polites, senior Deputy President AIRC who lost his battle with cancer in Nov 2003?

  12. Dave

    any relation to Colin George Polites, senior Deputy President AIRC

    Yes, he was Colin’s father.

  13. Petros

    Anyone know much about his family background? It can be a Greek surname and there are quite a few successful Greek-Australians in Sydney and Adelaide with that surname.

  14. sfw

    Funny how his legacy has like nearly all bodies become a left/social justice biased body that seems to have forgotten its core mission.

  15. P

    Noteworthy also is that George Polites was honoured with:

    Membership in the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
    Commandership in the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG)
    Companion of the Order of Australia (AC)

  16. Rafe Champion

    The name Polites was well known in Adelaide due to the activity of real estate developer Con Polites who put up a sign with his name on every one of scores of projects that he launched.

  17. D

    Hmm, any relation to Colin George Polites, senior Deputy President AIRC who lost his battle with cancer in Nov 2003?

    Yes, he was the father of Colin, and also of Geoff Polites of Jaguar Land Rover/Ford Australia.

  18. Dave

    He was the father of Colin Polites (Senior Deputy President AIRC) , and also of Geoff Polites (Jaguar Land Rover/Ford Australia).

    No relation to the Polites of Adelaide.

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