Essington Lewis

This is from a fascinating article by Geoffrey Blainey in the Weekend Oz: As the Pacific theatre opened, the nation was ill-prepared. In the article he discusses Essington Lewis. This is what Blainey wrote about Lewis:

The leader of Australia’s industrial war-effort was Essington Lewis, an engineer and chief executive of BHP, whose extensive steelworks and allied factories were centred on Newcastle and Port Kembla.

Visiting Japan for a fortnight in 1934 and closely inspecting many workplaces that were out of bounds to journalists, Lewis was surprised to discover that Japan “was armed to the teeth”. In an emergency it could build 100 aircraft a day at a time when Australia had less than 50 active fighting planes.

Back in Melbourne he formed a syndicate called the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, which in 1939 built the first Australian military aircraft, a simple, lightly armed trainer-plane called the Wirraway. Later came fighter bomber aircraft that really held their own. It was remarkable that we mass-produced planes before we mass-produced cars, the first being the now-nostalgic Holden.

In 1940, Robert Menzies as prime minister had placed Lewis in charge of the nation’s industrial war-effort, and eventually a huge workforce of men and women were producing war equipment of a variety that surprised the few foreign industrialists who visited wartime Australia. Lewis, pre-modern in his business ethos, achieved this huge task without seeking payment from the government.

For five years Lewis wielded more power than the high medical officials whose diagnosis of the coronavirus pandemic we now hear each day. He shunned publicity but was known by sight to the hundreds of thousands of workers in munitions and aircraft factories and shipyards, for he inspected each site regularly and minutely.

And do let me emphasise this:

For five years Lewis wielded more power than the high medical officials whose diagnosis of the coronavirus pandemic we now hear each day.

Let me paraphrase what I take Blainey to have meant, and even if he didn’t it is what I understood.

For five years Lewis, who had spent many years at the highest levels in the private sector, wielded more power effectively and with positive purpose than the narrowly-educated and operationally useless medical officials, along with the politicians who take advice from them, who like the vast majority of the public sector have never spent a moment in a business environment, whose mistaken and highly damaging diagnosis of the coronavirus pandemic and the policies that have been adopted we now have to conform with each day much to our cost.

There is a lesson there, if only we could work out what it is.

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24 Responses to Essington Lewis

  1. Gerry

    Anyone seen Dan around the swab sites, hospital wards, contact call centres etc checking on how things were going ??

  2. Zulu Kilo Two Alpha

    Blainey’s own biography of Essington Lewis makes good reading.

  3. Davey Boy

    Alas today’s corporate leadership is well and truly captured and as one with the Uniparty

    ”The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.“

  4. nb

    We know we don’t have to take anything Blainey says seriously because he was forced out of the University of Melbourne by early practitioners of wokeness and accompanying cancel culture.

  5. rickw

    Alas today’s corporate leadership is well and truly captured and as one with the Uniparty

    Agree. Employees and employers are in total acceptance of complete idiocy.

    At work I continue to get criticised for insisting on the detail of the death toll (age / co-morbities) and suggesting therefore that we should just “get on with it” and that employees and employers should be email and phoning the imbeciles in charge around the clock to put this into effect.

  6. mem

    I put this on the other thread but better here.
    If the Corona virus had been around in the 1990 s before the internet our country wouldn’t have been shut down and most people would never have been affected one way or the other.The virus would have primarily hit the aged care sector and a few other places, but not kids or most people under 70. Life would have gone as normal and yes it would have been a bad flu season but probably not as bad as in 1987 when a lot of kids were lost as well as elderly. So much for progress.

  7. Bela Bartok

    The contemporary version of Essington Lewis would set up safe spaces, declare the country nuclear free, enforce transgendering and have a daily 5pm ‘take a knee’ ceremony.

  8. Right now, this very minute, medicine is winning at ruling everything.
    Wait till all this blows over, or eases off anyway, and then you’ll see the real winners of everything crawl out from under their rocks.
    The lawyers.
    They’ll be the real (big) winners. Lawsuits for decades to come.
    Oh, and watch those State leaders, especially Dan, and Palszczuk in Queensland.
    They will magnanimously, resign, handing over the reins to whichever Union faction’s turn it is next.
    Those two erstwhile leaders will retire, safe in their own knowledge that they have so thoughtfully guided us all so successfully through this crisis, having made all those decisions to keep us all safe, having won the battle over this terrible Wuhan CCP Virus, and they will hand on the baton.
    Having driven tens of thousands into the bankruptcy of failed businesses, having put tens of thousands of occupants into rental stress they can never recover from, having caused the death of our older family members, having put millions into unemployment, and on and on and on.
    Well those two erstwhile leaders will take their indexed superannuation, the best in the Country, their perks for life, their directorship bonuses, their speaking fees, their royalty bonuses and fade into the background.
    You know, leave all the real hard work to everyone else.
    And you wonder why we’re all so [email protected] cynical.
    Tony.

  9. MatrixTransform

    doctors v lawyers

    shame the cant make anything

  10. NoFixedAddress

    ..”If the public are bound to yield obedience to laws to which they cannot give their approbation, they are slaves to those who make such laws and enforce them.”.. ~ Sam Adams

    Liberty is Inherent – The Removal of Liberty Requires Consent…

    https://theconservativetreehouse.com/2020/08/15/liberty-is-inherent-the-removal-of-liberty-requires-consent/#more-197957

  11. NoFixedAddress

    They will magnanimously, resign, handing over the reins to whichever Union faction’s turn it is next.

    TonyfromOz

    I agree with everything you say except for that line I quoted above.

    By the Lawyers Law of The you beaut Electoral Act Premier Dan Andrews does not face the ‘electorate’ until November 26, 2022.

    Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk faces the Queensland ‘electorate’ on October 31, 2020.

    Premier Dan has already purged the party for wrong thinkers and there is an ongoing “audit” being conducted in each Victorian ‘electorate’.

    Premier Annastacia has purged people that might be difficult for the ‘electorate to put up with.

    They will reign over us for as long as they like.

  12. Win

    In 20o7 we had the Brisbane flu where first child to die was at the Gold Coast hospital and also a man a man in his thirties around the Caboolture area. The same hospital I believe where a doctors phone was used to bomb Either Glascow or Edinburough airport so the media had bigger fish to fry other than shutting down the economy. The media is the modern day Medusa tax payer funded vipers from the ABC being the worst.

  13. Entropy

    1: the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation built inferior planes to contemporary British aircraft and most importantly, the Germans and Japanese. Acceptable for hobbyit’s and government make work programs, but not the life and death of war.
    2: be careful as this path leads to fascism and corporatist power even greater than our our current problems:

    For five years Lewis wielded more power than the high medical officials whose diagnosis of the coronavirus pandemic we now hear each day.

  14. Entropy

    In the case of Qld I expect with the help of the LNP Palaszczuk will rid herself of her chief rival Trad, who leads the dominant left faction. A green will replace her in that electorate. Palaszczuk is already encouraging talk about the potential replacement left faction leader, Steven Miles, because he is no threat to the Premier.

    Don’t fear for what strand might happen to Tara though. She will be gifted a senate seat. If the fullness of time.

  15. H B Bear

    Before we get carried away One word – Gonski. Big business today is indistinguishable from big government.

  16. flyingduk

    There is a lesson there, if only we could work out what it is.

    I will tell you 3 lessons we need to learn, lessons i learned as ‘the doc’ in a military HQ.
    1) You have to state, at the start, ‘what victory looks like’. If you you keep changing the victory conditions (eg by turning ’15 days to flatten the curve’ into ‘Stage 4 lockdown everytime we get a case’) you get ‘mission creep’ and endless war. 2) You dont let your doctors run the war! The medical element was only one small part of the campaign, and a peripheral part at that. Casualties are inevitable if victory is be had. 3) You win by cutting your enemy’s supply lines. Unfortunately we seem to have broken all 3 of these rules, we have undefined victory conditions, given control of the war to the docs, and cut our own supply lines.

  17. Terry

    ‘Unfortunately we seem to have broken all 3 of these rules’
    …unless ‘what victory looks like’…is…’endless war.’

    Nothing like an ongoing crisis to seize and keep “unusual” powers.

  18. flyingduk

    …unless ‘what victory looks like’…is…’endless war.’

    …shit…..

  19. John A

    He shunned publicity but was known by sight to the hundreds of thousands of workers in munitions and aircraft factories and shipyards, for he inspected each site regularly and minutely.

    AKA Management by Walking Around – refer Tom Peters “In Search of Excellence” series and before that Peter Drucker and Bob Townsend “Up The Organisation” (both easily searchable in DDG).

  20. Gyro Cadiz

    Oh, FFS!

    BLAINEY IS WRONG.

    Dead screaming wrong and he knows it.

    The proof is in Andrew Ross, ‘Armed and Ready: The Industrial Development and Defence of Australia 1900-1945’, Turton and Armstrong 1995.

    How wrong is this sort of mythology? Had the Japanese actually had the shipping to land their 12 divisions at Port Stephens in July 1942, we would not have defeated them, we would have smashed them.

    Essington Lewis was indeed a great man, but he also built on bipartisan and very deliberate, consistent efforts to build up Australian secondary industry from 1920. And those efforts were extremely successful.

    They left us with a massive industrial heritage – which we have since squandered.

  21. Ed Case

    Except for his nephew being Premier in Sydney 45 years ago, i’ve never seen any mention of Lewis in the press.

  22. Thanks Gyro. The effectiveness of aircraft produced was not best but effective against declining Japanese airpower. The (Wirraway) trainer cited by Prof Blainey was procured as a fighter and was dangerously hopeless in that role.
    As Armed and Ready concludes: “(Australian industry could have achieved much more if it had not laboured under administrative inneficiencies imposed upon it by the Menzies government, and if the RAAF could have recognised its vital requirements earlier.”

  23. Pyrmonter

    @ Gyro Cadiz

    That was the ‘industrial development’ that taxed exporters heavily, sought to eliminate competition and set the institutional framework for Australia suffering the worst or second-worst experience of the Great Depression.

    Lewis was of his time: an exponent of tariff protection. However great his service in wartime, he was one of those whose influence on policy had led to Australia being both poorer and less-well defended in 1939 than it needed have been.

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