14/06/2005 - 22:00

Footy hero’s brush with bad business

14/06/2005 - 22:00


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I was reading an obituary this week about Jack ‘River’ Murray, a legendary Fremantle footballer from the 1940s and 1950s.

I was reading an obituary this week about Jack ‘River’ Murray, a legendary Fremantle footballer from the 1940s and 1950s.

It wasn’t Mr Murray’s prowess on the field that sparked my decision to write this column, but the events in his life that interrupted and nearly ended his sporting career – and how they pertain to a conversation I had this week about how bad business practices still exist, no matter how much we try to stamp them out.

When I refer to bad business practices, I mean the sort of things that used to give business people a bad name in the community, with their poor respect for their employees and seeming lack of humanity.

The sorts of practices I refer t, used to make unions far more meaningful than they are today.

Take Mr Murray, for example.

He was a leading footballer who had already won a premiership with East Fremantle before being called up to serve in the air force late in World War II.

Returning from the war, he worked as a wharfie hauling, among other things, the blue asbestos we now know to be so dangerous to health.

But this wasn’t the issue, instead it was a fall into a cargo hold through a hatch, accidentally covered by a tarpaulin, that resulted in near crippling injuries to his back, which broke in two places.

While semi-conscious from the injury, which prevented him from playing or working for three years, his employer had him sign a waiver, which stopped him pursuing the company for damages.

While it is hard to transport ourselves back to the dark ages of waterfront industrial relations in late-1940s, it is still difficult to believe an employer taking such an appalling step of “tricking”, as the obituary reports, an employee under such circumstances.

It was exactly the kind of bullying and anti-social behaviour that we’d like to believe no longer existed in our business community.

In a conversation I had earlier this week, and before reading Mr Murray’s obituary, I was discussing just how much business has changed – whereby the common perception of industry and commerce no longer contained such miserable connotations.

Regulation of employment, changing values in society and a better educated workforce mean less opportunity for the kind of ill-treatment Mr Murray received.

However, just because business has largely cleaned up its act doesn’t mean that it doesn’t occasionally happen.

This is especially the case when one considers how the anti-social employer and the common crook converge in modern society to rip off a growing group of people in our society – small business operators.

With changing demographics and technology that allows people to work from home, there is a massive shift as employees become contractors, those seeking career changes become consultants and early retirees become business owners.

These people are often ripe for the picking when they encounter fraudulent or “fast” business people for the first time.

It may be in how contracts are framed or the way promises are so easily broken, but it is damaging to these individuals who have decided to have a go at their business. It also damages our economy because we need the flexibility that they offer.

With that in mind, I was heartened to see the State Government looking at increasing its consumer protection to cover small business. It makes far more sense than trying to get corporate regulators with their eyes alert for the next HIH to pay attention to the “rats and mice” of corporate life.

It is time there were serious rules to combat that small minority who continue to think that the rest of the world is there for them to plunder. People who think nothing of begging a creditor on their knees one day and laughing in their face the next, ought not have life so easy.

Why should a consumer purchasing a good or service have more rights than a business?

Perhaps, in the past, it was viewed that business had the money to stand up for itself. With the bad name that business carried, to some degree, maybe this was the case. But those in business are no longer the privileged few. They make up a significant slice of our population and many don’t have basic qualifications, let alone an MBA, that would provide guidance when it comes to good practice in making deals or legal wrangling when they go wrong.

The courts offer some recourse for those with the time or inclination – but a place is needed where the genuinely aggrieved could log their complaints and allow a body of evidence to be collected.

Whatever the case, anything that makes bad business practice harder to get away with should be encouraged – and gets full support from me.

Local business identities honoured

On the recent Queen’s Birthday honours list several Western Australian business identities got a mention. Included was Azure Capital executive chairman John Poynton, who was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia.  Awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia was Terry Iannello of the TCC Group, which last year won the second-generation award in the Family Business Association Family Business Awards. 

Mr Iannello is a judge for this year’s awards to be held on July 13.  Another Western Australian awarded a Member of the Order of Australia was director of several companies, Lloyd Chrystal.


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