Philistines at the Gates: Coaldrake’s millions

 Coaldrake wrestles with his conscience every day and wins!
                                  - former QUT employee
Peter Coaldrake, vice-chancellor of Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Photo: Q Weekend

While university staff are paid low wages for short-term contracts filled with uncertainty and university student fees are bumped up.

Peter Coaldrake has pocketed another $$million contract with the university council, this time till 2017; he has been in the job for 12 years, since 2003. His fellow Vice-Chancellors at other universities are a well-heeled lot. Most of them, like Coaldrake, had the benefit of Australia’s then free university education system.

VC Salaries

The former Goss Labor government appointed Coaldrake head of Public Sector Management Commission. His job was to advise Goss on cut-backs in the public service in the early 1990s under then public service chief, and later Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, (aka dr death).

Coaldrake emailed a diktat to QUT workers offering a 3 per cent pay rise from December 2013, outside the enterprise bargaining process.

The  National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) responded:

“We agree that QUT staff deserve a salary increase in December, but we also say that you deserve more than the 3% which has been decided unilaterally by your employer. The salary increases for QUT staff should be negotiated and agreed in the context of all the bargaining proposals,” the union responded. The NTEU is also upset that management wants to vary the span of working hours for professional staff and to change academic workloads “to suit their own purposes.”

Despite this, all agreements in place at QUT are union agreements, and there has never been a ballot for a non-union agreement. Coaldrake has attempted to weaken the union’s negotiating power by granting pay increases while holding out against the union in EB negotiations such as the one referenced, yet has been unable to break the union.

Meanwhile the Murdoch Press has published two reports about Coaldrake seeking favourable press coverage after his new deal with the university council.

One by Susan Johnson published in the Courier Mail’s Q Weekend magazine claims Coaldrake to be ‘the most amazing man’.  Johnson is an accomplished and critical writer see her novel, The Broken Book, about Charmian Clift, was launched at Coaldrake’s* bookstore in Milton (no relation to this Coaldrake). Yet this piece written as a profile of the private man behind the throne does the topic no justice … curiously, the personal is no longer political.

Philistines no longer at the Gates?

Johnson describes Coaldrake’s difficult childhood:

Coaldrake was born Gregory Alan Naylor to a young girl, Jeanette, who had run away from everything she knew, but he grew up as the adopted only child of impoverished Anglican missionaries.

So did Coaldrake’s being an orphan and having a working class background make him more sympathetic to people suffering discrimination? In the Johnson profile, Coaldrake described his time at a Townsville meatworks:

“And then I worked in a meatworks [JBS Swift Australia, Townsville]. I was a flunky, hanging around doing odd jobs and things, and one day the foreman said to me, ‘Can you read and write?’ I said, ‘Yeah’, and he said, ‘Go and see the manager at smoko’.  Coaldrake was given a new job , writing consignment notes. I said, ‘I don’t want that job ‘, but he made it clear to me that “the skill of reading and writing was much more than I realised “and a lightbulb in my brain went off about education. Up until that moment at uni, I think I got straight passes.”

Unfair dismissal
Johnson’s glowing profile of Coaldrake is especially ironic, as QUT Vice-Chancellor, Coaldrake sacked two academics, Hookham and MacLennan, for publishing an ‘unscholarly’ article in the AUSTRALIAN (another Murdoch paper). The academics had complained in the article about the QUT and Coadrake’s support for a PhD thesis titled Laughing at the Disabled: Creating comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains‘ . *

The federal court later ordered the two academics be re-instated.

I too was sacked by QUT where I worked as a typesetter in the mid 2000s. I suspect my dismissal related to my joining the NTEU while working in a section where no one else was a member. I say this because my boss ticked me off one day when representatives of another union, the Australian Services Union (ASU), came to visit me during work hours. Not long after this incident, my boss claimed that my work was not up to scratch and summarily dismissed me.

When the industrial officer of the NTEU went with me to Human Resources to challenge my dismissal, we were given short shrift by the manager and his deputy. This deputy HR person, Ms Jane BANNEY,  went on to be the Director of Human Resources at University of Qld. To my surprise as we left the building the NTEU industrial officer informed me that the same HR officer had been a union organiser with the Community Public Sector Union (CPSU).

To sack someone for being a union member is an offence under the Fair Work Act (adverse action), and of course the QUT would deny any wrongdoing in this respect. But the employer knows they have the right to hire and fire and are aware how difficult it is to prove unfair dismissal in the courts. That is why in 2003/2004 only 42 cases out of 8000 unfair dismissal cases were workers re-instated in their jobs by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC). About that time, the clause in the the QUT Professional Staff Agreement 2005 – 2008 stated:

“47.2 Notwithstanding any other provisions of this clause the University may at any time during the probation period confirm or terminate the employment of a probationary staff member.”

And that is why the QUT sacked me the day before my probationary period was up. They did so clearly to hedge against an unfair dismissal claim. And so the industrial officer advised me that it was unlikely I would win an unfair dismissal claim, especially against Jane Banney.

The QUT HR spin doctors put out propaganda slogans “Real people, Real service” when the QUT is about “Real Money and Real Business”. Regardless of the unfair dismissal legislation, the employer knows that it has the right to hire and fire and that courts will not disturb that.

This is one reason why worker control is so important, especially when the Vice-Chancellor is someone like Peter Coaldrake. I am talking industrial democracy here in the practical sense where employers like Coaldrake are prevented from keeping wages and conditions low by going behind the back of unions. And they are not allowed to cosy up to governments in attempts to de-regulate the tertiary sector allowing universities to increase student debt even more.

The irony is that the Queensland University of Technology was originally an institute of technology and under Coaldrake it became a university in name only. QUT has become a sausage factory (e.g. Creative Industries) pouring out graduates for business and getting rid of lecturers who had a motto of critical inquiry.

Ian Curr
Mar 2015

*Philistines no longer at the gates…
The Broken Book, Allan & Unwin, 2005. ISBN 1-74114-351-9
Educating Peter by Susan Johnson in the Q Weekend
“He can’t work, he is useless”

Philistines no longer at the Gates?
Philistines no longer at the Gates?

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