Enterprise Australia (EA) was set up in 1976, as an offshoot of the Australian Free Enterprise Association, which had been established in response to perceived threats to free enterprise—including the election of Whitlam's Labor government—with funding from CIG, Esso, Kodak, Ford Motors, and IBM. Jack Keavney, CEO of EA, saw two main threats to free enterprise in Australia. One was the encroachment of government into ‘areas best left to the productive private sector’ and the other ‘the widespread public misconceptions’ about business such as the size of profits and who benefits from them.
Enterprise Australia’s message is basically this—that the main beneficiary of free enterprise is the community itself. In addition, it believes that a much greater community of interest exists between management and employees than is normally understood. Recognition of these points will reduce conflict and confrontation and promote co-operation and consensus.
EA presented itself as being unaligned with any political party and representing the public interest, not just that of employers. It sought to make alliances with ‘moderate’ unions in order to bolster the credibility of this claim. However its literature was clear about the role it played in helping business ‘to tell its own story’ and it admitted that its ‘sole responsibility is to raise the level of community understanding about how free enterprise works’. EA sought to show that free enterprise contributed to ‘Australia’s way of life’ and standard of living and to ‘emphasise the dangers to our society of unnecessary regulations’. This was the message it spread to educational institutions, the media, small business and employees.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce (ACC) and EA, like their US counterparts, used surveys of school leavers to find the ‘deficiencies’ in their attitudes to the free enterprise system and then circulated corrective material through schools. The similarities with the US economic education campaign was not accidental. ‘In its first few years E.A. brought a succession of American ‘economic educators’ to Australia to provide guidance. Keavney repeatedly toured the U.S., giving progress reports to the N.A.M. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others.’
In 1979 EA brought Barton Cummins, a key architect of the Ad Council’s free enterprise campaign, to Australia to describe that campaign so it could serve as a model in Australia. Cummins told a business audience:
In Australia – as in America – there are people who want to destroy the free enterprise system. They believe in government control of the lives of all of us, particularly the business community. They do not believe in competition. They do not believe in the profit motive. They do not believe in freedom for businessmen like you and me… More regulation by government is their answer… It is important to remember that economic freedom and personal freedom go hand in hand… In short, you’ve got to educate the Australian people about your economic system. When they really understand it, they’ll appreciate it more…
For the media, EA wrote reports and feature articles; gave awards for enterprise; held a series of briefings with ‘media decision-makers’; made two television documentary series (broadcast by some 40 television stations); offered a syndicated column for free local newspapers; had simple ‘facts’ broadcast on radio and television about business and economics; and made regular media comment on topical issues. EA produced a series of television programs called Making it Together and broadcast commercials promoting the benefits of free enterprise on over one hundred radio stations.
The ease with which EA could access the Australian media is aptly demonstrated in a boast by Keavney in 1978 that:
Enterprise Australia is in the process of producing 12 half-hour documentaries… [that] will be shown by a national network channel, free, as a public service in good viewing time… In association with the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasters, Enterprise Australia is having a series of eight radio spots broadcast, at no charge, throughout Australia, giving brief but telling messages about the benefits of free enterprise.
EA also produced a series of television spots on the benefits of free enterprise. One of EA’s television ads stated:
A world survey has found that only one country in ten has all the freedoms Australia enjoys.
Australia has free speech, freedom of assembly, free elections, freedom of movement – and free enterprise.
The danger lies in taking these freedoms for granted.
We must value each one – and work together to keep them.
EA’s schools and colleges programmes were ‘developed within schools systems in official association with Departments of Education’ in each state. These included:
EA also produced fifteen videos and films with titles such as Profits, Advertising and The Market Economy. Their material was made available to school resource centres with the approval of the departments of education in each state. It convened a committee of 13 professional organizations that were working in schools to ensure that school leavers would have a proper understanding of the commercial world. EA’s annual Enterprise Week, modelled on that of the British Aims for Freedom and Enterprise, was opened by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser in 1977 and was accompanied by a great deal of media attention and editorials on free enterprise.
EA also organized for Friedrich von Hayek to give seminars in universities and other tertiary educational institutions and identified key Australian academics who could deliver a similar message.
Various teachers’ unions attacked EA materials as propaganda and teachers’ journals ran articles under headlines such as ‘Fanatical Believers in Private Enterprise’ and accompanied by satirical cartoons. David Bell wrote in Education that ‘the interests of the Big Businessmen behind Enterprise Australia have nothing in common with the students we teach. Rather they see them as a future, exploitable, labour force, and politically passive citizenry!’ One politician, Joan Coxsedge, called for ‘investigations into the way in which Enterprise Australia, an American-modelled, mind-managing outfit, has infiltrated school systems in other States… as part of its expensive attempt to bolster the so-called free enterprise system.’
Nevertheless the educational authorities seemed to welcome this material into schools, and EA was careful to get the endorsement of selected teachers, public servants, academics and politicians of both major parties. An attempt by the teachers union to get the NSW Department of Education to stop cooperating with EA in 1982 was unsuccessful. Even after the Labor government was elected again in 1983 Enterprise Australia continued to have government support, and prime minister Bob Hawke’s public endorsement.
EA had an economic education programme for women from business and women’s groups. And it sponsored a board game Poleconomy with sales of over 100,000. Its speakers program was divided into two categories: for ‘the unconverted’ and for ‘the converted’. The converted were told how to explain private enterprise to others and Keavney sought to encourage missionaries for free enterprise in the manner that Christianity was spread in the first century by ‘believers’ becoming committed ‘explainers’.
The message to employees was the ‘essential commonality of interests of managers and employees’ and this was transmitted through annual employee reports (which EA gave awards for); audiovisual economics courses; distribution of information on existing company programmes; visits by tame US union leaders; and training courses for managers.
EA also provided speakers for Rotary clubs and the like. It produced a supplement for 2.5 million Australian Readers’ Digest subscribers and a document on consensus and cooperation between employers and employees aimed at inclusion in church publications and sermons. According to EA, some churches consequently organized ‘industrial harmony’ services with business and union leaders reading the lessons.
EA brought a number of speakers to Australia to gain the attention of television current affairs programs and to attract union and Labour Party members to their cause, so as to bolster EA’s credibility as representing the broader community interest. Speakers were also brought to Australia to run seminars for senior business executives in order to promote free enterprise to employees.
By 1979 the proportion of people who thought the government should cut taxes rather than spend more on social services had increased to 59% compared to 26% in 1967 and the proportion of people who thought more should be spent on social services had declined from 68 percent to 36 percent. Similarly the percentage of people who thought unions had too much power had increased from 47 to 78. Such a reversal of opinion was unusual and could be largely attributed to the onslaught of business propaganda in the late 1970s.