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George Maltby Sacked on Thursday 22nd December 1988

09 May 16
Peter Bull

After 42 years’ working his way to the top of Australia’s most profitable public utility, Maltby, a career public servant was out on his ear.

Merry Christmas, George Maltby.

Below is a comment from one of our members:

It was interesting about the sacking of George Maltby.

The way we saw it was that George offered 2 years salary to the retrenched OTC workers. Bob Hawke who was PM at time refused as the guidelines for retrenchment in the Australian Public Service was 1 year and the government was retrenching a number of Australian government wharfies, if we got it he would have to pay them the same.

George pointed out that the OTC Act entitled OTC to fix the wages and guidelines therefore he was within his rights to offer two years, Hawke disagreed and got him sacked.

As far as I was concerned Hawke cost me 1 year’s wages. As I was 60 at the time I went out on the superannuation at a slightly reduced rate.

George Maltby was a very good General Manager who didn’t have the job very long. He was one of us having worked for OTC for many years.



  1. Peter Bull May 9, 2016 at 8:46 am

    The Sydney Morning Herald Saturday December 24 1988
    A year is one long drag in politics
    Three days ago, Alan Coates —Sydney Grammar old boy, chairman of OTC and former general manager of the AMP — was asked two questions. Bob Hawke and his Cabinet wanted to know: why had OTC, a publicly-owned monopoly, unilaterally given its executives and specialist technicians hefty pay rises in defiance or national wage guidelines? And why had Coates and his board approved them?
    Coates’s explanation was simple: the Government-appointed board had not approved the increases because the board had known nothing about them. OTC’s chief executive, George Maltby, had not told the board. One of the ministers at the Cabinet meeting that day said later: “I felt in a state of despair.
    “I mean, Alan Coates is the former chief executive of one of the biggest companies in Australia. He’s on this board and he said he didn’t know any of this was going on. He didn’t know! And there’s no reason to disbelieve him. It’s horrifying, (expletive) horrifying.
    “That’s a problem we face half the time with some of these (expletive). They get on these boards, they think, great! a sort of House of Lords job. Yet what happened in the OTC case suggests that somehow the mechanisms of communicating government decisions to these boards isn’t good enough.
    “Even so, you wonder, don’t you?”
    The next day, it was George Maltby’s turn. He found no seasonal goodwill in Canberra. When Maltby returned to Sydney later that afternoon, he didn’t have a job. The Government had sacked him. After 42 years’ working his way to the top of Australia’s most profitable public utility, Maltby, a career public servant was out on his ear.
    Merry Christmas, George Maltby.
    Yet if the Government cannot enforce the principles of wage restraint within its own agencies, why should the union movement feel bound by them? And if a utility like OTC is allowed to behave with impunity in arranging its own salary structure, why should anyone else adhere to arbitrated ceilings?
    OTC’s actions, whether arrogantly wilful or just plain negligent, challenged not only official wage policy but also, in its ripple effect, the central thrust of economic management. That, in turn threatened the Government’s political agenda by jeopardising the scope of next July’s promised tax cuts.
    Each is dependent on the other. Wage restraint is crucial to economic strategy and to Labor’s ability to deliver its tax commitment. Yet the Government must honour the tax cuts, and the largest possible. Its political future says so. It cannot renege, whatever the reason.
    So goodbye, George Maltby. His errant behaviour cost him his career. Cabinet had no choice, either economically or politically. It had to reinforce its will with its own workforce and its wage credentials with the union movement. The times demand nothing less.
    The symbolism was not unimportant, either.
    The day George Maltby was sacked, a very tired John Button, the Government’s minute Senate leader, sat in his office like a rain-worn garden gnome and reflected on a bad tooth that was annoying him and a badly managed year that was anything but vintage Labor. He spoke a lot about symbolism and its political importance. He talked about other things too.
    “We started badly with some political decisions. Mick Young’s retirement wasn’t great, was it? His job with Qantas and so on. Before that, the appointment of Chris Hurford overseas so soon after an election. And the John Brown resignation. Things got off to a bad start.
    “And I don’t think we’ve had such a rigorous year pursuing our agenda. Look, people recognised this country was in an awful hole in 1982; we said hold tight, we’ll get you out or this. And we did. Now they’re starting to say, ‘Well, what happens next? It doesn’t seem to be over yet.
    “Oh, and ah — I’m not being quoted, am I?
    “I am! Oh, Christ! Well, let me say, II think the decision to appoint Hurford was brilliant. Just brilliant. And nobody in the electorate understood what it was about. The Mick Young thing was terrific, too. And the total lack of division within the party has been great throughout the year. Yes, that’s the line. You can just write about us being out of touch — listen to this ‘little lunatic what he says!”
    That’s the mocking, quirky Button. It surfaces in most Button interviews and does him little good with his more po-faced colleagues. Then there’s the very serious Button, every bit as candid, every bit as pointed.
    “One of the big things we’re feeling the effects of a bit — and there’s not been much discussion of it — is the new administrative arrangements introduced after the last election, these super portfolios. I’ve not been asked by anybody about them. I don’t think anybody else has either.
    “Before the ’87 election, you had a Cabinet representing broadly the large portfolios, and an outer ministry representing smaller departments. And there was a lot of esprit de corps among those cabinet ministers because, in some ways, compared with now, they had time to devote themselves to the larger issues. They don’t have quite the same time anymore because they’ve got much bigger portfolios to administer. They don’t have the same time to talk about what’s going on in, say, Aboriginal Affairs, or OTC, or whatever, To that extent, that esprit de corps has been debilitated.

    “Look, I can’t emphasise enough the way that inner Cabinet ran this Government from 1983 to 1987. And now, at the margin, things keep getting away from us, I think. You have new ministers in there who don’t quite understand how it works, don’t so much have their eye on the main game, as Paul [Keating] calls it. They have their eyes on their own games. So you don’t get the same sort of cohesive signals from the Government.”
    A less competent Government?
    “Well, I think the first and second Hawke Governments were sort of forged in the fire, as it were. They came in the middle of a bloody recession, everybody’s screaming for them to do something, anticipating good things from them. Well, they responded to that. It was hard going, and you learnt to respect each other’s positions and so on, and I think that’s always a valuable learning experience: to have gone through that as a team, as it were.
    “Then you get new recruits who haven’t been through that experience. And there’s been a lot of them, yes. And I think there’s not quite the same feeling about what the main game is.
    It won’t get a lot of applause from his junior colleagues, or Bob Hawke either, probably, but it taps a responsive chord among senior ministers. The top-heavy ministry hasn’t worked out, and the Government knows it. Too many Cabinet ministers have too much to do, while too many junior ministers are just there for the perks and the prestige.
    And nothing has emerged in the past 18 months to justify the extra three ministers Hawke added after the last election. It was a $750,000 indulgence in rank patronage to keep the Caucus factions happy. Nothing more.
    More bad symbolism.
    Yet the workload attrition on senior ministers has been enormous. “The last week this Parliament was up six weeks ago — we’ve been here five weeks now, the Senate, that is — in that week addressed 12 industry functions in five different States. Twelve! And I’ve been doing that for six years, sort of. Well, I’m not going to go on doing that.
    “I can’t. I’ve got to have more time to think. “The Government needs more time to think. Some things which we probably haven’t thought through, or argued carefully enough, are creating difficulties for us. I think the OTC dispute is one. I really don’t think perhaps, early on, we dotted the I’s and crossed the t’s enough.”
    Button, pushed by questions, returns to the symbolism theme.
    “Another thing was the Hayden appointment. I mean, that was in the same category of bad symbolism. Or various aspects of it were. Probably the way we handled the referenda, too, and more recently, the Aboriginal Affairs thing. Look, there’s been significant achievements, particularly in the work that went into the May Economic Statement and into the Budget.
    “But while the economy, in spite of difficulties, has been in good shape, and other things have been going ahead reasonably well, the symbolism of the year has been bad. Bad!”
    For bad symbolism, read bad political management.
    Only once did Button touch on the mid-year leadership tensions between Hawke and Paul Keating. It’s a taboo subject in the Government these days, with everyone pretending it didn’t really happen. Yet the corrosive internal effects were profound. This Government will never be quite the same. It remains by far the most significant and least understood political development of the year.
    Button was enumerating Labor’s achievements.
    “We had a Budget and a May statement that were outstanding, but somehow we let the gloss go off those things pretty quickly. (Pause). Well, with the Budget it was overshadowed by the differences (pause) apparent differences (pause) between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer.
    That didn’t help?
    “No. (long pause) No, it didn’t.”
    End of subject. End of year.

  2. Peter Bull May 9, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Very interesting. There are still some Telstra staff that were with PMG/Telecom/Telstra that have a two year redundancy arrangement. OTC like Telecom, RBA etc had the freedom to negotiate wages
    Staff at the Reserve Bank of Australia RBA negotiated a staff superannuation scheme, outside CSS/PSS, which was exceptionally generous.

    While they were free to negotiate the politics of the discretion under the Acts for Statutory Authorities were constrained in a policy since. I think George was poorly advised of what he could do.


  3. Peter Bull May 9, 2016 at 8:51 am

    I too remember the day very well. A colleague and I were in the International Network Management Centre at Paddington working the 3-11pm shift when we heard late in the afternoon or early evening that George had been sacked. We were probably alarmed or angry at what had happened to him and rang all of the outstations to give them the bad news as well as ringing as many of the technical staff at their homes that we could. There was a good representation from technical staff as well as engineers and clerical staff in the foyer of OTC House at 231 Elizabeth Street in Sydney the next day. The gathered throng chanted “Bring back George” or words to that effect. The “Memories” video scans those present quite well I think.

    I will never forget the atmosphere when George came down in the lift to address the gathered throng of supporters and interested parties. He was embarrassed, I think, and, as the below email from one of our members says, he thanked us for our support but asked us to go back to work so as to maintain the high regard in which OTC was held and so as to not damage OTC’s reputation as Australia’s most profitable public utility and the professionalism of its employees.

    History will show that OTC was the only Australian company where the employees went out on strike for their Managing Director or CEO. I doubt that it had happened before that infamous day and I doubt that it ever happened afterwards.

    The below story from the Sydney Morning Herald dated 24 December 1988 was supplied by another of our members and adds another perspective to the sacking of George Maltby

  4. Peter Bull May 9, 2016 at 8:52 am

    That was the way I remembered it, not as a issue regarded retrenched workers. My memory also tells me that we were several years stagnant on the new pay levels until the rest of Australia caught up… cheers Terry.

  5. Peter Bull May 9, 2016 at 8:53 am

    Sacked for looking after the employees, such a shame
    Cheers Harold

  6. Peter Bull May 9, 2016 at 8:54 am

    I remember the chant well… “We want George. We want George”.
    Peter Burgess

  7. Peter Bull May 10, 2016 at 9:26 am

    I have very warm memories of George Maltby. I was fortunate to be the project manager for provision of the first western Satellite Earth Station in Vietnam which was a project that George took particular interest in. I think this was the first foreign construction project for which OTC was solely responsible. Previous OTC offshore construction projects were usually in partnership with other organisations, generally undersea cable and Intelsat projects.

    I well remember the day he was sacked. I arrived in the lobby area at Elizabeth St. and could not move for the crush of staff who had arrived to support him. I also remember his speach that day to staff. He thanked everyone for their support and asked us all to go back to work and to support the good reputation of OTC. I remember him as a big man both physically and metaphorically.
    Geoff Oldman

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