Bruce Wilson. Training guru. Super-fine wool geneticist. Have compliant girlfriend, money laundered, quick turnaround, no questions asked.
This report was first published in The Australian in November 2012.
Many in the labour movement -- from prime minister Bob Hawke down -- had known of the hugely ambitious Wilson's antics since 1986, when he rose to prominence as the leader of a three-day "hijacking" of an oil and gas rig on Woodside Petroleum's North West Shelf project in Western Australia.
Wilson, a firebrand convener with the Australian Workers Union in WA and an acolyte of federal Labor MP Graeme Campbell, led a group of more than 300 workers who shut down the North Rankin A platform and prevented Woodside helicopters and police from landing on the rig.
The illegal strike -- described by the WA Labor mines minister David Parker as "totally irresponsible, unbelievable and unacceptable" and as an "act of piracy" by the company -- cut gas supplies to WA industry and led to Wilson being banned from Woodside platforms until 1992.
But for Wilson, who grew up in Port Hedland and lost an eye when a rock hit him during a schoolyard brawl, the strike earned him the national profile he craved and turned him into a "darling of the Left of the union movement", according to Tony Cooke, the former head of WA's peak union body then known as the Trades and Labor Council.
When the unprecedented sit-in began making news overseas and led to a complaint by Japanese investors in the North West Shelf, Hawke phoned the AWU's acting state secretary in WA, Joe Isherwood, to urge the workers to leave the rig.
Speaking publicly for the first time, the since-retired Isherwood claims that Wilson -- whom he also suspected of financial impropriety involving AWU funds -- defied his orders in leading the wildcat strike and refusing to leave the platform.
He also reveals that Hawke was so concerned about the strike that he threatened to send in the navy.
"Hawke . . . wasn't in the mood to have that project stuffed up by the union movement," Isherwood tells The Australian. "I spoke to Hawke about it and he was absolutely determined that this thing was going to end one way or the other -- or he'd send a warship in.
"I remember saying to Bob: 'That won't be be necessary because Wilson isn't authorised to be on North Rankin A, I'll take over'."
Graeme Campbell apparently thought highly of Bruce. Here he is making a speech in the Federal Parliament about the multi-talented PM in waiting..
In this instalment from the Federal House of Representatives Hansard for 6 June, 1991 Renaissance Man Bruce is calling for the banning of genetic material lest the genes get passed on or something. What a great idea! Here's the federal member for Kalgoorlie talking about the wool industry.
I want to dwell on two characteristics-characteristics, incidentally, which are very hard to assess with objective wool measurement, which the Wool Corporation seems intent on ramming down our throats. These characteristics can be improved in the short term only by the use of Australian genetic material. Of course, there is a crying need to protect our industry and of course we should be putting a ban on this. Recently, the Secretary of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) in Western Australia, Mr Bruce Wilson, put out a statement calling for the banning of genetic material. He said that in his view it was detrimental to the wool industry and the jobs of his members. It was a pity that he was derided by many people in the agro-political industry who went off on all sorts of tangents and suggested that the AWU was the cause of problems in the industry. It is an absolute nonsense claim. Anyone who looks at this objectively will see that, particularly in Western Australia, the AWU has been quite receptive to changes.
We got the same sort of attitude from this agro-political industry when it immediately jumped in and condemned the appointment of the new Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Crean), who, I believe, will be an excellent Minister. I believe he will bring a freshness of vision to the industry and not be cluttered up with the prejudices of the ploughboys opposite.
Ban that DNA! Sorted. Now the late Senator Peter Cook was a bit of a Bruce fan too. So much so that the Hawke Government Minister for Industrial Relations could think of no finer teacher for the senior executive ranks of the Commonwealth Public Service than our Bruce Wilson, lecturer to the quality.
Senator Archer asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 22 March 1988:
(1) What consultants have been engaged by the Public Service Commission to carry out consultancy work during the calendar year 1987 under each of the Public Service provisions that enable engagement of outside assistance/advice.
(2) For what purpose was each consultant engaged.
(3) What was the payment to each consultant.
Senator Button —On 17 May 1988, the then Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service Matters provided an answer to the honourable senator's question, based on advice provided by the Public Service Commission. The following supplementary information has now been provided from records held by the Commission:
(1) to (3)-
Bruce Wilson ...
SEMP 18 Industrial Relations Stream - Senior Executive Management Program
Now let's stay back in the 1980s - 1986 when the firebrand was right into occupying and stickin' it to the man.
Senator Peter Cook, Senator for West Australia had been invited to make a Wednesday morning presentation to Julia Gillard's Socialist Forum in Melbourne.
His topic was enough to stir the imagination of any self-respectin' militant unionist groupie keen on advancing the cause.
His topic? Industrial Relations in the Pilbara. With thanks to Google Maps, here is the Pilbara region - note the proximity of the North Rankin gas platform a helicopter ride away.
Here's the bad boy.
I don't know if the Bruce Wilson accepted as a member of the Forum in 1986 is the same Bruce Wilson who staged the sit-in on the North Rankin gas platform near the Pilbara. But I can't imagine Peter Cook's speech without some reference to the firebrand unionist.
Someone's interest was apparently piqued. Enough to want to hear all about it.
And to impress the bad boy by helping out.
It would be funny if it wasn't criminal, tragic, anti-social and sad, just terribly sad and pathetic.
There are some character stains that simply can't be hidden by pearls, twin-sets, black rimmed glasses and theatrical greasepaint.
Every touch leaves its trace. And fleas.