It is with great sadness the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry notes the passing of George Polites AC CMG MBE.
Mr Polites was a seminal figure in the history of the Australian Chamber movement, and in Australian industrial relations during the 1950s, 1960s and particularly the challenging 1970s and into the 1980s.
He led Australia’s peak employer organisations prior to their joining with the peak representative of chambers of commerce, to form what became the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 1992.
Mr Polites was Secretary of the Australian Council of Employer Federations 1959 to 1977, and was integral to the formation of the Confederation of Australian Industry (CAI) in 1977 (the Australian Chamber’s predecessor).
He was then the inaugural Director General of the CAI Industrial Council 1977 – 1983.
This was a period of profound challenge in Australian industrial relations, which ultimately led to major changes under the Hawke and then Keating governments.
Mr Polites served as a national business leader and advocate through the terms of eight Prime Ministers.
He led industry during an important period of Australia’s history, encompassing:
- Ongoing post-war reconstruction and growth.
- The establishment of Australia’s post-war manufacturing base.
- Union militancy in key supply chains
- The trade union split.
- Heavy reliance on tariffs and industry protection, and then unprecedented tariff reductions.
- The focus on globalisation through the oil shock of the 1970s.
- Centralised wage fixation and quarterly wage indexation.
Mr Polites was a formidable adversary of the trade union leaders of his time, including then ACTU leader Bob Hawke.
However, he was equally a successful negotiator and consensus builder who could work with trade unions, governments and the then conciliation and arbitration system.
Mr Polites also contributed to industrial relations globally.
He was a highly respected Australian employer delegate to International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Organisation of Employers throughout his years at ACEF and CAI, helping to advance the rights and interests of employers and workers throughout the world.
The Australian Chamber President, Board, members, and staff pay tribute to Mr Polites’ life of service to the Australian business community, and the legacy he and his generation of business leaders contributed to all Australians.