After a strident attack from a knowledgeable insider, NRMA director and
former president Ross Turnbull has written into Crikey to set the
record straight:
Your anonymous correspondent’s attack (2 July 2004) on the NRMA board and management is wrong.

Over the past six months, the board has had many successes for
motorists and members including record federal highway funding in New
South Wales.

Just two weeks ago, the NRMA settled a dispute with patrolmen which
would have cost the NRMA over $6 million through an unnecessary special
general meeting (sgm). Your correspondent failed to mention
this.

On June 18 and 19, NRMA management and union/patrolmen representatives
met about the unresolved issues concerning the patrolmen’s Enterprise
Bargaining Agreement (EBA). At these meetings, all outstanding
issues were agreed. Management undertook to recommend the terms
and conditions of the proposed EBA to the NRMA board for
ratification. The union representatives undertook to recommend
the proposed EBA to the patrolmen. They asked the NRMA board to
cancel the union organised $6 million sgm. A big win for both
sides.

The NRMA board met on 23 June and management, led by Tony Stuart,
recommended that the proposed EBA with the patrolmen be ratified by the
board if the $6 million sgm was cancelled by the Supreme Court.
Management also recommended proceedings in the Supreme Court to obtain
orders which would preclude the board from calling the sgm. The
board’s application was heard in the Supreme Court on 25 June when John
McCarthy QC represented the NRMA directors. John Parkin, AMWU
assistant secretary, (patrolmen’s representative) supported the
directors’ application. The Court granted the orders sought by
the NRMA board. On 28 June the NSW Industrial Relations
Commission registered the EBA between the NRMA and
patrolmen.

This saved NRMA members $6 million.

So, it is wrong to claim I interfered with NRMA management or that Tony
Stuart is entitled to a $1 million payout for breach of contract.
Tony Stuart made the recommendations to the board about the EBA – there
is no issue about who manages the NRMA – it is Tony Stuart and his
team, not the AMWU nor anyone else. Only management could reach a
settlement with patrolmen or make recommendations to the board.
Tony Stuart knows that. So it is doubly wrong to suggest he is
entitled to any payout because of any action of mine during the EBA
negotiations.

It is also wrong to suggest that any board members wanted to crush the
union. All the directors wanted was an agreement with the
patrolmen which would be in the best interests of NRMA members.
When management advised the board that acceptable terms had been
negotiated, there was unanimous board endorsement for the EBA.

All board members were plaintiffs in the Supreme Court proceedings and
informed Justice Campbell through Peter Steele, the NRMA deputy ceo,
that it was not in the interests of NRMA members that a sgm be held and
that the sgm should be cancelled.

The remarks about John McCarthy QC are untrue. No meetings with
union representatives were initiated or organised by him. On May
27, John Parkin approached me about the first meeting with him.
The main meetings on 18/19 June which resulted in a settlement of the
EBA, were arranged through John Della Bosca’s office (NSW Industrial
Relations Minister).

Tony Stuart and NRMA industrial consultant, Chris Hayes, met John
Parkin (AMWU) and Jeff Cohen (patrolmen’s representative) with myself
and John McCarthy QC present. I had arranged for John McCarthy QC
to attend and far from him organising the meeting I just caught him by
mobile phone at Sydney Airport before he left for Melbourne.

There was no EBA “deal” brokered by John McCarthy QC with John
Parkin. The last successful round of EBA negotiations were
conducted for NRMA by Tony Stuart and his team – no-one else. I
know, as I was there, unlike your correspondent.

John McCarthy’s contribution in the final negotiations was the proposal
that if the patrolmen and the NRMA settled the EBA and consequently
neither party wanted the sgm, then the Supreme Court should be
approached for orders cancelling the sgm. He believed that while
such orders were rare, this would be an appropriate case.
Management recommended that the board act on his advice and make the
application with the union’s support. The court made the orders
sought which effectively solved the remaining problem about an
expensive, unnecessary and destructive sgm.

John McCarthy QC had no external agenda in advising NRMA and it is
wrong to claim he was protecting Bob Carr from the AMWU – the NRMA
patrolmen have nothing to do with the NSW premier.

The claims that John McCarthy and I wanted to ditch existing board members for a new team are lies.

This board can be acclaimed for the millions of dollars in members’
fees which they have saved. Any move to sack this board, given
the recent outstanding performance about the EBA and the sgm, would be
an embarrassing failure.

There are still some differences on various matters between board
members and myself – not about my expenses, which have all been
approved by the board.

Your correspondent also claims that I was threatened by the union and
that I believed it would run a personal and damaging campaign against
me. These are lies.

I admire our patrolmen. As an NRMA director I want to avoid
industrial disputes and costly and wasteful special meetings where
these can be avoided in the best interests of NRMA members. It is
no secret that I want NRMA to provide a world class roadside service
and other benefits to members. I make no apology in trying to
achieve these goals by actively encouraging and sponsoring negotiations
between management and unions. This is part of my duties as a
director of the NRMA. This is not “Turnbull doing his own thing”
or “(Turnbull) ignoring normal company practice”, as claimed by your
correspondent.

Our dividend to members is service not profits. We act for
members not shareholders. It should not be a secret that the NRMA
at its best, acts in a cooperative way for the mutual benefit of our
2.1 million members.

For me, that’s the real story in the NRMA during the last few weeks.

Let’s move on.

Peter Fray

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