Ron Manners talks about and to Consumer Protectionistas

Ron Manners talks on Consumer Protection to Progress Party Perth. 20/6/1980. Scroll to the end of the transcript below for the concealed tape recording days later on the same issues.

Here’s the transcript of the above talk:
Hey, ladies and gentlemen, things are very poor in Kalgoorlie, so I brought some material. This is all free, but it might lead you into buying some of my goodies.

Now, I disagree with John Pascoe entirely. He said don’t forget to pay all this tax. But there’s a way of avoiding payroll tax at least, and that’s the sheet that tells you how to do it. It can be used for the group tax in the pay as you earn situation, but we badly need a test case.

I’ll leave all this material here. What else have we got … We got something, a little thing, this is written by a fellow called Gary Sturgess who’s been doing a lot more of this. He’s just joined the staff of The Bulletin. And it’s “The Menace of the Quops” and it was a reprint from the Playboy magazine and the quops are the quasi cops. And I’ll talk about them a little later. And this one’s called “Time to Control Runaway Regulation.” So good luck with those.

Now, I felt that John gave us a little idea on what to do with these tickets as a way of saving money, you know, like a tax deduction. So I thought, well, I have to come up with something to match John at least on how you can save money. And I came across this entirely by accident today. I parked my car at a parking meter and forgot to put any money in it.

Came back hours later, and all the guys had got tickets front and back and everything, and there’s my car and no ticket.

I’d forgotten to put any number plates on my car.

I’d just picked up a new car, I was in a hurry, but there’s a point: It could be that we have sort of plug-in number plates. Just pull up at a parking meter, off go the number plates in the boot.

Just imagine that bureaucratic guy coming along with his little book, writing all the details, ahh no number, can’t fill his form in, he’s stumped, hasn’t come across this before.

So, it’s a thought. Don’t ever make their job hard, will you? Get along easy with him, I think it was easy for him, it saved him filling in a form.

And I think that John is quite right in the other thing he says: keep a low-profile and maintain the best relations at all times with these dreadful bureaucrats that we have to come up against.

And we know that what they’re doing is achieving the exact opposite of what they intend to do. The dreadful part about it is that it’s all at our expense. That’s what we know. And one of my hobbies is keeping examples of how these well-intentioned bits of legislation have a result that’s exactly the opposite.

And if I can just touch one subject it is a piece of legislation they brought out three or four years ago called the Higher Purchase Licensing Act. And before that time, almost every business selling equipment had a little in-house leasing company. And they’d sell some equipment to that company, and that little company would lease the equipment to any of you people who were leasing gear, whether it be cars or office equipment.

And the little company of theirs had to pitch their leasing rates a couple percent lower then the big boys. Otherwise, you deal with the big leasing companies. That was good, that was really good competitive stuff and the leasing rates were reasonable. And, of course, the government came along under pressure from the big leasing companies, and said, hey, I think we should have perhaps a little bit of legislation fellas.

This is due to the restricted competition of, to clean up the interest of consumer protection of course. Clean up this dreadful leasing market, all these backyard leasing people are ruining the market, giving us a bad name. The government thought this was attractive because they could do this under the pretext of protecting the consumers.

But think about it a bit. If the leasing company goes broke, there’s all of us having leased something from them, we get that thing for free.

Do we need any protection?

That’s beautiful. From that point of view, there’s no consumer to protect. There’s nothing that he’s got to protect from.

He’s got a free good if the company goes broke. But the government went along with it. They brought in this legislation, and my little company had a little side in-house leasing company called Entry Ice Proprietary Limited for some reason. And we were leasing these little office coffee machines to people at a great rate, like much lower than the main companies, and they were happy, everyone was happy.

But the commissions came in required an auditor, a couple grand a year for no purpose, required great assets, required submission of balance sheets, the most will inspect you, the most walk in do all these dreadful things. I looked at that and I saw it coming. I’m just, there is no word, just pull out of it.

And so many companies pulled out of leasing at that time. And coincidentally leasing rates have never stopped going up. And that’s a classic example how the intention was to clean up the game, protect the consumer. The result was exactly the opposite.

Interjector: Who was bought the shares into those leasing companies, that’s where it starts.

I don’t think so. It’s not so much the shareholders, and if you know and I know how much a shareholder governed a company these days, it’s the dreadful coalition formed between big business and the government. You know, they do deals. Can I finish here or can I go on and tell you why I’m wearing this spiffy shirt tonight?

Well this spiffy shirt is because I am a leader in my field, and my field is that I’m an independent car dealer, among other things. I call myself an independent car dealer. Ray O’Connor, the Minister of Consumer Petitions calls me a, I think a sneak car dealer, I think is his word, that they’re trying to stamp out.

Okay, so what happened is they brought in something about four years ago called the Motor Vehicle Dealers Licensing Tribunal. Which was like a blood brother to the High Purchase Licensing Tribunal similarly. Now you wonder why these things are brought in, but we’re to blame really as much as anyone else because we keep asking the government to do all these things.

I’ve got an example here from … this is last Sunday. The national secretary of the Independent Truckers Association. You know we know they’re a great free enterprise organization. They went on strike to sort of prove that they’re rugged individualists and they don’t need the government, they don’t want to be licensed.

He says he disagrees with the recent cause for licensing of the road transport industry, and goes on to explain very lucidly why the licensing, it’s against the consumers interests to license the trucking, because it’ll increase costs. But then just three or four days later in actually yesterday’s daily news, out comes the trucking industry demanding new legislation to control insurance broking firms.

It’s the same people. We don’t want it for ourselves, but we do want it for somebody else. Free enterprise is great for us, but like here we go. The truckies say they want to see government legislation to bring about uniform control over insurance rates to protect the interests of people using them.

The problem down here is of course the CIV Fraud Squad is investigating the allegation, but it is understood that lack of legislation and legal technicalities are frustrating progress. There apparently was fraud, if you’ve got somebody’s money he’ll entrust in you, misapply it, that’s fraud and that’s a matter for the police. It’s not a matter for a kangaroo court.

But we, and I say we collectively, to a great degree ask for these things and we get them, we’ll get more and more of that. Each of those organizations is what they call a quango, that’s the sort of nickname that’s being used for them.

For about six months, I’ve been trying to find out how many of these quangos, these little entities of regulation, that we have in West Australia.

Interjector: What’s a quango, Ron?

Quasi-autonomous non-government organization.

Interjector: No accountability?

No accountability to anybody, with an unlimited lifespan. I think they’ve still got this collector of scalps in Canberra. He’s a quango.

We know how many there are in Canberra, because Senator Rae took three years to find out how many there were. We don’t know how many there are in West Australia, and we can’t find any answer to it, we think it’s between 230 and 290 of them. And the only way to sort of bring them to an end is with this sunset legislation, which is being introduced from the libertarian end of America and is now coming into Australia.

Every new bit of legislation that comes in must have a shelf life. It automatically terminates on a certain date, preferably five years later. The state government has just brought one in with ten years, we think it’s too long, but it’s a great start.

So where I thought I might just touch on a couple of points is, how I’ve maintained good relationships with this Motor Vehicle Dealers Licensing Board. Because I think if I can tell you how to get along well with the people with which I have to work, in government, then perhaps next time I come down, I can sit and you can tell me how you best cement relationships with the people with whom you work.

This came along a while back and they sent me this bill saying please send in a hundred dollars or something to join this thing, like the motor vehicle dealers licensing or whatever it was. So I wrote back and asked them what services they’re going to provide and they wrote back saying, well, they were going to protect me from competition for a year for this fee.

Now this is not exactly the words they used. They put it delicately, but that’s what they sort of said, get together fellas because there’s a lot of merit in this. And it was sponsored by the Automotive Chamber of Commerce, so it must be a good thing, because they’re terribly respectable.

Now, they do have their own interests at heart, and one of them is to restrict competition. But, anyway. I said, well I’d rather not participate, thanks very much. You know, favouring a voluntary society, being free enterprise and all that. They can have their little party and, you know, group of monopolists and I’ll just carry on.

Because I thought, well, all you gotta do in business is look after customers. You look after them, and they come back, and you keep going, and it’s a pretty simple sort of a thing, and they’re pretty hard to keep a look after and keep happy. And your principals that you’re working for, they’re pretty hard to keep happy.

Let alone getting into sort of a separate group who I don’t really see how I’m responsible to, because we’re already paying them. You know, So if we paying people, how can we be responsible to them? They’re living off us. So, you know, I got all screwed up and said, no, I won’t send the money.

So, a little while later they sort of kept writing letters until I knew the Act off by heart pretty much, you know they kept explaining to me and how it must have certain points that there was a fine of $1,000 if I didn’t send $100. And it was good value because if I send the $100, it’s really a saving of $900. If I act quickly.

It sounded pretty good, because I’m a small businessman. I don’t really have good accounting, of course, I just sort of look at these things and sort of struggle through them. But I didn’t do it, and then they sort of came on, and they said, there’s a court marshal thing. And they said, look, we’ve got this licensing board we’ve convened in Perth specially to meet you on this certain day at this certain hour. Because we want to, I think they didn’t use the word interrogate, we want to question you. So I said, it’s okay, it’s no trouble, because I didn’t mind coming to Perth, you put some new clothes on and get jazzed up a bit.

And I got there and I didn’t mind coming because I felt I really wanted to ask them some questions. You know, what was it all about? And anyway, there was I think about seven of them sitting there, same deal John, little chair …

There they were and they sorta kept asking who was I and what was this, that sort of thing.

Terribly snide and snooty and all this because I didn’t want to go along with this deal. But then I said well who are you, I wanted to know exactly the background of every one of these seven guys. Two of them were from the biggest car dealing firms in Perth.

I said, what really do you seek from this organization? And they said, well, we ought to have this industry cleaned up. And I said, what’s the problem? And they said it’s all this unfair competition.

I said, well, just a minute, why is it unfair like, who is it?

And they said, all these backyarders they said, people out of their garage, they sell cars, any little service agent sell cars. I said, what’s unfair? And they said, it’s unfair because they’ve got lower overheads than us, and they can do business on a lower margin. I said that’s probably dreadfully unfair to you, but it’s very fair to them.

And they’re probably looking at you guys with your big shiny premises, air-conditioned saying, gee, we wish we were like them, having it easy with secretaries and cups of coffee, there’s a horse for every course. And the people buying the cars from these guys are getting them at a cheaper price, because it’s sort of no warranty, and the guy sort of says, well, here it is, take it or leave it, because it’s half the price here, than down the road.

We have a freedom of choice as people to buy our particular good, being a car in this case, from anybody. But no.

So they had their angle and the other guys, the public servants, there were a couple of them, and they sort of, they just liked the job. They said, well I was a magistrate here, and it’s like a sinecure and I’ve been working all my life why shouldn’t I get a good job, and it’s a non-terminating job, you know, they were happy. I went through these guys one after the other, and I must admit the chairman was a real good guy.

He was a good guy and he kept saying, well, give us your balance sheet, have you brought all those figures, all those statistics? And I said well just a minute, no I haven’t really, because I don’t think I’ll join. And what happened next.

So, oh that’s right.

And then I think he had a point, he said, we must protect the public, because you guys just go out of business like that, and the consumer’s not protected, you just vanish. You come, you’re here today, and you’re gone tomorrow and the public wanted better treatment. I thought well, gee, this is probably a good time, so I invited the seven of them up to Kalgoorlie the next week, when we’re celebrating the 80th anniversary of our company. I said, fellas, you’re most welcome, but you’ve got to pay your own airfare.

Suddenly they lost interest.

They got the message though, we’ve been around and we’re gonna try to be around a bit longer. So, anyway, that was it, went back, and ah nothing much happened, but they kept writing these letters.

And in the end I, oh that’s right, they said I couldn’t do something or other, so I said, ohh, in a fit of weakness, I wrote to them and I said, something or other. Well, thanks for your explanation dated February the ninth. I thought, mind if I read some of these letters?

Okay, thanks for your explanation, addressed to the chief bureaucrat, motor vehicles licensing board that was in 1977. A payment of $100 attached, being the protection money you requested. We understand that this buys 12 months of government branded protection against competition from any other dealers who refuse to pay this protection money.

Apparently this legislation to which you refer whilst masquerading as being of some benefit to the consumers is, in fact, another example of government restriction of trade and competition. It’s one more example of government intervention in the marketplace achieving the opposite to what may have been intended by well-meaning, vote-seeking politicians under the influence of commercial pressure groups.

While you might feel that we should be appreciative of your efforts to restrict competition, we know that we would adequately survive by serving our clients in a free marketplace and look forward to the time when a free enterprise system may be reintroduced.

P.S. We are not enclosing the balance sheets or financial information as requested, as we feel that it is somewhat presumptuous for an employee to request such confidential information from their employer.

I like to keep God in touch, so I sent a carbon copy of it to Charlie Court.

And that’s right, I’ve got another letter to Charlie. I said, Dear Sir Charles, actually.

I thought that’s fair enough. I refer to our exchange of letters last year concerning, oh, this is good, because Charlie was beefing off about the trouble he was having with the Federal government bureaucrats. You know, dreadful, why do they invade, we are capable of running our affairs, so get out, get out.

So I wrote to him and I said I appreciate the trouble you’re having with these Federal bureaucrats. Sorry, the attached copy of the letter to the Motor Vehicle Dealers Licensing Board is a classic example of the bureaucrats frustrating the business community, and is reminiscent of the disturbing parallels Solzhenitsyn draws between developments in Western countries and Russia.

If I were a dog, I suppose I would obediently wear my license without question. But as a human being I take strong exception, perhaps belatedly, to the continuous frustration from people, many of whom would be regarded by private industry as unemployable.

If the less productive members of a society clearly seek security, let them rally to the defense of the freedom of choice and freedom of action of those who work for a living and who are personally productive. Let them voluntarily deal with one another in a marketplace kept free of compulsion, so the voluntary trading directs the instruments of production and the means of economic security into the hands of those most capable of serving all mankind.

It promotes mutual respect for life and property. It stimulates every individual to develop his own talents to their maximum productivity. The free market, and not its displacement by government controls, is the only route to the kind of personal security which makes for a harmonious social relationship. If the bureaucrats have their own homemade laws on their side, where does one go nowadays for justice?

I saw Sir Charles about a week later and he said: Ron, do you mind if I don’t reply to that letter?

Here we go. And then, oh that’s right, they didn’t send me a receipt. $100. I wanted that, because I thought a receipt would show that they’d accepted it on the basis that it was protection money, you know, I wanted to keep it tidy.

I wrote back and, well, I didn’t get a reply.

They kept writing to me wanting money. So I wrote back saying something here. We continue to receive high-handed signals from you drawing our attention to the fact that we have not completed the formalities of humbly begging you for permission to continue in business.

Our cheque, protection money to buy a license etcetera, was forwarded on September the 20th, 1976. We can understand the bureaucratic growth syndrome that confronts commerce today and with all due respect, quote from a book review published in Today, the official journal of the Liberal Party of Australia, WA division.

It’s a strange thing, I mean, I just happened to write it in the Liberal Party magazine. But it was a book review of Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged. It’s a short quote, so I’ll just read it, which I thought was pertinent, because it says, “When you see that trading is done not by consent but by compulsion, when you see that in order to produce you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing, you may know that your society is doomed.”

So what happened next. Bit historic, isn’t it? Oh, that’s right. Okay. Next thing happens, about a year later, they double the fees, you know. I said, well, that was good. They’re suckers, we got the money pretty easy we’ll sort of go for the high jump. So double the fees, take money of us, whoosh!

And I thought it was a bit of a struggle meeting the $100 thing, because business has not been too good. And I thought, well, that makes it impossible. I get no value at $100, I get even half of it at $200. No way. So they took some legal action against me, here we are.

But I thought well, who, I don’t have a regular solicitor because you pick the right horse for the course. I said, now, isn’t this poetic justice. I went to Julian Gruel who’s the Labor Party Member for Boulder-Dundas and I explained to Julian this dreadful trouble I was having with the Liberal Party bureaucrats. Would he be able to help me?

So we read a few things, and we got them all stitched up, and they got off my back.

And I think they’re a bit out of sequence here, but anyway, I wrote to Sir Charles again.

I said, Dear Sir Charles, the attachments give details of how an individual employed a self-confessed socialist solicitor. And Julian’s quite, it’s not an unfair title because he’s proud of the fact he’s a socialist, mainly because he doesn’t know what it means. And mainly because he thinks it’s linked with looking after the poor.

I say that not in the derogatory sense. I have the greatest admiration for Julian Gruel. So I say to Sir Charles, the attachment shows how I got a self-confessed socialist solicitor to protect me from a so-called free enterprise government. My great concern is that the State bureaucracy continues to grow at a faster rate than the taxpayers’ ability to support it.

I think this comes from just the time before that, Peter Samuel wrote this thing up in The Bulletin. Peter’s now in charge of The Bulletin’s New York department, so it’s a pretty big job over there. And this is called “a matter of principle”.

One correspond a car trader from WA who’s unnamed, writes surely freedom to trade is not a privilege, it’s an inalienable rate with the only legitimate role for government being to provide low courts to dispense justice to deal with any criminal action. He has just defied the WA government demand for filling in all kinds of government forms in order to get a Motor Vehicle Dealers License.

He said it would suit him to comply because the scheme would restrict competition, but he believes in the tradition of the little guy having the right to compete with the big guys without having to gain favour of some bureaucrat. And he says that the licence payment is sheer protection money, because what they are really buying is protection against competition, because any citizen has the right to trade, and we had this right long before government decided to respectabilise this traditional Mafia revenue-raising technique.

The end of the story is that after our car dealer put his cuts through such vigour of principle, the bureaucrats decided to waver and grant him and fill in all those forms and just accepted his money.

Oh, we’re still on. Still on. So we had a bit of peace, we had about a year’s peace. And then a few other car dealers heard that I was getting all the benefits. For free. See? So what the other dealers felt, was that here is a guy not paying this fee. And they were sort of a bit envious that they weren’t, you know, getting the same deal. So, they wrote together and they said: increase the penalty, from $1,000 to $3,000, because that will bring him into line.

And [unsure of word used here] came at me with this thing, “crackdown on sneak car dealers.” And they’ve increased the fee. And that’s a pretty steep sort of a penalty. And I think John what’s-his-name, of the Sunday Times says that “the crack down on backyard dealers comes after almost four years of pressure by licensed dealers in the WA Automobile Chamber of Commerce. They have claimed that enormous amounts of business is going to backyard dealers.”

That’s entirely freedom of choice on who buys from who; that’s all I mention that for. So, this $3,000 fine is a bit of a problem you know. So I looked at that and I said, well listen well there’s some action brewing.

So, nothing much happened until I tried to put the advertisement in the local newspaper for cars. And the guy said oh Ron, listen, we can’t accept your advertisement because you haven’t got your license dealers number to put on the advertisement. And we’ve got an advice from the Motor Vehicle Dealers Licensing Board that we too will be fined $3,000 if we accept your advertisement.

So I said, well that’s no good. I went to radio instead of the newspaper. You know? So, I went to radio. Then, the newspaper guys got upset that radio was getting all my advertising. And the newspaper was missing out. So I said well you ought to go to the Fair Practices Act and sort of take your action against the government for discriminating between one section of the media and the other. But I don’t think they did anything.

But there were three things that all happened in rapid sequence which I thought was, you know, the game was probably hotting up a bit. So here we go. That was the first one.

The second one was that the Road Traffic Authority said they noticed I haven’t got a Dealer’s Number. So they felt that I should pay Stamp Duty twice. When we bought the cars and then when we sold them again. Because if you’re a dealer you only sort of pay the Stamp Duty once. Not in and out. And so that made it very hard there. But what we do is we just don’t license them at all.

So, it saves a bit more money. But we insure them, we do insure them. We’re quite serious about that.

We got a letter from one of our principals that said:

Dear Ron, this letter is to warn you privately that the Department of Consumer Affairs is currently conducting an investigation. In a recent interview with one of the Department’s investigating officers, it was revealed that you may have not have a license. Failure to keep your license current will result in a fine of up to $3,000, plus a penalty of $100 per day that such license remains invalid. We were informed that we, and they named the name of their company, will also be held liable for these same fines if we continue to trade with unlicensed dealers.

See? So, well, that’s a problem, because I just sort of lost supply of my cars.

I can’t advertise. I can’t get any cars to sell. I saw that customers still wanted to deal with me and I said well that’s encouraging. So I thought I’d do something about it today.

So, I’m down here today and, what inspired me was ,and Milton Friedman quoted this, “underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

Well I guess the government just doesn’t believe in freedom at all. Otherwise, why would it keep blocking it like this?

So, anyway, I thought there’s three alternatives open to me. And it’s like an exercise, you know, this sort of thing.

One alternative is to have the Motor Vehicle Dealers License Board abolished. You know. Let’s get rid of it. And it’s not so funny because there’s a guy in England called Anthony Fisher who is just the biggest chicken outfit there. And he had a little trouble with the Egg Board. And they had been giving him a real hard time. And he worked it out that the Egg Board was increasing the price of eggs by about 30% on what the producers could sell without the Egg Board getting involved. And he went on attack and he started a stink with the Institute of Economic Affairs in London and you know what? Before very long, it exposed these people for what they were really doing. And the Egg Board vanished. And they haven’t had an Egg Board in England ever since. It’s not so hard. So that’s one alternative.

The other alternative is to sort of somehow find a way around it. And we’ve done this today, because I’m now a South Australian car dealer operating in West Australia.

And what I have on my side is Section 92 of the Constitution. Do you know what Section 92 says? It guarantees free trade and intercourse across the boundaries.

I read that and you know what I said? I said, you can keep your free trade, I’ll just have the intercourse.

That’s what it does, so I’m a South Australian car dealer operating here.

I can draw my cars from here. They can’t stop them coming across the border, because, if they want to, they’ve got a Constitutional battle on their hands. So that’s fixed that.

There’s another thing called the Trade Practices Act, that is a Federal thing. And it’s arranged so if there’s anything higher, it’s the federal situation. And if I can put a dollar value on the fact that they’ve deprived me of any livelihood, I can take action against these people under this Trade Practices Act. And that could be interesting.

But I think the best move of all is to do the lot, abolish them and push this Constitutional thing and have a go.

Now a lot of you may think that I take this very lightly, but I don’t really, I think it’s a most serious thing. Anyway, what sort of got me down here, to sort of talk to these people today about this, was that just a few weeks ago, it was the beginning of WA Week.

You know, very good week. We celebrate our heritage and everything. Sitting quietly in the office, not doing anything else, just minding my own business. I think I was masterminding this New Hebrides sort of thing.

And into the office, storm these two blokes, blue uniforms, nearly looking like cops. Nearly, not quite, you know?

Caps, the works. Stormed up together, clicked their heels. We would like to speak to Mr Manners, please. And I looked up and saw them there and I thought, gee, if I was Jewish, I’d think that I could smell the gas chambers. At this particular moment, and I didn’t smell anything. But they just had this style about them. So I brought them in and I asked them what it was all about, and they introduced themselves. They were the Special Investigators that had been put on by the RTI to stamp out this dreadful thing, so they wanted to ask me all these questions.

Because, as they said, they understood that I was operating without a license. And I said, well, it’s no secret, I’ve never kept it a secret. I mean, I’m quite proud of this, I’m an independent car dealer and that’s a great way to be, you know? And so I really went into the whole thing and I asked them all these questions and they were sort of, to them it was a really big deal. There was a matter of principle involved in it, and I think, honest worry, that they were sort of thinking that I was a naughty sort of fellow. And I was trying to get along well because you can see that’s the idea.

And then I sort of asked them, firstly, had there been any complaints? Had any clients complained about me? And they said well, no, no. I said, well, have any of our principals complained about me? Well, no, no. And I said, have any other car dealers complained about us? No, no. I said, well, really what is the problem? So we sort of talked a bit, and they kept on saying, what was I going to do about it?

And I said, what would you like me to do about it?

And they said we would like you to pick up the phone, ring the Motor Vehicles Dealers Licensing Board at Perth and promise that you’ll have your cheque in today’s mail. I sort of explained I was a bit busy and sort of got excited about as much song as I could to unproductive pastimes that particular day.

So they gave me about a week and I think a week’s just about a month’s coming up so I thought I’d check it out. What really, and I guess this is the message, and this is what I was thinking really, all the time that they’re talking to me.

I just couldn’t help thinking what … if we could only just lift those guys up from the unproductive regulatory sector and lift them over onto the other side of the fence to join the productive members of the population. If we could do that, what a wonderful country and what a wonderful State we could all be living in.

… then
Just four days after the speech transcribed above, using a concealed tape, Ron recorded part of his interrogation by Senior Investigators for Consumer Affairs. Kalgoorlie. 24/6/1980

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