It is with fair bit of pleasure that I rise to speak on this particular issue as I was fortunate enough to be a member of SARC for, I think it was about seven years, and I was certainly at the pointy end of when we started this particular inquiry. This inquiry came about because of a number of representations that I certainly had, but also many members of parliament, and primarily the issue was about the stationery contract that went out to many South Australian schools operated by a long-standing company by the name of K.W. Wholesale Stationers.
K.W. Wholesale Stationers is a cooperative owned by many of the small newsagents in South Australia and had an impressive and long history of providing outstanding service and very competitive prices, and generally there was a very amicable relationship between those involved in schools and those working at K.W. Wholesale Stationers.
So some genius comes along with a thought that perhaps it would be better to source stationery from an overseas-owned company that had very little representation in South Australia, jeopardising, I think it was, about 100 jobs. I had the pleasure of seeing and meeting with a number of those people, who had been long-serving, loyal employees, who spent a considerable period of time with what looked like an axe hanging over their heads with regard to employment.
During that time I can only say that Mr Grant Eckert, the general manager at K.W. Wholesale, showed outstanding leadership. The empathy that gentleman had for his employees was quite incredible. He was like a terrier dog that had grabbed hold of the bone and he was not going to let it go. I suspect Mr Eckert, with his credentials and his standing in the business community, could have probably moved on to another role with another group and do quite nicely for himself but there was absolutely no way that he was going to abandon his employees without one hell of a fight—and fight they did.
There were certainly deputations made to a number of, in particular, Labor lower house members who I know were really quite embarrassed. I attended an end-of-year barbecue at a time when K.W. Wholesale had a slight reprieve. I know that all were really concerned about the future, and that included a number of members of parliament who attended. I attended with a number of Liberal members of parliament who were really quite supportive in trying to ensure that K.W. Wholesale were not getting a leg up but that they had the opportunity to compete on an equal and level playing field.
One of the things that really disturbed me when we were taking evidence was, to me, the absolute apparent lack of empathy from senior public servants with regard to the decisions that they were making and what was actually going to happen to those people on the ground. Without being in any way disparaging, a lot of those people who were working at K.W. Wholesale probably were not going to rip off and head into another job quite easily. One of the employees, who had been a long-term employee, had a disability. The company worked around that person with a disability and they were absolutely shattered to think that they were going to be possibly just thrown on the scrapheap.
I was impressed because we had the union, the leadership and the workers all coming together really doing everything they could to have what was really a stupid decision revisited. I am not saying that the Statutory Authorities Review Committee should take all the credit for the reversing of that decision but I know that it actually gave some life to the debate. I certainly remember Mr Eckert coming in and giving evidence to the committee. He was extremely professional, extremely articulate and extremely dogged. He would not be bounced off the ball by other members on the committee who perhaps were not quite as sympathetic as me and the Hon. Rob Lucas. His evidence was compelling.
I believe that K.W. Wholesale are back in the game. I believe that all those people have kept the jobs—I am sure the vast majority have. I know that there is a fair bit of satisfaction amongst all of us who fought the good fight for a lot of really good people. On the whole, I commend the report to the house, and I do so with some pride. I did not have the pleasure of finishing this particular issue but I certainly watched it with a great deal of interest, and I certainly watched the outcome which was a great outcome for Grant Eckert and his team, and I wish them every success for the future. I also congratulate those members who served on the committee.