|Nick Renton is so old that in his youth he had to watch television by candlelight.|
One year Nick Renton was holidaying in Darwin and decided that he would take a look at the Northern Territory Parliament in session.
Learning that the Budget was to be brought down that afternoon he felt that that would be a particularly interesting time to be in the gallery and observe the proceedings.
Not being familiar with the geography of the city he made inquiries as to the location of Parliament House. Parliament was at that stage sitting in temporary premises while a permanent structure was being erected.
On turning up at the suggested address he found that it was only an office building which housed public servants.
However, just at that moment a man in shirt-sleeves was leaving the building and Renton took the opportunity to ask for appropriate directions. The man said that Parliament was only a block away and that as he was himself on his way there Renton could accompany him.
To make conversation Renton said that he understood that the Budget was being introduced that afternoon.
"That is correct," his genial companion said. "I am the Treasurer and I am about to present it to the House."
Nick Renton was at the studios at Channel 0 in Melbourne (as it then was) for the pre-recording of an interview with him.
Also present was a leading toastmistress who was there for a similar purpose. She noticed Renton's name on a list and sought him out to ask whether he happened to be related to the author of Guide for Meetings and Organisations, a work which all Australian toastmistress chapters used as the bible for their training courses in how to conduct meetings.
Renton said that, actually, he was the author of the said book.
The toastmistress was delighted. "We all thought that you had died years ago," she gushed as she shook his hand.
Nick Renton started investing in shares as a young man in 1950. To further his education in this area he thought that he would attend his first annual general meeting of a listed company and sit quietly in the back row observing how things were done.
He had not counted on the apathy of shareholders at that time and found to his surprise that, apart from the board and a few executives, he was the only shareholder present.
As such, he was given various slips of paper setting out the wording of all the resolutions to be dealt with at the meeting (the adoption of the accounts, the election of the directors, and so on). He was invited to formally move these as they were reached, which he duly did.
Remaining inconspicuous clearly was not an option. But the experience led to his discovering that speaking at shareholder meetings was quite easy and he has been doing it ever since.
It also induced him to do something about the failure of small shareholders to exercise their rights as owners of the business. This led him to form the Australian Shareholders' Association in 1960 - a body which has steadily grown in strength and influence ever since, despite the dismal predictions at the time that it would speedily fade away.
In 1958 Nick Renton was the endorsed Liberal candidate for the seat of Richmond in the Victorian State election. Because there had been a redistribution he found himself in the unusual position of standing against two sitting members, each of whom had represented an electorate which partly overlapped the new seat.
One was a member of the Australian Labor Party, the other was the last remaining member of the Democratic Labor Party - a splinter group regarded by the then current members of the ALP as scabs. There was no love lost between the two factions.
Shortly after six o'clock, when all the pubs in the area closed in accordance with the wowser legislation of the time, a major fight broke out between ALP and DLP supporters outside the main polling booth in the electorate.
However, both the ALP and the DLP candidates denied that any of their supporters had been involved in the brawl. Renton was incredulous, because that would have meant that his own supporters must have been bashing each other!
Nick Renton's candidature in Richmond led to another remarkable incident many years later, shortly after Renton became the inaugural executive director of the industry association representing life insurance companies in 1975.
The Whitlam Labor Government was in power in Canberra at that time. The industry was trying hard to ward off certain proposed new legislation - measures which it regarded as hostile to its interests.
This had led to tension between life insurers and the Government, and the industry was subjected to periodical attacks in the Federal Parliament for its lobbying efforts.
One day, as Renton was travelling home on public transport, he decided to listen in on his transistor radio to the parliamentary broadcast, as he was expecting the House to discuss one of the controversial Bills against which the industry had been rallying.
To his surprise, he found that he himself was just being attacked by a Labor backbencher in that debate, who was describing to the nation Renton's sordid history before taking up his then current position as the spokesman for the life insurance industry.
In the absence of a criminal record or a sex scandal on Renton's part the backbencher threw in the two worst things that he had discovered in his cv - that he had once been an endorsed candidate for the Liberal party and that he had been employed by the Australian subsidiary of a foreign-owned company!
(House of Representatives Hansard 1975-05-15, page 2368, for those who want to read this in full.)
Renton observed afterwards that this was probably the first time that anybody had heard himself being smeared in the Federal Parliament while travelling on a Melbourne tram.
Should a cup of tea be enough to silence a vocal critic of a political measure? The Minister for Repatriation and Compensation in the Whitlam Government, Senator Wheeldon, apparently thought so. Referring to an interview Renton had given on ABC radio opposing some current legislation, the Minister told the Senate (Hansard 1975-09-09, page 613):
"I obtained a transcript of the interview. I was most disappointed, because I met Mr Renton only the other evening. He was introduced to me by Senator Melzer, who apparently is an old friend of his, and we had quite an enjoyable chat. I was upset that he should adopt this attitude."
When security arrangements were first introduced into the old Parliament House in Canberra in the 1970s it was reported in the press that the bags of all visitors to the House would in future be inspected at the entrance, to ensure that no bombs or weapons were being carried. (X-ray equipment for this purpose was not installed until much later.)
Shortly after this announcement Renton had occasion to call on a senator and accordingly, when he arrived, he duly offered his bag for inspection.
However, the security officer was not the slightest bit interested in looking into the bag and brushed Renton aside, saying, "You have an appointment with a senator. You must be all right."
It followed that all that any terrorist wanting to assassinate a politician needed to do was to make an appointment first!
Renton's most embarrassing moment occurred in the Cabinet room of the old Parliament House in Canberra during the prime ministership of Malcolm Fraser.
The Government had commissioned the Mathews Report into taxation and inflation. This had recommended certain changes to the taxation legislation. These were widely supported by the business community but bitterly opposed by the Treasury.
Fraser hit on a political solution to this impasse. He convened a special all-day meeting in the Cabinet room, to be chaired by himself and attended by senior public servants and private sector representatives, so that the matter could be thrashed out. Others present were the Federal Treasurer and the Deputy Prime Minister on either side of the PM, as well as Professor Russell Mathews, the chairman of the committee which had written the report.
It was quite a solemn occasion. As the private sector representatives were seated alphabetically Renton found himself next to Eric Risstrom, the secretary of the Taxpayers' Association.
At one stage Risstrom whispered something to Renton, who looked up to find that every eye in the room was focused on him. The PM had asked Renton a question and Renton had not heard it!
There is always a tendency for writers to miss typographical errors when checking their own work, because of the natural inclination for them to see what they intended to write rather than what is actually there.
In his Family Trusts Renton included this passage from Shakespeare's King Lear:
How sharper than a servant's tooth it is
Its blatant inaccuracy escaped the attention of not only the pedantic author himself but also all of the publisher's experienced editors and proofreaders over the course of several editions. The reference to a "servant's tooth" made no sense at all. Shakespeare actually wrote:
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
Another example: In Renton's Guide for Meetings and Organisations the word "meeting" understandably occurs numerous times and every reader takes it in at a glance.
Only when spell checkers came in many years after the first four editions had appeared did it become obvious that the printed word "meeeting" on one page was not a real word.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE AUSTRALIAN, PUBLISHED ON 1969-06-19, AT THE HEIGHT OF THE DEBATE ON THE FUNDING OF EDUCATION
STATE AID FOR MOTORISTS
The time has surely come for serious consideration to be given to providing State Aid for motorists.
This is a matter of simple justice. It is unreasonable that persons owning private cars should be required to meet the running costs of these as well as to pay taxes to support a public transport system.
Because so many motorists drive their own cars the Government is saved the necessity of providing numerous additional trams and trains. It is also relieved of the need to find additional crews to run them. All this helps to cut down the losses on the public transport system.
Furthermore, the authorities would be greatly embarrassed if all the people who now use private cars suddenly switched to public transport. The community also benefits from the experimentation possible in the case of private vehicles but lacking in a governmental network.
State Aid for motorists would give proper recognition of the right of each citizen to choose for himself which transport system (public or private) is best for his individual needs.
N E RENTON
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