This presentation was given by Ron at one of Mannkal’s 20th anniversary events. It tells of Ron’s involvement with the Prince Philip study conference (CSC) and how it helped shape his career as well as Mannkal Economic Education Foundation.
Ideas have consequences, particularly when applied to the study of liberty.
In 1956 HRH Prince Philip, a keen observer of industrialization and its effect on individuals, realized that the three main community sectors (industry, trade unions and government) were not ‘talking’ to each other. He devised a plan to select 100 potential leaders from each of these three sectors and ‘lock them up together’ for three weeks — living together, travelling together and learning together. This way, he felt that life-long bonds would be forged between ‘warring parties’ and the benefits would become obvious during subsequent years.
The original Duke of Edinburgh Study Conference, in 1956, was a stand-alone event, without any thought of it becoming the first of a series, repeated every six years. Now, in 2017, these conferences have generated over 2,500 well-connected individuals, still vigorously talking and learning from each other. (Today’s version is CSCLeaders for anyone wanting to get involved).
It has been my pleasure to spend time with HRH Prince Philip, five times, so far. Firstly, in 1968 as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Study Conference (now known as the Commonwealth Study Conference, or CSC), then in 1969 at a follow-up conference at Keele University, Stoke-on-Trent, U.K. A reunion dinner was held in 2002 and then I was invited to Buckingham Palace in 2006 for the 50th anniversary of the CSC. I also visited Government House in Canberra, along with other CSC alumni, for another reunion meeting with the Prince on October 22, 2011 while HRH was in Australia for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
Known for his ‘zingers’, HRH Prince Philip has a way with words. While in Australia with us he marveled at “corri-bloody-gated iron roofs” on houses and enjoyed the notion of “wowsers”, or people who weren’t willing to do their bit. Travelling around Australia with HRH Prince Philip in 1968 we picked up many words of wisdom from the Prince himself. He told us: “the rate of change made it more important to teach people how to think rather than what to know”. He saw the problem of obsolete teachers and itinerant teachers. If only our educational system, then and now, followed his advice. He described governments as moving “with the fleet-footedness of a centipede with arthritis of the legs”.
He commented that some of our politicians should keep their wisdom to themselves.
In 1968, HRH Prince Philip was ahead of his time with many of his words still ringing true today. He said: “Ideas are coming into Australia from the young people and unfortunately there is a time delay before they permeate through to the old. Don’t leave the change too long. Be tolerant but not permissive with our young. They are as much the children of their age as we were of ours.”
He taught us how to ask questions by reminding us that, the first time we ask anyone a question, we will only receive a polite answer. This is because they are unsure if we really want to know. The second time we asked that question they will take us slightly more seriously and again give a partial answer. It’s only on the third time when we ask the same question, still being polite, that we will really get inside their mind and once they realize how serious we are they will open up and give us the true story. HRH Prince Philip said: “That’s the answer I want you to bring back to me, fully refined and fully focused.”
He recognized that a single approach didn’t suit everybody. “We can bring our children up by the book as long as we use a different book for each child.” He asked us to think and speak as individuals and not just be a spokesperson for any organization or government. He told us to get over our great Australian distrust of excellence.
These were the two points that he wanted to leave us with. Firstly, that we should come to our own conclusions and act as an individual to avoid what is now termed ‘group-thinking’. He’s so focused, on individualism, that when he invited us to the Buckingham Palace 50th Anniversary Reunion he said: “… and you can’t bring your wives or partners because I’m not bringing mine.”
His secondary message was always: “Don’t be afraid to excel and be the very best person you can possibly be.” He commented that our grandfathers described themselves as being the last generation of untrained managers but when we meet the managers of the future, we will realise that our grandfathers may have been referring to us.
These comments, and the study tour itself, were behind my inspiration to set up our Mannkal Economic Education Foundation. I enjoyed the experience of being thrown into a pressure-cooker educational trip with 300 people from business, government and trade unions. We had to personally report back to Prince Philip where he proceeded to “belt the hell out of us” by teaching us “never to waffle”.
The study tour
Our 1968 Study Conference took a cross-section of 300 ‘modern people’, today likely known as ‘movers and shakers’, from 30 British Commonwealth countries and split us into 25 groups of 11. We were then tasked with the job of visiting and researching different Australian states and compiling reports on our findings. Our study group went to Queensland and visited Townsville, Ingham, Mt Isa and Brisbane. We were surprised to see the resigned acceptance towards a poor education system, excessive outside government interference and the inept efforts of an inefficient bureaucracy.
One highlight of the study group was the town of Ingham. This sugar town had experienced two influxes of migrant labor and there were people of clearly identifiable backgrounds — Greek, Italian, Spanish, German, Finnish, Chinese, Scottish, English and others — completely integrated, all without any ‘enabling legislation’. Without government interference they integrated themselves.
HRH Prince Philip is well known for his quotes and one-liners, often brutally honest. These are some of the insights he shared with us.
- His definition of a pessimist was: A pessimist is a man who, if he is confronted by the choice of two evils, he chooses them both.
- He told us to beware of carelessness toward the quality of life itself.
- In lighthearted moments he asked if it was true that the Japanese were discouraged from invading Australia because they mistook all our outdoor toilets for sentry boxes. He told us about the two English judges; they tried each other!
- He had an incredible sense of style and I’ll just give you one example. The 1969 conference at Keele University was due to commence at 10am on a Saturday morning. We were gathered on the steps of the university, looking out for a chauffeured car but no sign of it on the long driveway. Then, almost out of nowhere, a helicopter landed in front of us and out leapt Pilot Prince Philip, buttoning up his jacket as he greeted us right on the dot of 10am. Real James Bond stuff!
So, that brings us right up to 2017 and I’ll be sending a message, from us here tonight, to the 96-year-old Duke of Edinburgh reminding him that his original 1956 concept has had many major consequences, amongst them, being the creation of our Mannkal Foundation.
The logo, of both our business and our Foundation, feature a conveyor belt containing either material or ideas as part of the crushing, sorting and refining process.
Mannkal’s strategy document, including elements from two entirely different sources, incorporates the economic philosophy of the Foundation for Economic Education. In 1952, when I was 16 years old I connected with them. At that time they were appropriately focused on ideas and not strategy. Then, later in 1968, at age 32 I was thrust into Prince Philip’s Study Conference where there was limited focus on philosophy, it was all about training and action.
We have put these thoughts and actions through our ‘corporate crushing, screening and refining process’ and our ‘output’ is smart, questioning and useful young West Australians (over 1,000 so far).
Young people are interviewed and selected for events that will expose them (many, for the first time) to economic and political philosophic principles that promote the virtues of individual responsibility (which is difficult) as opposed to the (easier) alternative of ‘living off’ the efforts of unsuspecting taxpayers, many of whom are less well-off than the recipients of handouts.
This leads these young people to studies into the (often unintended) long-term consequences of many of today’s short-term legislative solutions and policy proposals. Ideas have consequences, particularly when applied to the study of liberty.
Liberty. It’s a simple idea, but it’s also the linchpin of a complex system of values and practices: justice, prosperity, responsibility, toleration, co-operation and peace. Many people believe that liberty is the core political value of modern civilization itself, the one that gives substance and form to all the other values of social life.
In this year of Mannkal Foundation’s 20th Anniversary, the momentum is building to the point where it is taking me away from my life-long involvement in mining and management and I look forward to writing a similar letter to that written in 2006 to Study Conference attendees by HRH Prince Philip. I’ll write that letter, in 30 years’ time, requesting that Mannkal Foundation scholars might like to contribute to a 50 year commemorative book. Just as we did, with this book, to mark the significant achievements of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conferences.
I think it is appropriate to drink a toast to the continued good health of HRH Prince Philip.
Mannkal Chairman, Ron Manners, shares his experience of attending the Commonwealth Study Conference in 1968.
Neil Smithson shares his experience as a participant of the 2003 Commonwealth Study Conference.
Dr Vanessa Guthrie speaks on her experience of attending the Commonwealth Study Conference in 2003.
Dermot Ryan speaks on his experience of attending the Commonwealth Study Conference in 1992 at the Mannkal office.