On the 14th of April 1978, senior representatives of the major computer suppliers in Australia held a secret meeting at Sydney’s Menzies Hotel to form an industry association. The meeting was called on the initiative of Bill Wells, Sperry Univac Managing Director, with the aim of forming an association through which suppliers could deal with the Federal government on an industry basis.
The meeting set up a sub-committee to look into objectives, membership fees and a constitution. The association modelled itself on the Computer and Business Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (CBEMA) in the US and sought association with the Australian Trade Practices Act to redefine a ‘consumer’.
The amended Act would have made the suppliers potentially liable for millions of dollars in damages for the failure of, say, a $2000 printer terminal. When individual companies spoke out against the act, particularly IBM, the public gained the impression that multinationals were trying to dictate government legislation. It was Bill Wells of Univac who organised the petition that persuaded the government to bring in a second amendment of the Act.
Though those involved would not comment publicly on the meeting, off the record they were at pains to insist that an association would be a responsible and positive step.
“We are not setting up a pressure group. The blokes involved in this try to eat each other alive in normal day-to-day business”, one said.
These protestations were in sharp contrast to the secrecy surrounding the Menzies Hotel meeting. A minority of those present wanted the facts released to the press, but instead it was agreed to say nothing.