MUA---Here to Stay ...Today!
Reflections on the Waterfront Dispute
The Hon. Peter Reith, MP
I was delighted to have the opportunity to fill the hole
when invited to speak tonight because, quite frankly, there are a few things
that I think ought to be said and this is a good place to say them. There
are a few issues where I think I would fairly say that I share some common
ground with the H R Nicholls Society. It is not the first time I have spoken.
The last time I spoke here to this Society---I think it was in Canberra---was
back in 1989. There has been a bit of water under the bridge since then
but, then again, there are a few issues that basically are still around
and still need to be addressed.
But I would also have to say to you that I have got a bit of bone I thought
I would pick with the H R Nicholls Society so it wasn't just a matter of
filling a hole when you asked me to be here. I thought I would come down
with a shotgun as well. I thought I should respond to the efforts of Michael
[Warby] and others in putting together a criticism which they did last year,
or an analysis of the Workplace Relations Act which was put out under the
banner of the Society. I think I have got a pretty good case so I thought
I would take the opportunity to put it to you. Quite frankly, I thought
it was a poor piece of work. It contained errors. It contained misrepresentations
and with the little argument that it advanced, it detracted from that argument
by lacing it with some personal insults.
The analysis claimed that the Workplace Relations Act increased the powers
of the AIRC. It claimed that the Act is a story of moral failure. It claimed
we required a 72 hour interregnum for the use of the secondary boycott provisions
of the Trade Practices Act. It asserted that, under the Act in regard to
unfair dismissals, "we are no better off". All of these claims,
and there are many more, were and still are complete nonsense.
Members of the H R Nicholls Society in the past have been very quick
to sort of blithely dismiss the allegations from the IR Club members that
the members of the Society didn't know what they were talking about. Well,
I would have to say that when I read this piece I was a bit inclined to
be on the side the IR Club---not that I have ever been a member of it.
The Workplace Relations Act is often subject to criticism and I am very
happy to hear it. In fact, quite frankly, if you asked me to give a list
of what was wrong with it I could give you a longer list than you gave me.
But I'd also, in presenting an analysis of the legislation that we have
introduced, give you a fairer balance and put before you, as I intend to
tonight, some of the things which I think we are entitled to claim credit
However, let me just go from the Act out to the real world for a moment
and take you to the coal industry as the coal industry is pretty significant
for this country and in the coal industry, with the CFMEU, you have a monolith
union which is intractable, it is unreasonable, it's self-proclaimed militant
and basically it is pretty unreasonable to deal with. But I ask you---I
invite you in fact---to look at the impact of this legislation in the coal
In May 1998 the Australian Industrial Relations Commission handed down
a decision on award simplification. The headline in the Australian Financial
Review on 27 May 1998 was "Coal Industry Unions Lose Muscle".
The Commission made it clear that the decision to remove a requirement on
employers to give preference to unionists and to follow seniority rules
in hiring and firing was not based on merit but on their allowability under
the Workplace Relations Act. The Commission's comment needs no elaboration.
Fancy saying that it wasn't based on merit.
The New South Wales Minerals Council welcomed the decision as a "major
step forward in the process of reform".
The Productivity Commission earlier this year identified these provisions
as restrictive work arrangements which hampered productivity.
These restrictive work practices have been a problem for years and years
and years and this is a classic cameo demonstration of how the Workplace
Relations Act actually fixed a problem which is of significance to that
Let me take a second example, also from the coal industry and from someone
who is---pardon the pun---dealing with these issues at the coalface. In
fact, unbeknown to me he had a piece in the paper this morning. Mike Menzies,
he's the bloke who actually runs coal mines for MIM. He ought to know something
about what the Workplace Relations Act has meant for his operations. This
is what he said back in June this year in a conference in Sydney to the
mining industry and I quote:-
Without the Workplace Relations Act 1996 we would not have been able
to achieve the extent of reform that we have.
While there is a publicly stated view in some employer circles that
this legislation is inadequate, it is a view with which we disagree. Whilst
the legislation has some flaws no legislation can deliver anything unless
it is properly used. In the words of our barrister, Mr Jim Murdoch, the
Workplace Relations Act 1996 is probably the most employer friendly legislation
this country has had since federation. If we cannot make use of its great
opportunities, maybe we should not be in management at all.
There is no doubt that compared with previous legislation, many provisions
of this legislation have the potential to make life far more difficult
for trade unions if employers wish to. Making life difficult for unions,
however, does not achieve any business outcome and the real value of these
provisions is in providing options which can be utilised in negotiations.
That is something for employers to trade or fall back on in negotiations
to achieve the work practice reform necessary to improve productivity.
In other words, we were prepared to offer continued recognition and
support in exchange for the right to manage our operations.
In my view, the most important provisions of the Workplace Relations
Act 1996 for us were:
(a) Freedom of association provisions. These were pivotal in breaking
down demarcation, regaining control of employment, regaining control of
overtime and the use of outside contractors.
(b) Improved access to remedies for employers in the face of unlawful
industrial action, both Section 127 orders and provisions relating to primary
and secondary boycotts. It is no accident that the plague of national coal
strikes has come to an end. Section 127 has been very important to us in
managing a change process with minimal disruption.
(c) Strengthened anti-discrimination provisions, particularly those
relating to age, were important in our ability to overcome reliance on
seniority as the basis of differentiating between employees.
(d) Access to alternate forms of employment agreements and limitations
of both rights of union officials and the jurisdiction of the AIRC in that
regard, was extremely important to us in general terms in providing us
with negotiating strength. We were prepared to accommodate the union provided
they accommodated what was important to us.
(e) Limitation generally of the arbitral role of the AIRC to 19 allowable
matters has been extremely important to the whole industry, shackled as
it was in mechanisms to entrench custom, practice, and the status quo.
It has enabled us and employers with the courage to do so to avoid a lot
of history and has forced employers to resolve their problems directly
with the workforces.
These two examples from the coal industry demonstrate that the Act has
actually had an impact in ways which are of significance and beneficial
to that particular industry.
I could certainly list the inadequacies of those reforms to you but you
won't be surprised to hear that my submission basically is that we have
also notched up a few good wins.
Let me list ten of them:
- Firstly, for the first time the Act has introduced the right of individuals
to enter into individual agreements. Over 22,000 AWAs have now been approved
and the numbers are increasing. It is a good system. There are deficiencies
in that system but we have made an excellent start.
- Secondly, it is the first time that a limit has been placed on the
arbitral power of the Commission and once the award simplification process
is largely completed, which will be in this six month period, the Commission
will have a lot less work and this has paved the way for the implementation
of the only redundancy scheme ever introduced for such a Tribunal. We were
delighted that they were prepared to take the money and go.
- It introduced the first practical scheme to allow non-union collective
agreements. Over 42,000 employees are covered and hundreds of firms have
benefited. In respect of non-union agreements this is a very significant
reform. The fact is that in the Australian private sector something like
75 to 80% of that private sector is non-unionised. But until we introduced
this form of collective agreement, basically there was no way known in
any ordinary business that you could sit down and work out a collective
agreement with your own employees. You can now do so without having some
union thug basically tell you that you can't have a deal with your own
- That is a very significant and important reform. We don't hear much
about it, and you know, I am delighted we don't. Labor had a scheme---they
called them EFAs---I won't go into the technical details of them---but
virtually every EFA---there was a handful, 150 over three or four years---virtually
every one of those EFAs was a matter of public controversy and that is
because in each and every case you had some union basically trying to knock
off the rights of people working in businesses to come to such agreements.
These agreements under us have been non-controversial and they are really
popular amongst employers and employees.
- Fourthly, in Victoria, at the initiative of the Kennett Government,
we have introduced a single industrial relations system and removed the
costly and complex dual system that has plagued industrial relations in
this country for over ninety years. This is the first such referral in
the history of the federation and it has been a great success. The transition
has been very smooth. In fact I was speaking to Mark Birrell about it yesterday.
Not one of us has had one letter of complaint. And why? Because the thing
was well organised and because it is providing real benefits to employers
and employees in this state.
- Fifthly, for the first time in living memory we now have a proper system
of compliance laws, by which I mean that the law now requires parties to
observe their obligations under either agreements or awards. In 1997 the
level of industrial disputes per 1,000 employees was the lowest since 1913.
It was also the lowest actual number of disputes since 1940. What an interesting
contrast that makes. Remember Bill Kelty and the 1996 election at the Melbourne
Town Hall saying "If you vote for the coalition it will be World War
III" was basically his message. Well, we didn't get World War III.
Peace broke out across the land and we had the best numbers since 1913---World
War I. The lowest level of actual disputes since World War II and a significant
reason in that is a much better and tighter compliance set of laws.
- Sixthly, the establishment of the Office of the Employment Advocate
is a first. For the first time, you can have an agreement which displaces
the centrally determined award approved by a body other than the Australian
Industrial Relations Commission.
- Seven, it is the first time that a limit has been placed on the making
of paid rates awards.
- For the first time we have in operation an effective body to take action
on behalf of individuals to enforce their basic civil right of freedom
of association. To date the Office of the Employment Advocate has responded
to over 300 Freedom of Association claims. I give you this anecdote, this
example. I take you back to the start of the waterfront dispute and the
Thursday night at the start of Easter. A bloke rang the Office of the Employment
Advocate in Brisbane and it was about five to five literally. This bloke
said "Look, I have got two containers that have got to go to Nauru.
They are full of fresh vegies but the trucking company has just rung me
and said they can't get on to the Patricks facility because there is a
picket there. Can you help me?" At five to five. Most public servants
are gone at ten to five. At five to five, the manager of the Office said
"Well, yes sir, it is our job to assist people in this situation,
we will see what we can do for you". The first thing they did was
they got hold of the shipping line and asked the shipping line if they
wouldn't mind holding the ship. The second thing they did was that they
rang up the transport company and said "Would you mind having a chat
to the bloke from the Office of the Employment Advocate as a couple of
us are going to come out and see you". They went out and saw the bloke
and within an hour or so they ended up with a bloke from the Advocate in
the first truck, and the second truck, sitting the cabin. They went down
to the wharf in Brisbane, they got out at the wharf, told the pickets where
to get off, opened the gates, took the two truckies through---non-union
truck drivers---and those containers went onto the ship at Brisbane wharf,
went off to Nauru, thanks to the Office of the Employment Advocate. It
is one thing to pass a law, it's another thing to have an effective means
to ensure the enforcement of those provisions. And that's just one example,
one of many successful examples of the operation of the Employment Advocate.
- For the first time the ACCC is really starting to ensure that the rules
that apply to all other Australians now also apply to the unions. The action
taken on behalf of a small business by the ACCC in the transport industry
in Queensland was a first.
- It was a major blow to the old system when the Commission knocked back
an application for a wage increase by the TWU. The union then used industrial
muscle to get a deal out of the big employers and then, in time honoured
fashion, went to the Commission for an award increase to be passed on to
all the small employers. This is the way they have always operated. They
went to the Commission for an award increase and the Commission said "No"
because of our reforms. So what the TWU then did was, because they couldn't
pass on the wage increase in the usual way, through the Commission, they
decided to make an example of some smaller firms, set them up, force them
to give way and use their muscle thereby to spread the deal. As they did
so, that employer made contact with us, we put the ACCC to the task, the
ACCC took out injunctive proceedings and put a stop to the TWU's campaign.
That is a first and a very significant step in the right direction. It
was a big win for the Trade Practices Act and for the ACCC.
- The Workplace Relations Act was the first piece of legislation in a
long time to wind up the use of treaties. My predecessor was so fond of
the ILO that he used ILO Convention 158 as the basis for Labor's unfair
dismissal laws. They were an unmitigated disaster for small business. We
threw out Laurie's scheme and we started again. On the matter of treaties,
to my knowledge, I am the only Industrial Relations Minister in recent
history to have initiated Australian withdrawal from an ILO Convention---Convention
No. 9. And, by the way, I haven't signed any new ones yet either.
These have been some of the achievements of the Act. In the public service,
where a similar approach has been taken, we have also commenced the long
process of reform. It can't be done overnight---I'm not kidding you that
it can be---but I say to you that we have made some significant progress.
I had responsibility for that particular portfolio until mid last year.
One of the changes I introduced gave public servants a genuine choice to
have or not to have union dues deducted from their pay. 12,961, or 40%,
took up that offer.
The Public Service Bill was also a first---the first full redraft since
1922. It's been knocked off twice by the Labor Party in the Senate, naturally
enough. The Labor Party is most responsive, of all the unions they are responsive
to they are most responsive to the White Collar Public Sector Unions. Not
surprising, this is a double dissolution trigger. But the Bill, however,
was drafted and it wasn't a bad Bill. In fact this is what Alan Kohler said
of that Bill, to replace the 1922 original legislation:-
... this bill represents the most uncompromising deregulation of the
public service anywhere in the world---including Jeff Kennett's revolution
in Victoria, the Tory government in Britain and reforms in New Zealand.
It is one of the great pieces of government employee relations legislation---simple,
clear and powerful---and it is a credit to the Public Service Commissioner,
Peter Shergold, who has been its driving force", and needless to say
he mentioned the Minister.
In my view, one reason that I think the H R Nicholls Society may have
been so critical is that, I think, the members of the Society---like I think
a lot of other people---had other expectations of an incoming Coalition
Government. I don't mind saying that to you.
I think a lot of people, when they saw a Coalition Government elected
on that Saturday night in March 1996, they reckoned that by the time they
got to work on the Monday morning, basically most of the problems would
have been fixed. That's what they thought and they were disappointed that
they weren't. But quite frankly, in their disappointment I think they put
to one side many of the things that have been done. Not that I want to over-state
them to you but I think that those achievements ought to be recognised.
I mean, certainly I know, if your expectations were not met, I think it
would be fair to say that you did not want us to be a re-run of the Fraser
Government and we haven't been.
I suppose it is more likely that you had hoped that we would be an instantaneous
Thatcherite clone. Well, we're not because in many ways I think we have
actually done better. Thatcher gave good government to the U K over 11 years
but if you had compared her first two years with our first two years, I
reckon she was a slow starter. Let me put the evidence to you.
She took a evolutionary approach to legislative reform and in that regard
basically I agree with her. I think that it is the sensible way to go. There
were no big bangs. There were a series of bills and it did take time for
the reform process to gather momentum at the work place. She was elected
in 1979 but the big disputes were years away. "Arthur Scargill"
is the injection from my left. Thank you very much. Well, when was the coal
dispute. It was '84 or '85 and who won the earlier one? Scargill. Thank
you very much. Excellent. We're really starting to get somewhere. Well,
when was Wapping? Well, Wapping was in '86 which was seven years after she
was elected. Seven years after she was elected, finally there was an employer
who was prepared to step up to the mark. And, of course, the abolition of
the docklands labour scheme was 11 years after she was elected. That was
1989. But in each and every case there are explanations for these things.
In the docklands labour scheme an explanation of the fact that they had
some private ports and the private ports in a sense were generating the
competition and sort of slowing down the work for them. But, all the same,
the evidence is that it was 11 years on.
I now take you back to the coal industry and up to the Hunter Valley
No. 1. I do so because as I was reading the financial press this week, there
was a report on the finances of Rio Tinto and, in particular, coming out
of that mine. And what is very interesting, you see, is that that decision
that we had right at the start of the waterfront dispute in respect of Rio
Tinto where finally the Full Bench said, "Well, we're not going to
step in and arbitrate". That didn't happen by accident, that happened
because of the nature and the tenets of the Workplace Relations Act. The
thing that caught my eye was in the financial press where basically they
reported that in the last six months that mine has actually generated enough
money to pay for the dispute in the first place and they have now got the
workplace practices in place which will give them a sustainable base for
the future in what is a very difficult situation.
The Labor Party have had a lot of fun during this waterfront dispute
because they have had a few documents off the back of a truck. They released
one in the Parliament which they thought was great for them. It was a letter
from John Howard to John Sharp in April 1997 in which John Howard endorsed
an interventionist strategy for the Government to deal with the waterfront.
If Margaret Thatcher had written that letter, you would declare her to be
a gutsy and determined leader. And you would be right. But she didn't---John
Howard did, and a fair analysis of the pace of labour market reform in Australia
would recognise how much progress we have been making and how prepared we
have been to stand up and take on some of these difficult issues.
There has been a lot of talk about leadership recently. My idea of a
leader is the person who knows what needs to be said and done and then gets
on and does it. No one can deny that the most tenacious, determined and
resolute advocate for industrial relations and tax reform in the last 25
years has been John Howard. That is real leadership.
And I think we have made some real progress in some other areas.
The Treasurer's efforts on fiscal policy have been excellent. Not enough
for Des [Moore]---I'm glad Des is sitting in front or me. But it is Des'
role in life to set difficult parameters. He is doing such a job for the
Labour Ministers' Council. When his report is published it will push along
the debate on labour market deregulation in a quality way. And this Society
will attack me for not adopting all of his approach and they will fail to
congratulate the Labour Ministers' Council for commissioning the work. One
of the problems in promoting informed debate in Australia on the labour
market is that most of academia is still stuck in the 1970s.
The National Institute of Labour Studies and a very few others, including
some commentators, are the exceptions. I have tried to encourage a few researchers
to do some work in this area. In a sense, the reason that I accepted this
invitation tonight is because I believe the Society was formed to likewise
promote informed debate about a better approach.
My complaint about many of the pro-reform critics is that whilst they
should continue to call for more reform---"Never stop" is my clarion
call to you, they should also acknowledge when progress is achieved. They
should also acknowledge that the extent of reform is not exclusively a matter
for governments. And I think many of you here would share with me the disappointment
of knowing that some of the advocates of reform come from corporations where
the practice is a lot different from the rhetoric.
Let me therefore turn to waterfront reform.
This weekend conference is supposed to analyse the recent events. I am
not sure why you'd bother because the advertising material for this conference
has already announced the Society's judgement. The invitation to the conference
states "It cannot be denied that the MUA has achieved an extraordinary
You've got Mr Houlihan here tomorrow---"Hooligan" as his mates
call him---to make a similar claim. I'm sure he will because he has done
so already. I can only assume that he has done so for tactical reasons.
Although the dispute could be settled in the near future, as matters
stand tonight it has not been settled., The Government has signed nothing
and we will not commit to funding any redundancy until we are satisfied
that the representations made to us about reform are capable of being implemented.
That being said, I don't intend to say too much. I am sure there are
others over the weekend who will have a lot more to say.
My approach is that, until the legal action is dismissed, as it is intended
to be, and until the MUA commits to the implementation of what it has agreed
to in the framework agreement and until further progress is made on implementation,
then it is wiser to make more precise assessments of the dispute when it
is actually over and not before.
For those who want to boil this issue down to who won and who lost, then
I say they are going to have to wait a bit. Personally I am not keen on
simplistic assessments. When the Workplace Relations Act was first introduced,
it had many critics. I think it is a fair assessment to say there are less
Some points about the waterfront dispute however can be made. It will
certainly never be the same again. When the Patricks issues have been settled,
P & O will move to close the inefficiency gap they will then have with
Patricks. By Christmas the manning levels in the industry will be reduced
by just under half. Manning levels are to be slashed because the agreement
includes agreement to abolish the worst of the rorts---the double headers.
The double headers are where you get paid double time and a half. The double
headers are where you basically go slow on one shift and then, because the
job is not finished, they give you another shift. Then when you get on the
second shift you get paid for the whole shift, seven and a half hours, even
though you might finish after an hour or so. Great work if you can get it.
In fact this is the scheme where you could be a crane driver at East Swanson
Dock and earn $90,000 a year for 14 hours a week.
I'm delighted to tell you that the crane driver on 14 hours a week earning
90 grand a year, his days are over. They are well and truly over because
the worst of the practices, the rorts, the nick-off and the others have
been abolished. In addition the agreement provides for one man per machine
and the company will be able to control start times.
The union will sign collective agreements under the Workplace Relations
Act. I pause here to stress the significance of it because under the Workplace
Relations Act, as you sign an agreement, you are committed to not taking
industrial action during the life of the agreement. That's pretty significant
because these guys have always been very quick to take industrial action
whenever it suited them. From the most extreme sort of examples, one, for
taking industrial action because they want a whopping great pay increase.
Well, that's sort of bread and butter stuff for them. But you can imagine
with these guys, if you got two people per machine but there's only one
seat on the machine, there's a lot of people hanging around. In Port Botany
last year they threatened to close down the port of Port Botany because
they wanted the billiard table re-covered. Well, this is pretty significant,
the state of the billiard table when you have basically not got much work
to do at work. We have abolished the nick. Why has the nick been such a
problem on the waterfront? Well, and why does the union fairly say sometimes,
"Well, the bosses let us go off on the nick". Well, from the bosses'
point of view, basically if these guys haven't got a job, they don't want
them hanging around the terminal because it is not safe or otherwise they
will be calling industrial action to close the port because they want the
billiard table re-covered.
Under the Workplace Relations Act a cutback in the level of industrial
disputes, which has been basically nine times the national average, will
also help productivity. The manning levels are predicated on the Government's
benchmark productivity rate of 25 lifts an hour. These benchmarks are easily
achievable and will give Australia a much more competitive and reliable
waterfront. The benefits to the GDP will be around $1 billion a year and
something like 4,000 jobs throughout the economy.
The union's position is fundamentally changed. They formally acknowledge
the freedom of association provisions of the Act and they have agreed to
the contracting out of key functions including particularly maintenance
which is something they have steadfastly refused for years. I mean, I know
what the critics will say about the monopoly but understand for the union
to give up these functions is a huge change for them. That is a big step
backwards for those guys. I don't say to you that all that could have been
achieved on the waterfront was achieved, but I say to you it will never
be the same again and the reality is from experience we have had in other
industries, once you get these big changes to behaviour and a break, particularly
in the maintenance functions as it has been in so many unionised sectors,
it really does start to break down the barriers and the position of strong
unions in the past.
Their numbers have been slashed, their war chest severely depleted and
they have been finally confronted by an employer who has had the guts to
say, "Enough is enough". The barriers to entry to the MUA's monopoly
have been so graphically lowered that it is now obvious that just about
anybody can step over them.
Let me just demonstrate this by a simple example of something that has
happened in my portfolio in the last week. The Commonwealth has an agency,
the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. We have two ships, the Cape Grafton
and the Rig Seismic. When I became the Minister back in October there was
this report saying we should cut manning levels on Australian ships to a
certain level. I said, "Well, I'm not going to the industry to tell
them to do that if we haven't done it on our two little ships". So
I said, "Go away and produce this result". Well, they did so on
the Cape Grafton after a lot of argy bargy---that's a ship not a barge.
And the Rig Seismic produced a bit of conflict with the engineers.
In the end, the engineers' union refused to man this ship, the Rig Seismic.
The Rig Seismic could not depart unless it had engineers on board. I said
to AMSA, "Well, if you can't get these engineers and the engineering
union to go along, why don't you see if you can get a few engineers from
somewhere else?" They got engineers, non-union engineers, from New
Zealand, they put them on the ship and the Rig Seismic sailed last week
and is today operating off the coast of New Zealand. On that ship are MUA
union members and I say to you that if that had happened six months ago,
the whole Australian coast would have been out for a week. And why isn't
it. Things are changing.
Today we announced the sale of ANL, and a great saving for the tax payer.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think things are changing and they are changing
for the better. The dispute demonstrated the effectiveness of many of our
reforms. Let me mention four.
The farmers would not have been able to even start their operation but
for the flexibility made possible by Australian Workplace Agreements. The
whole show would never have even started unless you could do a deal with
an employee without having the Commission come in and knock off that agreement
in the first place. So AWAs open the door which was in the past closed.
Secondly, the strike pay provisions. I haven't mentioned them earlier
tonight but they got a run during this dispute. These provisions are very
effective in dealing with people who want to take industrial action, bans
and limitations and the like. During the heat of the waterfront dispute
in Sydney the wharfies slapped a ban on overtime. We said, "Well, if
you have got a ban on then you are not going to get paid even if you do
work because you are taking industrial action and you're not entitled to
be paid". This law is very effective. It's not just a law directed
at the union and employees, it's directed at weak employers who have been
paying people to take industrial action against them for years. They complained,
they whinged, they carried on but in the end even the wharfies in Sydney
went back to work and lifted their overtime ban because of the provisions
and the effectiveness of that strike pay.
Thirdly, Section 127 was effective. This is the section which allows
the Commission to order a return to work. We had Iain Ross actually order
by authority, the great authority of the Industrial Relations Commission,
a few wharfies in Melbourne to go back to work. There's an interesting side
story to this. They published the names of all those wharfies who had to
go back to work. There was 170 of them. I have a person in my office whose
job is to sort of think laterally, think of things that are interesting,
and she had been reading the Report of the Costigan Royal Commission. She
saw these lists of names and it struck a bell with her. She went back to
a chapter in the Costigan Royal Commission and this chapter is on the use
of names and it relates an interesting story. The story is of a meeting
of the wharfies union in Melbourne at the end of the 70s, not so long ago.
It relates how in a 20 minute meeting there are about 20 blokes who walked
in with one name and came out with another. The fascinating thing in that
chapter of the Costigan Royal Commission---they have printed lots of names---and
go to those names and go to the names listed by Vice President Ross in February
1998 in the wharfies' dispute and, ladies and gentlemen, there are a whole
lot of the same names. Some things haven't changed.
Fourthly, the Trade Practices Act worked. It's been a very effective
piece of law. We actually refined it and improved it from what it was earlier.
The Trade Practices Act reforms, both on secondary boycotts and primary
boycotts, have been effective, in fact not just domestically but it was
a tremendous outcome to have a judge, a real judge in the High Court of
Justice in London, issue a temporary injunction against the MUA at the start
of the dispute. A testimony to the work and preparation done in advance
of the dispute.
Lastly, ladies and gentlemen, let me turn to one final but related matter.
That relates to the challenges ahead of us. I say to you that we have gone
far but much more needs to be done. I make no bones of it and we will as
a Government certainly go to the next election advocating further reform
and if we are returned, we will continue the process of reform which we
have started. It will make a very stark contrast to the policy platform
being put at the next election by our political opponents. The Labor Party
are going backwards. Their policy will repeal the Trade Practices Act provisions
which we have introduced. They will abolish Australian Workplace Agreements.
They will abolish the Office of the Employment Advocate. They will abolish
the right of people to have a non-union agreement and they will allow effectively
a union which is respondent to such an agreement to veto an agreement even
though they had no union members the subject of the agreement which I think
is a disaster for more productive and harmonious workplaces in the future.
Lastly, to give the H R Nicholls Society a genuine cause for concern,
they actually have a policy to increase the powers of the Commission. That
really is a regressive step and when you analyse the Labor Party's policy
today, it is not the policy that Labor themselves were advocating in February/March
1996. They are today advocating policies not even they themselves supported
at the end of their tenure. They are back to the mid-80s and beyond and
further back , and it really would be a disaster for this country if they
were re-elected and to have those policies implemented.
In the next election a Coalition Government will be supporting further
reform. Our opponents will be advocating steps backwards. For the country
as a whole, all of those of us who support sensible reform for the benefit
of Australian businesses and thus for the benefit of employees and the community
as a whole, need to focus on the political arguments and ensure that we
Lastly, I see that you have on your speakers list a number of people
who were also associated with the waterfront dispute. You have Don McGauchie
tomorrow night. Don was fantastic through this whole dispute. I hope you
give him the strong and welcoming reception that he deserves because they
tell me the wharfies have got a glass case in the wharfies headquarters
in Sydney and it has a bale and a hook above it and there is an inscription
at the bottom which says "Never mess with the farmers". It's actually
more graphic than that I am told. They did a fantastic job and it ought
to be recognised. So did the people who were prepared to work for them.
I was very disappointed in what happened, but understand what happened was
the result of an order of the Federal Court. It was a temporary order, that
is true, or a temporary injunction, but the fact of the matter is that played
a pivotal role in the immediate course of events.
Paul Houlihan and James Ferguson also, I think, need to be commended
for the work that they did.
And lastly, I think the H R Nicholls Society ought to have a special
place for Chris Corrigan because the fact of the matter is you have never
before seen an employer on the Australian waterfront stand up to the sort
of thuggery and poor practice that has long bedevilled the Australian waterfront
and cost this country very dearly indeed. He has been through a hell of
a lot and I would have to say to you I don't think he has had as much public
support as he ought to have had. There are people in this room who I know
would share that view and offer your support and congratulations to him
on what has been done.
It is not yet over. It is a mistake to see this particular dispute as
a dispute that has sort of come and gone. The reality is, as I stand here
tonight before you, it is not yet over and there is still a bit of a hard
road to go. But it is very important for the future of this country that
we stick to our guns and bring about for this country an efficient waterfront.
Why HR Nicholls?