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 for.

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 industry.

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 industry.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 employees.
    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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Seven, it is the first time that a limit has been placed on the making of paid rates awards.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 victory".

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 critics today.

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 win it.

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.