MUA---Here to Stay ...Today!
The 1998 Waterfront Dispute
At the Society's XIX conference (31 July--2 August, 1998) the Federal
Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations & Small Business, Peter
Reith, gave the opening paper, and spent much of his time discussing the
waterfront dispute which dominated Australian political life for many weeks
following Easter (10 April, 1998). In broad terms the MUA, at the conclusion
of the dispute, were able to retain, at least for the time being, their
monopoly control of waterfront labour, although they made many concessions
regarding the management of Patrick's operations at the Port of Melbourne.
Because the MUA had retained its monopoly, many observers believed that
despite all the concessions the union had made concerning management prerogatives,
its monopoly power would enable the MUA to claw back, as it had in the past,
all of the concessions it had made in June 1998.
At our conference Minister Peter Reith argued, with complete conviction,
that great progress had been achieved on the waterfront as a consequence
of the dispute.
Another conference participant was Paul Houlihan, who, at the end of
1997, had played a key role in the formation of P&C Stevedores, (PCS)
the company formed by Donald McGauchie, then President of the NFF, with
the specific purpose of contesting the MUA's monopoly on the waterfront.
Both Paul Houlihan and Donald McGauchie were involved on a daily basis with
the unfolding events of the battle on the docks.
Paul spoke to an enthralled audience for the best part of 45 minutes
and then answered questions. His general position at the time of the conference
was that although some gains had been made, the overall result from the
bitterly contested dispute was that the MUA, despite some concessions, had
Regrettably, most (but not all) of the tape recording of his presentation
on 1 August was lost. Subsequently, on 8 December, 1998, I recorded an interview
with Paul during which we traversed, again, the history of those events,
and what follows is an edited transcript of the two tapes. What emerges
from these two tapes is an important account of what seemed, at the time,
to have been in August a tactical MUA victory, but by December had turned
out to be a strategic defeat of momentous proportions.
Paul Houlihan at the Society's Conference on August 1, 1998
What is different on the waterfront today, as compared with how it used
to be before Easter 1998, is that today we can see some activity there.
The essence of the problem that we faced on the waterfront, for many decades,
is that there is a monopoly supplier of labour, and a duopoly supply of
services, and they reinforce each other. What was really new, and strange
in this comfortable monopoly-duopoly situation was that Chris Corrigan broke
ranks and, in fairness to Corrigan, I want to talk about his situation.
I have never had a meal with Chris. I doubt that I ever will. I could
not say he is a friend of mine or I am a friend of his, or that we are close
in any way. I think he is a bloke who would probably be hard to get close
to. But he set out to do what people have been talking about the need to
do, since I can remember people talking about the waterfront and, I believe,
many years prior to that. Now, his motives may have been many and varied,
I don't know. And at the end of the day, I still don't know what his motives
were. I look back at his record and I see that he fought a similar fight
against the stockbroking cartel in the early '80s and did good work for
Australians generally in that area, and therefore I give him the benefit
of the doubt.
It has to be said at this point that there was an appalling lack of support
for Corrigan, from the people who should have supported him. Chris is probably
a bloke who doesn't have a hell of a lot of mates. He is not a matey sort
of a bloke. I think he took on a hell of a fight, with his money; a lot
of his money was in there. He took on that fight and he fought a bloody
good fight. Now he had some poor advice and lots of bad things happened.
In particular, he ran into His Honour Mr Justice North, but apart from that
he did what all of us had been sitting around for years saying "I ought
to do it", or "Someone ought to do it", and Corrigan actually
bloody well got on his bike and did it. I have got to say to you that he
got very little credit, very little public support, in the doing of it.
Some people were sitting on their hands because of his political connections,
or allegations of past political connections. In fact, a well known political
personality connected with this Society said to me early on, "Look,
be careful of this bloke. He is a Sydney merchant-banker who is close to
Keating". Now, we know people who are Melbourne merchant-bankers who
are close to Howard, and I took fairly strong exception to that advice.
One could wish that Chris Corrigan was different in all sorts of ways
from the person he actually is, but he was the only bloke who was actually
fighting the fight and there were very few of us up there at the barricades
supporting him. Now, I think, in the end, it wouldn't have made a tinker's
curse of difference except that the next time we look for some hero to fight
the fight, it just becomes a bit harder. I think it is important that we
should have been a lot more vocal in our support of what Corrigan was trying
Putting that to one side, it is now clear that Corrigan is, beyond doubt,
the winner in the dispute. Corrigan won. He has put somewhere between $50
million and $100 million on his bottom line and that's not a bad result.
But I believe that that wasn't the only or even the major point of the exercise.
I think he was quite genuine in his belief that if we could get in there,
and create a climate which broke the hold that the union had, if we could
start to do a number of these things, then he would be good enough on his
feet to take advantage of the changes and breakdowns that we were causing,
and that he would be able to benefit by being good enough on his feet.
I think the real credibility of the conspiracy allegation which the MUA
levelled at Patrick can be judged by the concessions which the union made
in the agreement which was reached. They made such major concessions which,
if they were half as sure about winning the conspiracy action as they have
constantly said they were; statements which convinced a lot of people on
our side of the fence, including, importantly, Corrigan's banks; if they
were half that sure they would not have given away anything like what they
conceded, and they conceded major changes.
The union surrendered control of the roster; it surrendered control of
shifts, it surrendered a whole range of things that under normal circumstances
are the essence of managerial responsibilities. But normality in business
life hasn't been the case down at the waterfront and particularly at Patrick.
Patrick has been a badly managed company---make no bones about that---and
the acid is right on them now to see whether or not they can actually deliver
the quality of the agreement that they negotiated. As I say, the reason
they have got the quality in the agreement is because the union shared my
belief and that is that they didn't have, and don't have, a tinker's curse
in hell's hope of winning the conspiracy action.
So Corrigan is one of the heroes of this adventure. Another hero is Donald
McGauchie, who did a fantastic job. I have had very little to do with Donald
until all this started late last year. I have had very little to do with
the NFF really since I left them to set up my consultancy "First IR".
But Donald impressed me enormously as a bloke of tremendous capacity. He
is able to grasp the realities of what he is looking at and get it out there---he
could propagate it. He could publicly put the message across and I thought
he put it across very well.
As well as Chris Corrigan and Donald McGauchie, Peter Reith did a bloody
terrific job. I think Reith jumped too early, too high and too excitably
but apart from that he stood his ground as we lost case, after case, after
case, after case, and he hung in there. I have never been a great fan of
Reith's. I think he has always seen me as being in the Costello camp and
he may have been a bit uncomfortable about me. But all that to one side,
I have to say to you he did impress me a great deal with the steadfastness
of his approach and the political courage that he showed. It is easy to
criticise after the event and I think it is fair enough to say he jumped
too soon and too high and all the rest of it, but he did stick to his guns,
and I think he did a damn good job in all of the circumstances.
I think what we have got to look at now is what is going to happen over
the next five years. Where are we going to be? Are we going to be better
off or worse off? I think the impact on the union of what we did is such
that if we can convert some of the possibilities around the coast into realities
we are going to see, in the long run, that we were a lot more successful
than it looked a couple of months ago. I wouldn't have said this a couple
of months ago because I then felt that we had been skinned and gutted and
that was about as far as it went. But, as you see now what people are looking
at doing and trying to do, I think there is a very real reason to be mildly
I was shied at yesterday by Reith's office. They said that some remarks
of mine had clearly been taken out of context and I said what remarks are
they and they said "You were quoted somewhere as saying you think we
lost". I said "No, I don't think we lost. I am bloody sure we
lost, we got done like dinners". They said "No, no, no, we just
didn't achieve all our objectives". It sounded a bit like Billy Sneddon's
famous quote "We didn't lose, we just didn't win enough seats".
I think the least you can do to your opponent is to acknowledge that
they won. I don't think they won fair and square. I wouldn't go that far
but I certainly think they won the battle. The essence is though to see
over the next five or six years, four-five years, even three-four years,
I think we have a real probability that we are going to end up at that time
and review this situation and say "Hell, we didn't do too badly after
Paul Houlihan in an interview on 8 December 1998
When, after years, many years, people had been trying to work out a way
of bringing reform to the waterfront, what made it different in 1997?
There were a number of factors. The biggest single factor was that in
the introduction of the Workplace Relations Act in 1996 there was established
a system of employing labour which was discrete from the award stream. You
had the establishment of the Australian Workplace Agreements that meant
that you could employ labour on the waterfront, or anywhere else for that
matter, without being roped in to the existing industry standard. That meant
that there then was the legal capacity to employ labour on the waterfront
separate to, mind you, it had to be lined up with, but nonetheless separate
to the terms and the conditions of the Stevedoring Industry Award.
Now, once we had that established, once that became law from 1 January,1997,
I started to sniff around and look for opportunities to see where we could
do something about it and shortly after that, in about May, I started to
focus on the Port of Brisbane where they were building a new common-user
berth. I thought we needed access to a common-user berth and the Brisbane
berth was going to really be the only common berth in anything approaching
a capital city, and we started to look to do something based on Brisbane.
Now when I say "we", I was in consultation with the National
Farmers Federation because of their long term interest in this, and we actually
got to the stage where we found a partner in Queensland who shipped out
of northern ports in Queensland and who had boats of his own and who was
very keen on the project. A large part of their business was involved in
providoring for mining operations in New Guinea. As 1997 went on and the
dreadful bloody El Nino drought in New Guinea took hold, the rivers ran
dry, the mines closed because they couldn't get stuff out, and his business
basically collapsed. So he said to us "look, it is just not a goer".
One of the things that we also decided was, okay, if we have got a common-user
facility in Brisbane, what we also need to find is a facility in Melbourne,
and we looked at Appleton Dock in Melbourne. Now Appleton Dock is a pretty
old dock but it has got most of the facilities that you need except it hasn't
got a crane.
We approached the Victorian Government on the basis that we knew that
they had, I think, one or two portainer cranes around the place and we had
some discussions with the Office of the Treasurer---not with the Treasurer
himself---about whether or not we could do something about that.
It was at about this stage that the balloon went up about the Dubai expedition
and the Dubai thing gave us a bit of a jolt, because it meant that other
people were looking at precisely what we were looking at. And we thought
we had the market cornered in this little activity.
James Ferguson of the NFF was approached shortly after that by Corrigan
to see whether we wanted to have a talk. James actually put to him what
we were looking at doing and Corrigan then said "well, would you like
to take over Webb Dock?"
That, of course, was a hell of a lot better situation for us than Appleton
and because of the falling over of our partner in Queensland, we had really
basically withdrawn from the Port of Brisbane concept too at that stage.
So all of a sudden we had dropped in our lap a major player, and a major
facility, in Webb Dock.
We had nothing to do with Dubai but Corrigan was interested in protecting
the blokes who went to Dubai and providing them an opportunity. We were
fairly tardy about it, in fairness, in that we felt that we wanted to make
it as clean an operation as we could. We wanted it to be as transparent
as it could be and really we were determined that there was to be as little
undercover as possible. Without transparency the sort of problems that you
run into are that you have got to go and brief your police, you have got
to do all those things.
As we signed up with Corrigan, i.e. with Patrick, for the lease of the
equipment on Webb Dock, we got approval from the Victorian Government for
the sub-lease by the Port of Melbourne for Patrick to sub-lease to us (P&C
PCS was formed on, I think, 6 January,1998 when we registered the company
and shortly thereafter I went to New Zealand to try and recruit some crane
trainers without any success. Everyone was aware of what had happened in
Dubai and people were very dodgy about it.
We actually managed, through hard work, diligence and a lot of luck,
to find some people in Australia who could and would do the job. So we started
to get it all in place. We then had to actually achieve the take-over of
The union were very well informed of what we were doing, dates and places
and everything. They knew the date on which we were going to take over Webb
Dock. The deal was, as far as I was concerned, that if we didn't get vacant
possession, as it were, of the three portainer cranes at Webb Dock, there
was no deal. I didn't want us to start off with the TV cameras watching
people being dragged out of those cranes.
Interestingly, when the time came for the security people to go in and
secure Webb Dock, the union had secured the amenities block and left the
cranes alone. I think that result demonstrated their priorities.
The big lesson that I learned from the whole thing started to unroll
at that stage. We briefed the police on Australia Day, 26 January, 1998,
(it was a Monday) and our General Manager spent all day in Melbourne from
Deputy Commissioner down to the local sergeant saying what we are trying
to do, when we are going to try and do it, how it was going to be done---all
of that. Two days later the police advised their Minister that they had
no knowledge of anything that we were up to.
Was that in writing?
I don't know if it was in writing but the Minister got utterly caught
out advising Cabinet that, on his best advice, the police knew nothing about
what was going on and that became pretty much a hallmark of the Victoria
Police position throughout the dispute.
As I said earlier, we wanted to do this as transparently as we could.
We wanted to go in, in broad daylight because, again we were trying to distinguish
ourselves from anything like Dubai, any sort of undercover stuff. This was
We had to bring down from Sydney two straddle carriers. Now, they are
big pieces of equipment. They were transported broken down on low loaders.
The police said to us that we couldn't bring them through the city of Melbourne
other than between the hours of 1 am and 5 am so that meant, because we
wanted to do it all at once, we had to forget about going in, in daylight,
with everything in one operation because it comprised a convey of about,
as I recall, 14 or 16 vehicles. We had a whole number of Abco demountable
huts. We had toilets. We had training rooms, We had security set-ups. We
had closed circuit television. We had a kitchen We had the lot. Plus we
had our security people in buses and all the rest of it. It was quite a
big convoy and we wanted to bring the straddles in at the same time.
We had decided we were going to go in on the Wednesday night/Thursday
morning and we had the straddle parked just on the northern edge of Melbourne
all set to go---11 pm on the night we were all set to go---by which time
we had everything else aggregated together in North Melbourne at Chubbs
Headquarters (the security providers)---11 pm the police say "No, you
can't bring the straddles through---you're not allowed to bring them through---it
would be too provocative". So we then had to proceed to go in because
we had all the people assembled so we went in that morning.
I was in the convoy. When I got down there, there were about 6 members
of the MUA at the gate and about that many reporters again and a police
presence of one---there was one policeman there and he refused me entrance.
I said to him that I actually happen to be in possession of the lease of
that property to which I was a signatory---it was my property and I was
entitled to quiet enjoyment of that property. He assured me that he understood
and agreed with that but not tonight. I wasn't going to have the quiet enjoyment
of it tonight. Anyway, we objected and we got everybody in and it was all
The Victoria Police then actually took it upon themselves to meet with
the Trades Hall Council the next morning and negotiate our rights for us.
They still feel we don't fully appreciate their efforts on our behalf, and
they are quite right, we don't appreciate them at all. The police played
a constant role of spoiling as far as we were concerned in the operation
and it started, as I say, by their denial of any knowledge of what we were
doing to their Minister and by stuffing us around in getting into Webb Dock.
The conclusion to the story about the straddles is very interesting because
a couple of days later when we applied to bring them through again at night
they said "don't worry about it---bring them during the day".
So they had no fundamental problem with us bringing them through and we
ended up bringing them in, in daylight, because the police had no real objection
to it in the final analysis. They had just mucked us around.
Now the problem with the police down there in Melbourne, particularly
down there, far worse down there than in Sydney or in any of the other States,
was the fact that they had adopted the attitude that their task was to maintain
the peace rather than uphold the law, and what you get as a consequence
is a position that whoever is perceived by the police to have the force
on the ground, the police will go with them.
Now I have to say to you that we got to a very, very serious situation
down there. We had a couple of thousand people blockading the main container
terminal for Australia, and who had built anti-tank traps and other fortifications
across the access roads to the terminal.
At that point we had to consider very seriously what our options were.
Our options were essentially either to accept the position and recognise
that we weren't going to achieve our goals or we had a very real alternative---a
very live alternative to that suggestion---and that was we could have mobilised
about 20,000 or 30,000 farmers and taken possession of our property. The
consequences probably would have been civil war or possibly something akin
to civil war.
We opted not to do that. I would say that the great lesson out of the
waterfront dispute rather than a number of other things is the failure of
the Victoria Police, and that contagion spread to the other police forces,
but the principal problem was the Victoria Police and the failure of the
Victorian Government to have any influence over their police. I think that
is a major political problem.
The other key area of failure was the situation in the Federal Court.
It is interesting---I spoke recently at a conference where a learned doctor
of laws was expounding on some of the outrageous decisions that have emanated
from the Federal Court in the recent past; some of which were related to
our activities. This learned gentleman was saying that the Federal Court
is actually making decisions that are bankrupting perfectly sound, proper
and legitimate businesses and he was very critical about that.
When it came my turn to speak, I said "look I want to try and put
some balance into what has just been said about the Federal Court"
because I thought the learned gentleman had painted a pretty one sided picture
and it needed balancing. I said "I agree with what he said that the
Court is bankrupting perfectly legitimate businesses but what he hasn't
said is that they are then telling them to continue trading so it is really
quite balanced---it is really quite a balanced approach being taken by the
We have got a major problem, particularly in Melbourne, with the Federal
Court that needs to be seriously addressed. It is something that has got
to be sorted out because it is a critically important jurisdiction, as we
showed at Mudginberri---the capacity of the Federal Court in these things
is terribly important but civil society needs a bench that upholds the law---that
recognises that they are judges rather than commissioners, and who behave
as judges and act in that way.
The great disasters of the dispute
I think we (we being PCS) handled the publicity and the whole media thing
at our end of the business fairly well. We contracted our security to Chubb.
I think Chubb did everything that was expected of them and did it very well,
and they did it with a minimum of fuss---maximum of price but a minimum
I think a large part of the loss of public support that did occur, occurred
because of Patrick's use of other security forces, use of the dogs, the
balaclavas, all of this stuff which simply gave, in publicity terms, an
enormous free kick to the union side. While we were looking after the publicity
when we were doing our training and so on at Webb Dock I think we were able
to maintain a very good level of public support. I think the critical things
that went wrong were:
- the police
- the loss of public support
- the Federal Court
It is very interesting from the perspective of some months later, to
look back at it and realise now that Australia has really only one container
port of any significance, and that is Melbourne. I know the operators in
Sydney are quite happy to walk away from Botany altogether because if you
have got Melbourne working properly and you have got Brisbane and/or Perth,
you don't need Sydney. The transport infrastructure in Sydney is so bad
getting stuff too and from the berths that it is attractive just to walk
around it altogether.
What matters is Melbourne, and what is happening in Melbourne is that,
two days a week, Melbourne is the best performing container port in the
world. That is important. Now I understand that Patrick isn't really passing
on any of those savings just yet and frankly I don't blame them. They have
experienced a tad of expense over the last year and from some of the figures
I have seen and even figures that the unions have quoted what they reckon
it cost Patrick, I have got to say, given the level of knowledge that I
have of what we cost, I think they have been very conservative. I think
it cost a huge amount of money.
I think it was terribly important that someone actually did it and I
think it was very unfortunate that institutions like the Business Council
and a lot of the other sort at the institutional end of town simply sat
on their hands.
As far as I am concerned, it is terrific to see the Lang Corporation
share price---I am delighted with that. I didn't buy any shares. I should
have bought them but my wife wouldn't let me. She said it was insider trading
or something like that. I think it is actually a shame that Lang Corp didn't
go to the market when the banks lost their nerve and what was one of the
key things at the end of the operation which really brought things to a
head was the banks losing their nerve.
So the banks in effect forced Corrigan to deal.
There was enormous pressure all round on Corrigan. I think the principle
thing with the banks and there is no question that some of the politicians,
but not Peter Reith, were getting very anxious about running into an election
campaign with a conspiracy action afoot.
What needs to be understood about the conspiracy action is this. The
simplest way to demonstrate the confidence that the union had in their conspiracy
action is to look at the terms of the settlement they made with Patrick
to end it. They conceded enormous ground. They conceded things that don't
ring any bells for people in other businesses but they conceded things like:
- the control of when work is to be done;
- the control of the number of people to do work.
A whole range of very important management prerogatives were taken back
from the MUA and if the union thought for one minute that they had a real
live conspiracy action, that would not have happened.
I think it is a shame that Lang Corp didn't go to the public at that
stage because shortly after the dispute they went out and raised $30 million
without affecting the share price a cent. I think they could have gone out
and raised a lot more in the heat of battle and secured the position without
the banks---taking the banks out of it.
It is terribly easy to be critical of those things. Again in hindsight,
I don't think I have ever seen anyone acting under so much pressure, or
acting under pressure from so many different circumstances, as Corrigan
in this dispute. He is a difficult bloke and an odd sort of fellow but I
think Australia owes him an enormous debt for the fact that he actually
did what he did, and stood his ground for as long as he did.
The reality is that the Australian waterfront is never going to be the
same. The changes are happening dramatically and quite remarkably now. P
& O, of course, are playing the gentleman and seeking discussions. After
some four months they now have a heads of agreement, or a memorandum of
understanding, which amounts to an agreement that they are going to negotiate
and they are doing very well. I must say I hope that they pay an enormous
commercial price in this and if Patrick keeps going the way they are going
then I think P & O will pay an enormous commercial price.
Unions such as the wharfies that exact a high level of commitment from
their people, carry an enormous responsibility to make sure that when they
have demanded these high prices from their people, their people understand
that they have been dealt with truthfully and honestly. As people realise
that, with the capital equipment that is available on these modern container
terminals, the doing of 25-30-35 containers an hour is achievable as a matter
of normal everyday life, I think the union will have a lot of difficulty
in convincing its own membership that they have been dealt with honestly
by the union. I think that is a big risk to the union.
Looking ahead and understanding that the Port of Melbourne has undergone
this extraordinary transformation, which will give huge impetus to the development
of this port as the major port in Australia,---will that lead to Australia
becoming a one port nation?
It is a very interesting question. I had to speak at a conference in
Darwin the other day on northern infrastructure. We were talking about the
port up there and the railway and these are the sort of consequences that
flow from these sort of things. If 12 months ago you were thinking that
Daiwoo was looking at building that railway line and buying the port, you
would factor in at the southern end of the whole operation at Melbourne
a container rate of 18 boxes an hour, and you'd say if they are doing 18
boxes an hour, what we can do up at Darwin is ABC and we save five days
steaming by putting it on the rail and all the rest of it. Those figures
become the basis of pretty important commercial calculations. Suddenly,
if you are doing 35--45 an hour in Melbourne, the calculations have changed
There is no question that the longer Jim Donovan of the MUA in Sydney
is able to prevent the productivity changes applying in Sydney as they are
applying in Melbourne, the greater the likelihood is that Sydney will simply
wither on the vine.
Now what is interesting in Sydney is that the same hourly box rate is
being achieved at Patrick in Sydney today as was being achieved before the
dispute. The fact that half the labour is gone is by the by.
Jim is a good old fashioned Stalinist and fairly fundamental and simple
in many regards. I think he is a lot less reasonable than Stalin was generally
but he has got this thing of 18 boxes an hour in his head and I guess it
doesn't matter how many people it takes to do it, that's what they are going
Of course, in Melbourne they have gone up to 35--45, again with half
the number of people. What is happening is that Melbourne is just forging
further and further ahead and I think there is a really good argument about
Sydney just withering on the vine.
Brisbane is doing pretty well. Fremantle is doing pretty well. You see
there is only a day's sailing between Sydney and Melbourne. Why muck around?
I think the example I have just cited of Darwin is quite fundamental because
with Melbourne working properly, it changes the bottom line across a whole
raft of calculations.
As I understand it is just not the box rate, it is the capacity to predict,
to the hour, your arrival and departure times, and be absolutely confident
that that schedule is going to be adhered to.
Well, you see the sort of thing that is happening is that no one is yet
confident that what is happening in Melbourne is going to be maintained.
I know of an incident where a shipping line said to a regular client---the
client rang the shipping line and said "look, I can't get the box there
until Thursday morning" and the shipping line said "that will
be fine". Now because the berth worked so well, that vessel was ready
to sail at 4 p.m. on the Wednesday afternoon and the shipping line held
it until 7 a.m. on the Thursday morning to pick up one box.
Now that is a factor of experience. They just didn't believe it would
go that fast and so what has got to be learnt is that these guys are going
to be doing this consistently because the key thing that has happened, as
far as this is concerned, is, and in fairness to Patrick, one of the things
that a lot of us questioned all the way through the dispute was that if
we won the dispute would Patrick's management be good enough to take advantage
of it. Clearly what they are showing is, yes they are, and they are delivering
on it. Now a lot of people have got to make adjustments to the new situation.
When you think that it used to take you, say, six shifts to work a vessel
and you are suddenly doing it in three, what that means is that not just
the wharfies, and the managers of those wharfies, but there are a lot of
other people who have to make changes too along the way.
A lot of us who have been complaining like billy-o about the failure
of the ports to perform have suddenly got to lift our own game. We have
to lift our game to the rate of these blokes so it flows right through.
Going back to the winding-up of the dispute in July and the tragic necessity
of having to retrench the people that PSC took on and trained---this must
have been one of the toughest things in your career.
It was the worst week of my life---it was easily the worst week I have
ever put in.
We recruited basically three groups of people. We recruited firstly the
farm boys, secondly the military who went to Dubai and, thirdly, what the
military so affectionately refer to as the riffraff.
The level of loyalty and enthusiasm that we got from those people was
phenomenal. They worked under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. They
were spat on, jeered, hissed and carried on at. They just kept turning up
and taking it again. They were terrific people.
Now, in the end, we failed to secure from the Federal Government a share
of the redundancy money that was established and yet no one did more to
reform the waterfront than they did; but they were excluded from the Maritime
Reform Fund for redundancy which I think is one of the great disgraces of
the government. But we did secure for them a severance payment of about
Now if they were working for Coles-Myer or TNT, in terms of the length
of time they were employed, that was a very good severance pay. It didn't
take account of the trauma that they went through but in comparison to what
a lot of the layabouts from the waterfront received in public money---ok,
money that Patrick has got to repay but public money---I think they got
very badly treated.
There are actions against us by some of them. The only people who have
made any sort of fuss about it have been the military people. The riffraff
and the farm boys have just been terrific. We have done an awful lot of
work to secure employment for them all over the place, with a lot of success.
So their discharge papers have become a very important part of their
Indeed. As Chris Corrigan said during the dispute, he went down to the
berth at Brisbane where he said that it was just exhilarating to be with
a work-force that were wanting to work.
I know transport operators in Brisbane, (and Brisbane was the port we
actually worked, we worked right through, except under court instructions
otherwise) who had been working on the wharf for 40 years who said that
that couple of months were just the best times of their lives because, all
of a sudden, everyone was working and things were happening.
It was an awful shame but please God a lot of those people are going
to find their way back into the industry and will help to improve it further.
So, you mentioned at the beginning the crucial provision in the Workplace
Relations Act which denied the roping-in clause. That gave you the break
you needed. As well as that there was the unlawfulness of secondary boycotts
and other actions. What was new in the Workplace Relations Act in that regard
that was decisive.
I think what happened was that if I look at the sort of loss to the Australian
economy which occurred during this dispute and compare it to what happened
when Patricks sacked 40 men at the Balmain terminal five years ago when
the Australian waterfront was shut for a week, the difference was that five
years ago it actually cost the Australian economy about ten times what this
three months dispute really cost.
The simple reason for that is because of the existence and applicability
of the second boycott legislation. There were no secondary boycotts. Because
of that, P & O worked right through the dispute. Brambles worked through
the dispute. Other stevedores worked through the dispute. Everything kept
going except for those particular parts of Patrick where there was a primary
action in place.
Under the legislation that Laurie Brereton had in place, that would not
have happened. We would have had to involve the Commission in the whole
dispute, in order to eventually get to the Federal Court to get the relief
We very deliberately chose right at the outset to keep the Commission
as far away from all of this activity as we possibly could because of their
track record in this industry of basically conceding whatever the MUA wanted.
We needed to be able to keep the Commission away from it but because
of the changes to the Trade Practices legislation, getting the secondary
boycotts back into the Trade Practices Act, meant that it was available
without us having to bring the Commission into the whole matter, and that
was fundamental; as it has been say in the Hunter No 1 dispute where a hugely
important dispute in the coal industry has been fought out up there with
every other mine still working. The reforms to the Trade Practices Act is
fundamentally important to the reshaping of our economy.
So those two provisions were an absolutely essential prerequisite.
We wouldn't have started without both of them. We had to have both of
those things on the statute book in order to give us a chance. This was
always going to be a difficult brawl; but in order to have any sort of a
chance we had to have the capacity to employ people without being roped
back and, secondly, we had to have the capacity to use the secondary boycott
legislation without bringing the Commission into our backyard to do it.
Both of those things became possible via the changes to the Workplace
Relations Act which Peter Reith got through in 1996.
Why do you think the chattering class press, which originally was sort
of 50-50, turned against the reformers.
I think we got a good run from the press. I think PCS got a very good
run from the press while we were handling the publicity ourselves. We put
a lot of effort in and I think we did it pretty well. I think when Patrick
took over the operation from Easter time on, I think that the dogs and the
balaclavas approach was just giving a free kick to the other side. I think
we got a good deal from the press, by and large, including the ABC (other
I think PM had a barrel loaded for us all the time. I remember the breathless
excitement of the lady from PM in Melbourne who found the nerve centre of
the farmers' war room on the 12th Floor of some hotel in Melbourne.
We actually had an office on the 1st Floor in Collins Street but anyhow
she found it up there and she was banging on the door with the microphone
going---you could hear her steps coming down the corridor---she gets to
the door "this is the door of the nerve centre of the war room"
bang, bang, bang, and inside is one of our contractors who is staying there.
He has his wife and family over from Tasmania for a couple of days and the
PM lady is screaming "come out Mr Corrigan come out". "I
know you are in there Mr Corrigan".
Chris Corrigan actually heard the report---he was driving around Sydney
with his wife. He reached for his phone and his wife said "what are
you going to do dear?" He said "I am going to ring the ABC and
tell them that I have just visited every brothel in Melbourne looking for
Louisa Sacatelli and I can't find her any more than she can find me on the
12th Floor of that hotel in Melbourne because I am in Sydney. His wife prevailed
on him not to do that. It might have changed the whole public opinion of
The reason for the balaclavas is obvious?
No I disagree with that. We put to Chubb that we had a few preconceptions
about how all this should be handled. They said to us "look, this is
actually our business and we have been doing it for a while and we know
a bit about it". They said they work on a three line defence and, in
a static site like this, they want about 40% of young women in the first
line because the television cameras will focus on them and so will any potential
violence and no one will be game to throw a punch at a woman and that stops
a lot of things before it starts. We come to a second line of heavier people.
And then we come to a third line of Islanders and no one goes through.
These are Pacific Islanders?
Yes. They said it is as simple as that. The only injury we sustained
at Webb Dock was to one of the security girls when one of these gallant
lads threw a brick through the window of the bus and she got a shard of
glass in her eye. Thank God she was able to be taken to the hospital where
they got it out and there was actually no long term damage at all. That
was the only injury.
I accept that Corrigan had to send the blokes in to seize the berths
before Easter because people were there. He had to get people off but I
just think that it was done so badly and, in fairness to the other side,
they capitalised on it so well.
They did. They had posters all round Melbourne "This is John Howard's
relaxed, more comfortable society".
I have been picketed on a number of occasions where I have spoken where
people now turn up with their balaclavas and their pet dogs and I have to
say that I think it is quite clever. You see these people marching up and
down outside your hotel with their balaclavas on and their silky terriers
or their poodles. It is a clever touch and they did that very well.
But nonetheless I think they have lost the war. I think they won that
battle but I am sure they are going to lose the war. The war would never
have got under way without Corrigan and those employees having the heart
to go and do the job.
Back to the Federal Court. There is the North decision and there was
the appeal to the Full Bench headed up by Murray Wilcox who had, as I recall,
bagged the Opposition in the 1996 election campaign from the Bench, and
nobody to my knowledge has ever remarked that this seems to be a rather
unusual practice for a Federal Court judge.
I think it was stupid what he did because although I don't dispute the
statistics of what Wilcox said about the cases that get before the Court,
the thing is that my business does as little as possible in the wrongful
dismissal area because it is a bit like family law. It is the grubby end
of the business. But, you know, needs be as needs must from time to time
and we do it, but the simple facts are that I would estimate we urge 90%
of employers who come to us with wrongful dismissal matters, to settle.
We just urge them to settle, don't even try and litigate. We tell them to
find out how much money it is going to cost because, as we say, it is going
to cost you about $20,000 for us to run a proper case for you. If you can
settle for less than that you are in front. We say this is not a business
of morality. We are not talking morals here or anything. I am just talking
about dollars and cents. If you can settle it for $15,000 and get it off
your books, you are better off than paying us $20,000 to go and win the
case for you.
So what happens is that the cases that Wilcox was commenting upon are
the cases where people have decided "no I am just so sick of being
set up by these rabbits that I am actually going to fight this regardless
of the cost". So he is talking about 55/45 in employers favour in the
10% or less of cases that might go forward. If he didn't know that, that
is a scandal and if he did know it, it is also a scandal.
As you know, the initial North judgement is carefully written. It is
written in such a way that it is all about the discretion that he has. It
was, after all, only an injunction. It wasn't a finding of fact in any way
at all. It was simply an injunction and appealing those sort of discretionary
matters, particularly in the injunction stage, I mean it is very, very unlikely
that you are going to get a Full Court to overturn a single judge.
In order to gain the injunction, the Union, as you do, have to give assurance
about any damage that Corrigan suffered as a result of the injunction if
it wasn't finally upheld. The union had assets of $26 million. The Federal
Court accepted from them sureties worth about $44 million in the granting
of those injunctions in terms of the damages that PCS could suffer, that
Patricks could suffer and other contractors could suffer. That was also
part of the reason I was sorry that the whole conspiracy thing didn't go
forward because the MUA would have been bankrupted. I think it is also very
rich for the Federal Court to accept almost twice as much surety as they
had in assets. I felt that that was a bit over the top.
There is no doubt that the waterfront has changed and I think there is
no going back. There is a possibility that the shape of the port industry
in Australia will be significantly changed because of what may, at first,
be a temporary change, but may get locked in.
The other really interesting thing that I think you will see happening,
and I am little bit out of touch where it is right now, but Toll Transport
actually have started stevedoring out of Newcastle using Transport Workers
One of the things that should have been done and that I wanted to do,
but I was vetoed by Corrigan, was to involve the TWU at Webb Dock as basically
a labour hire outfit. I wanted to negotiate an agreement with the TWU to
cover our employees. I know that the TWU harbours strong desires to recover
what it sees as its rightful place on the wharf which it lost back in 1969---John
Moore rubbed them out and the hardheads in the TWU are anxious to regain
their spot in the sunshine, and I wanted to facilitate that. I think if
we had done that it would have been an entirely different situation. It
could have been done and it should have been done.
Toll now own the Port of Geelong and I know the TWU are saying to Toll
that they want the work at Geelong. Geelong is quite a good port---it is
a good grain port, fertilizer port, oil---there are a number of other things
that go through there, but that could be a very interesting area.
One of the things that we learned out of all this was that we had a Canadian
girl who worked for us, who did five days training---she got her crane licence
after five days and she went straight on to a crane in Port Botany and one
of the problems we had was that the cranes at Webb Dock were pretty old
and the controls were the reverse of what the modern cranes are so the cranes
that they learned on they had to go and get into another control cab and
basically reverse it. The first full shift she put in---the last couple
of hours she worked she was over 25 an hour. Now we know how to train people.
We know what is required to do it. We have got 350 people out there trained,
and that is a factor that has never happened before. It is never going to
be the same again.