Light on the Hill: Industrial Relations Reform in Australia
Battling Against Darwin's Trade Unions
To manage by innovation usually means a battle with
the unions, who haven't learnt to cope with change.
The only unionists I've met who can cope have become
While I now run my own business, I was the General
Manager of Perkins Shipping for 15 years. So when I
refer to Perkins Shipping, I draw on my own personal
experience over a long period.
You need to be a fighter to survive the wartime rigours
of Changi Jail, and Bruce Perkins' history of starting
a shipping service out of Darwin reinforces that. My
early years with him were an example of that hardy
breed this country is so short of now---a breed who
will not take no for an answer and doesn't know the
meaning of 'cannot'. The school of hard knocks can
teach nothing to the men who survived the Burma-Siam
Perkins started his shipping service in 1969 from
Darwin to Timor with drilling equipment for Timor Oil.
The vessel was a converted army landing craft, with
extra steel sides welded on to increase its capacity
from 40 to 85 tonnes. The wartime petrol engines had
been removed and diesel ones installed.
The Northern Territory mining camps and Aboriginal
communities were first serviced by luggers. However,
when housing, water and sewerage were required in these
areas, luggers proved unsuitable. Perkins therefore
converted two more of these landing craft.
Both Groote and Gove had their early exploration teams
landed by these vessels. The first two Land Rovers
were off-loaded at Gove on one voyage and were happily
driven ashore by the exploration team. There were only
two tracks at Gove at that time and no other vehicles.
There was only one crossroad, and within 24 hours both
Land Rovers had been written off: they had met simultaneously
at the only crossroad! Luckily no one was hurt.
With the increased expenditure of mining companies,
more Aboriginal activities and pressure from the Department
of Transport to upgrade the fleet, special-purpose
landing craft were built in Australia and introduced
into the service around the coast.
Back in 1962, I worked as cook for Bruce Perkins on
his first vessel---the old converted army landing craft.
The skipper navigated more by the reefs we ran upon,
than by the charts; most of the area was uncharted
and there was no radar or echo sounder. Cargo got delivered
but it was no use publishing a timetable.
I remember the skipper well. We had to wake him with
a broom. He was an ex-boxer and always woke up fighting;
if you were too close you got hit.
In the 28 years of operation in these uncharted waters,
Perkins lost only one vessel and had no fatalities,
which says much for the design of these landing craft.
As running up on uncharted rocks and sandbars while
beaching was in the nature of the work, we were always
repairing holes in the bottom of the vessels and propellers
were damaged on most trips.
On one of the early voyages to Gove, the concrete
ramp on which the landing craft beached collapsed while
the tide was half out. The crew had gone ashore and
left the engine room door open and the whole vessel
was flooded. The landing craft was operating again
within 2 days, but the poor cooks like myself had to
turn out gourmet meals from cans without labels. You
couldn't decide what was for dinner until you had opened
a few cans!
The coastal trade in the late 1960s was a mixture
of small luggers loading at the Darwin main wharf using
casual labour and ship's crew (no waterside labour)
and Perkins' landing craft in Francis Bay, involving
their regular employees who were not members of any
With mining operations such as Nabalco and Groote
Eylandt Mining Co. involved in cargo deliveries, there
were occasional moves by Paddy Carroll, the Secretary
of the North Australian Workers Union (NAWU) to sign
up barge and loading crews. Paddy explained to me in
those days that his union---a branch of the Miscellaneous
Workers Union---was preferable to WWF, who he considered
would ruin business.
Trade comes in cycles and in 1973 there was a downturn
at Gove and Groote as the construction stage came to
an end. The spare shipping capacity could not be taken
up by the Aboriginal communities, so we looked overseas
for work. We had been making occasional voyages up
to Amamapare in Indonesia for Freeport Sulphur's gold
and copper mine. Freeport had set up their purchasing
office in Darwin. They were spending $9m a year in
Darwin and Barge Express were also running a landing
craft there on a regular basis.
Freeport came to an agreement for Perkins to convey
all their stores and materials out of Darwin. ANL were
contracted to deliver 21 containers from the south
to the Darwin main wharf and Perkins would arrange
delivery to Francis Bay and their loading onto the
landing craft, 'Fourcroy', for export. On the arrival
of this first shipment in Darwin by ANL, waterside
workers unloaded the containers and then placed a black
ban on them, saying they would not be delivered to
Perkins until Perkins agreed to use waterside workers
to load them. Luckily we had some friendly tally clerks
working at the wharf; they failed to enforce the ban
on most of the containers, so we received enough to
load the vessel and sail. The rest of the containers
remained on the wharf for quite some time.
The result of this was that within a month Freeport
moved their main buying operation to Singapore. They
are still there. So Perkins lost the business, waterside
workers lost the new work introduced by Perkins, and
Darwin lost Freeport---a major source of income for
a small city.
That is when we had to fight for survival. Our employees
went to their union, NAWU. By this time Paddy Carroll
had left and John Isaacs had taken over. He advised
our employees to resign from his union and join the
WWF. Instead, however, they were all signed up by the
TWU. This created a rift in the Trades and Labour Council
for a number of years, but we then had a union fighting
on the company's side.
Called before a hearing by the Australian Stevedoring
Industry Authority, we gave evidence that there was
an unwritten agreement that vessels under 500 tonnes
were exempt from requiring waterside workers and that
the introduction of waterside labour would increase
costs to Aboriginal communities, causing considerable
hardship. We were advised that the Authority's job
was to interpret the law and these arguments were for
the politicians. The result was that we were told we
had to employ WWF labour as soon as possible.
We immediately set about finding work overseas and
closely scrutinised the Stevedoring Industry Act for
some loophole. We preferred to close down the company
rather than accept WWF labour and thereby lose control
of our business. Fortunately, we found the loophole
we were seeking in Section 7N of the Act, which refers
to 'persons in the regular employment of a person engaged
in an industrial undertaking, being persons whose duties
include the performance of stevedoring operations in
connexion with that undertaking'.
Only 30 per cent of the work carried out by the shore
crew at Perkins could be classified as stevedoring;
the rest of the time they were sandblasting, performing
maintenance work, reclaiming land, building sheds,
delivering and collecting cargo by truck in the town
area. As none of this other work could be classified
as waterside worker work, we considered we were definitely
an industrial undertaking. Our employees had a permanent
job with plenty of overtime and job satisfaction. They
all wrote to Mr Clyde Cameron, Minister for Labour,
requesting his assistance in allowing them to remain
members of TWU, not become waterside workers. He wrote
back indicating they should negotiate a suitable agreement
We decided that if we simply asked Clyde Cameron to
classify us as an industrial undertaking, we would
get nowhere, so we employed well-tried union tactics
and said nothing. We sent one barge on an overseas
charter to Singapore; the other remained on the coast,
but with cargo deliberately held back until most of
the Aboriginal communities had only about a week's
supply of fuel and food. We had bumper stickers printed
('Save Darwin's Small Ships'). In our publicity campaign
to avoid WWF labour, each barge company put a float
in the May Day parade, much to the anger of the organisers,
who tried to get the police to stop the floats, without
We then sent the only barge landing craft servicing
Aboriginal communities to Timor. This meant there were
no suitable landing craft for servicing the needs of
the communities in the Northern Territory: they were
overseas and couldn't be commandeered. We sent telegrams
to Whitlam, Cameron, Murphy---in fact to most of Cabinet.
We went on TV, radio and National Press and advised
that we would not bring our vessels back into the country
until we were classified as an industrial undertaking.
We were not interested in employing waterside workers.
All the Aboriginal communities sent telegrams to Canberra
complaining, and supporting our argument to be exempt
from waterside worker treatment. Within 7 days we were
classified as an industrial undertaking. We brought
our vessels back to resume service.
Having lost Freeport in Indonesia to Singapore, we
developed a service to Dili in Timor. This was not
profitable, but there was plenty of cargo available
at low freight rates. We then purchased a dumb barge
from Nabalco and started towing this behind the landing
craft. This increased the carrying capacity from 220
to 660 tonnes for an extra 2 days sailing and minimum
increase in operating costs. The service became profitable.
Because of all the publicity over the waterside worker
dispute, the maritime unions decided they should gain
coverage of the operation. We fought this off for some
months, but they signed up a number of employees and
there were threats that our vessels would stop unless
we agreed to substantial rises in pay and leave. Not
being in a strong enough financial position to withstand
stoppages, we had to agree.
At the time of this dispute I remember a Commissioner
of the Arbitration Court taking me and my solicitor
into the back room and saying that we obviously had
no experience of the power of the Seamen's Union of
Australia (SUA). He went on to point out that although
in theory he had the power to arbitrate wages and conditions,
in practice SUA would probably not accept his decision
and would go on strike. He had seen other companies
go to the wall trying to fight SUA and it was best
to agree. My faith in the Conciliation and Arbitration
Act disappeared from that point.
Subsequent industrial relations at Perkins was coloured
by that piece of advice. We made certain we had excellent
relations with our employees and aimed at never having
a strike. This cost us dearly: as we could not afford
stoppages, we had to accept, at every award negotiation,
wages and conditions which were uneconomic for small
vessels. But our strike-free record and therefore reliability,
opened up many new avenues of trade.
As soon as SUA gained coverage of the crews, they
stopped us sailing dumb barges to Timor, Gove and Groote
in line with their Australia-wide bans on dumb barge
operations. I had a meeting with SUA's Federal Secretary,
Mr Elliot. He advised that he had refused large American
enterprises offering substantial sums of money and
excellent conditions, and there was no way he was going
to allow a small Darwin barge company to operate after
refusing the Americans.
WWF were still trying to gain coverage, particularly
as they knew that a new vessel for overseas service
was under construction. In November 1974, they therefore
persuaded the Federal Government to take steps to amend
the industrial undertaking section of the Stevedoring
We made visits to Canberra and began lobbying the
Government and the Opposition but had no luck until
we advised the TWU, FEDFA, AMWU and the Storemen and
Packers that this amendment would prevent their members
all over Australia from working on the wharfs. Clyde
Cameron had not advised them of this body-snatching
legislation. The changes were dropped forthwith. (In
1977, Section 7N and other exemptions from waterside
worker coverage were transferred to Section 81 of the
Conciliation and Arbitration Act and are still used
by shipping companies in Darwin to avoid employing
With the loss of the Timor trade in the face of the
ban on dumb barges and a massive increase in costs
due to the maritime unions, we laid up the only old
army landing craft still operating and looked for more
overseas work. We decided that the only way to get
into such work was, like the old trading vessels, to
buy cargo to fill the ship. Instead of spice and tea,
we brought cattle and shipped it to Brunei and Malaysia;
then in turn we bought timber and steel in Singapore
for sale in Darwin. We went through the usual battles
with the bureaucracy in Canberra over shipping cattle
on a landing craft. But we refused to take no for an
answer and the trade nourished.
Our first shipment of live buffalo to Brunei was an
interesting exercise. The Brunei buffalo is a docile
animal used to pulling a plough; the Northern Territory
buffalo is wild, dislikes humans, and has no respect
for cattle-yards. On arrival in Brunei, the first few
buffalo discharged demolished the timber raceway and
took off into the bush. There was no way these animals
could be used to pull ploughs: they were only good
for slaughter. It took about two weeks to calm them
down enough to get them into trucks to go to the meat
Queensland Mines then started shipping yellowcake
and our dispute-free reputation won that business.
Yellowcake, together with cattle and timber, were the
major cargoes on the Singapore run. Operating a 220
tonne capacity landing craft on a 2,000 mile voyage
conveying cattle and timber was not, in the long term,
an economic proposition. But it was necessary to build
up trade so that we could put on a more economic vessel.
Before calling tenders for its construction, we negotiated
the crew numbers to our satisfaction. It is interesting
to note that the price for constructing such a vessel
in Australia, with the exchange rates then applying,
was twice as high as overseas. (The subsequent movement
in exchange rates would have narrowed the gap by 40
The union movement tried to persuade us with threats
of stoppages to build in Australia, but there was no
way the vessel would have been viable trying to service
the capital at the Australian price. It would have
to be built overseas or not at all. So the maritime
unions persuaded the ACTU to let us build the 'Francis
Bay' in Singapore.
We come now to the saga of yellowcake shipments out
of Darwin. Queensland Mines made the first shipment,
on the landing craft 'Fourcroy', in November 1980.
The maritime unions did not object in any way; in discussion
with the unions, one of the reasons given for constructing
the new vessel was to enable shipment of yellowcake
from Ranger Uranium and Queensland Mines. However,
when the Labor Party, in Opposition, became totally
anti-uranium, the ACTU put a ban on its mining and
handling. The mining went on and the road transport
continued, but SUA reneged on its agreement with us
and banned all export. We had to refuse a shipment
from Queensland Mines; so in July 1981, the 'Mayflower'
a chartered Philippine landing craft was brought in
by marine contractors to take yellowcake. They loaded
without any union and a rather ineffectual picket line.
All the containers were delivered by TWU drivers.
In 1982 a second 'MayFlower' load was organised. The
vessel anchored outside the harbour. By then the maritime
unions realised that their bans were ineffectual and
the ACTU had a meeting with the Northern Territory
Government and the mining companies. It was agreed
that all bans would be lifted and Perkins would handle
Queensland Mines' containers and the Darwin wharf would
The first loading of containers of yellowcake at the
Darwin wharf must be a record for slow loading: 27
containers in 6 days. WWF do not accept defeat gracefully.
The handling of containers at the Darwin wharf is still
one of the slowest and most expensive in the world,
despite the outlay of massive sums on container cranes,
roll-on-roll-off facilities, trailers and forklifts.
The usual figure is 30 containers in a shift, which,
with washing time, walking time and smoko time, comes
to only five-and-a-half hours---about 6 containers
per hour. Singapore handles an average 25 with the
best being 28 per hour; the Australian average is about
12 per hour. (With a bit of competition between crane
drivers, the maximum rate in Darwin has been 17 per
hour, but not for a full shift.)
Construction of the 'Francis Bay' was completed in
Singapore in September 1981. By then the cargo shipped
on the smaller landing craft had increased to the extent
of our not having to buy cargo; but the increase in
capacity from 250 to 2,000 tonnes meant that, to fill
the new vessel, we once again had to purchase large
quantities of timber, steel and cement.
The 'Francis Bay' sailed to Singapore for a number
of months with cattle and no yellowcake before the
unions lifted their bans on yellowcake. The direct
result of the union bans was that Marine Contractors
and Queensland Mines decided that they had to have
a landing craft of their own to ensure that the millions
of dollars of future uranium contracts would not be
jeopardised. Queensland Mines agreed with the unions
not to use their craft---the 'Blue Moon'---on yellowcake
shipments, provided the unions allowed shipment with
Perkins. However, Queensland Mines and Marine Contractors
had a substantial investment in the 'Blue Moon' and
in landing facilities at Francis Bay, and they obviously
had to get some return on their investment. It was
thus not long after the arrival of the 'Francis Bay',
with 11 Australian crew, that the 'Blue Moon' started
shipping cattle and importing timber with a foreign
crew. Competition was very fierce, but there was not
enough cargo for two vessels and eventually Marine
Contractors closed down. The 'Blue Moon' remained in
Singapore for a number of years without work and is
now on the Cairns Fly River run for OK Tedi, under
By 1984, the cargo in and out of Perkins yard at Darwin
had built up to the stage where we could not handle
it. At the same time, ships would not come to the WWF
Darwin wharf to discharge because it took a week to
unload 1,200 tonnes of timber at a cost of about $50
per tonne. By then we had our own private wharf in
Gove and the same ships that had given up using the
multi-million dollar Darwin wharf came into the old
mission jetty at Gove which has only a 30-foot frontage.
Nevertheless, we managed to unload the same quantity
of cargo in Gove, with no facilities and with only
4 men plus the ship's crew, in 24 hours. We then transhipped
this cargo, after quarantine inspection, onto our landing
craft to Darwin. Despite three lots of handling and
a 500-mile sea voyage to Darwin, it was still cheaper
than unloading at the Darwin wharf! The foreign vessel
was turned around with minimum port charges---2 days
instead of a week. There was still a profit for Perkins
as it was return cargo. TWU employees were used for
all cargo work.
After three voyages like this, WWF in Darwin, instead
of lifting their game to compete and recapture the
work, requested SUA to black ban this cargo, forcing
us to stop. Yet another source of income lost!
For the first time in years, Northern Territory farmers
had a surplus of maize from the new Douglas Daly agricultural
scheme and there was a firm market in New Guinea. However,
no ships could come into the Darwin wharf at reasonable
rates; to make matters worse, WWF and TWU had a demarcation
dispute as to who should drive the bulk grain trucks
when they arrived on the wharf. Consequently, the grain
stayed in the silos for 4 months.
We at Perkins offered to containerise the grain, take
it to Gove and tranship it onto a foreign vessel to
New Guinea. However, all transhipment in Gove was stopped
by union bans. We requested the union to allow us to
bring a foreign ship to our berth in Darwin with timber
and take out the grain, but they said no.
By then I had had enough: over the past 10 years every
new idea I came up with for making money had been frustrated
by the unions. I could see new export markets for Northern
Territory grain being lost, opportunities for cheap
fertiliser for the farmers being passed over and timber
being priced out of the market, unless further cheap
shipping was available.
I therefore decided to leave Perkins and set up my
own business towing a dumb barge behind a tug to ship
this surplus cargo of timber and grain.
I approached the Northern Territory Government to
lease a block of waterfront scrub land near the old
flying boat ramp at East Arm. They quickly processed
a 12 month lease. Within 2 months I had dredged the
area with a bulldozer at low tide and levelled and
fenced it. I bitumised the area for quarantine purposes
and arranged with customs to land the first cargo there
because it was outside the port area.
There was a strong cross-tide and so we put in some
mooring piles. In all I spent $150,000 on capital works,
giving us a facility that could bring in a 5,000 tonne
capacity dumb barge. We purchased a 60 tonne Michigan
front-end loader from BHP Coolan Island and fitted
25 tonne forks to carry containers on and off the barge.
We purchased an 8 tonne capacity front-end loader and
fitted it with forks for moving bundles of timber and
There had been considerable publicity about the start
of this new dumb barge operation aimed at carrying
grain out of the Northern Territory and bringing in
cheap fertiliser. All three of my employees were members
of the TWU.
But the Maritime Unions have a real hatred of dumb
barges, and they and WWF persuaded the ACTU to place
a black ban on my operation. TWU then had to withdraw
support. I had quite a large volume of new cargoes
(even bulk cargoes) being negotiated, but as soon as
the black bans appeared this business vanished.
On the first load I had to have 1,500 tonnes to break
even, with no back load. I had agreed not to take any
of Perkins' normal cargo, only surplus. So I had to
concentrate on timber and steel, making up the load
by purchasing fertiliser and cement and a number of
other commodities for sale in Darwin. The black bans
meant I had no pilot provided and we had to break the
law. It is a ludicrous situation when the Harbour Master---himself both a pilot and a Merchant Service Guild
Member---proceeds to prosecute when you don't use a
pilot simply because he refuses to do the job and chooses
to support union bans.
SUA members came out in dinghies and tried to cut
our tow-rope. Then when we tried to moor the vessel,
they cut some of our mooring lines. The bans prevented
us from getting a tug to give a hand with mooring across
the strong tide, and I used two friends with barramundi
The police arrived but not before members of SUA and
WWF had started throwing things at my employees and
my family. Most of the pickets had been consuming beer
all day while waiting for the barge to come in, so
we were lucky the police were there in force.
The pickets moved onto my lease and would not leave
until we started to unload. When the police judged
that the pickets were frustrating us from going about
our normal business, they brought in extra paddy wagons
and took everyone away. We had a police guard for about
The four of us unloaded 1,500 tonnes and loaded empty
containers and 40 tonnes of cargo for return to Singapore.
We could not work while the tide was in because it
covered the shore; nonetheless, we still unlashed,
unloaded and relashed the vessel in 36 hours and she
sailed the following day.
On the next load, a month later, we unloaded 2,500
tonnes and loaded 2,400 tonnes of grain for New Guinea
in 4 days with four people and a sub-contract welder
to assist with the lashing, a speed record for the
Port of Darwin. All this was done with $100,000 invested
in unloading equipment and $150,000 in the barge landing.
You don't need multi-million dollar facilities to unload
vessels. Large ships can be unloaded outside Darwin
and cargo lightered ashore more cheaply and quickly
than using the Darwin wharf.
The picket line was 24 hours per day for two months---not as long as Mudginberri's, but I'm willing to
bet more beer was consumed on our picket line. There
was much animosity from the ACTU picket line; but despite
nails on the road, glue in the locks on the gates and
general abuse, we delivered and collected cargo around
the town, using small trucking companies as the national
companies would not cross the picket. We had a great
deal of moral support from people of the Northern Territory.
I kept getting phone calls from groups of people wishing
to move the picket line forcibly, but we managed to
keep it peaceful.
WWF found it very hard to man their picket line and
some WWF members were fined because they would not
attend the picket and paid outsiders to stand in for
them. After 2 months they gave up, realising they were
having no effect.
However, the maritime unions still wanted to stop
the dumb barge operation. Recognising that the only
way to put me out of business was to allow free market
competition, they allowed Perkins to charter a foreign-manned
ship and Perkins then started a very fast competitive
regular shipping service with this foreign-crewed vessel
and took all the surplus cargo. I needed 1,500 tonnes
to make an economic charter of a tug and barge but
I could never raise this because Perkins always moved
While waterside workers on the Darwin wharf decided
that they had better increase their productivity or
go out of business, and as a result productivity improved
by 40 per cent on some general cargo shipments, this
had not gone far enough---even though there is now
another foreign-crewed vessel competing on the Darwin-Singapore
run with cattle and timber running into a private TWU
Thus having lost a considerable amount of money, I
laid off my employees, put the buckets back on the
front-end loader and went into earthmoving. Free enterprise
competition had put me out of business so I couldn't
I still bring the occasional barge into Australia
and arrange to ship heavy equipment and land-based
oil rigs around Indonesia, New Guinea and the South
Pacific. I have even put barges on the east coast of
Australia and loaded without any union hassles. I get
jobs no one else wants to do, acting as a consultant
for companies who want to move cargo cheaply without
Let me refer to some of the ridiculous costs presently
applying at the Darwin wharf, run by WWF and their
cost-plus stevedores. Take the loading of hay onto
a ship. The farmer after several months' work of planting,
fertilising, cutting and baling hay gets for his trouble
$1.50 in the paddock. The transport company loads this
hay and delivers it 200 kilometres for a further $1.00.
The total landed price on the wharf is therefore $2.50.
To move that hay 25 metres onto the deck of a ship
ranges between $4.00 and $8.00 depending on the degree
of effort of the waterside workers. The waterside workers
and stevedores are thus getting more for a few hours'
work than the farmer receives for growing the hay.
Heavy capital expenditure has not increased throughput
in non-container freight. It has caused massive idle
time which has led to wharfies increasing manning scales
by 100 per cent in loose cargo operations, such as
rig service vessels, for no increase in productivity.
When the rig service vessels first started in Darwin,
the manning was as follows: 2 men on the ship's deck,
2 men on the wharf, 1 fork lift driver, 1 supervisor,
1 contract crane driver, and 1 delivery truck driver.
At the same time cargo was not preslung.
Now cargo is preslung on the truck, but the truck
driver cannot assist. The contract crane driver now
reads a book, as he is not allowed to drive. There
are 2 waterside workers as crane drivers, but only
one can work at a time. There are 4 on the ship instead
of 2. There are 4 on shore instead of 2 plus the fork-lift
driver. There is also a timekeeper, a supervisor and
a foreman, all employed by the stevedores. The upshot
of all this is that 17 persons are now involved instead
of only 8!
Moreover, if you are lucky you can load 45 tonnes
per hour compared with 120 tonnes at the private rig
service port of Sale in Victoria. The cost of stevedoring
before Port Authority charges is about $18.50; but
unless 24 hours notice is given, the price goes up
to $31.50. Ignoring supervisors and foremen, the average
is 3.2 tonnes per man hour.
Fremantle on loose preslung cargo for the Cocos Islands
is costing $40.00 per tonne. Mason Shipping out of
Cairns averages between $25.00 and $30.00. This Cairns
landing-craft operation is directly comparable to the
true free enterprise system applying at the private
berths in Darwin, which only cost between $3.50 and
$10.00 depending on the type of cargo.
Bulk Klinker unloaded in Darwin costs $12.00 per tonne
compared to $5.00 in other ports.
This address is not meant to be a denigration of all
Darwin unions. Darwin is still one of the few places
you can construct a building on time, thanks to the
Miscellaneous Workers Union. The Darwin to Alice Springs
pipeline was finished on time and under budget because
of good industrial relations. The shipping operations
with TWU on shore and the road transport industry all
work very efficiently and are strike-free. It is just
WWF and the Meat Workers who will not accept new work
Waterside workers have an expanding monopoly on the
waterfront. To get better production out of the waterfront,
employers must start acting like employers or the wharves
must be opened up to competition. The realistic situation
is that the WWF has an incestuous relationship with
the employers of waterside labour. There will be no
real change in work practices as long as the more it
costs to load a ship the more the employers of waterside
workers receive. Whenever a more efficient method of
handling is suggested, the stevedores offer every excuse
against its introduction; their favourite words are
'it can't be done'
My experience is that real change, not cosmetic change,
comes only when someone's job is on the line. Competition
is the only thing that brings that about. The wharves
in Australia must be exposed to the free market system.
There are many east coast ports that could open up
to small shipping---particularly dumb barge operations
using roll-on-roll-off trucks, driven onto dumb barges
towed by tugs---but only if transport companies can
use employees from their industry unions and not waterside
This Conference's main aim is to change the industrial
relations system in Australia. We are not here just
to talk about it, we must do something.
In Darwin there are now three small private enterprise
companies shipping around the coast and overseas, and
enjoying unionisation under the industrial undertaking
clause. They have developed new enterprise. For example,
it is already cheaper and quicker to ship some cargoes
through these companies to Darwin and truck them to
southern capitals than it is to ship direct to Brisbane,
Sydney and other capital ports. There is more general
cargo shipped without waterside workers in Darwin than
Felixstowe, in the United Kingdom, started as a one-union
port, without the Dockers' Union and has become one
of the biggest and most efficient ports in that country.
On the other hand, the London ports, once saddled with
the Dockers' Union, have all died and the Dockers'
Union has now been taken over by the Transport and
General Workers' Union.
The east coast of Australia has a number of unused
ports that could be opened up by enterprising individuals,
creating decentralised employment opportunities. They
are ideally suited for small export shipping operations
or coastal dumb barges towed by tugs. It can only happen
if the WWF monopoly is removed.
Originally introduced as a piece of wartime legislation,
Sections 81-88 of the Conciliation and Arbitration
Act dealing with waterside workers should now be scrapped.
The technology has changed so much since 19344. We
are no longer at war, although it might seem so at
times on the industrial relations front. This free
enterprise country, with a Trade Practices Act specifically
designed to prevent monopolies, can no longer justify
The Government should move to abolish this legislation;
or else the Opposition should do so when they gain
office. There may be strikes and ships held up when
this occurs, but no change is without pain, as was
found with Mudginberri and dumb barges out of Darwin.
This is part of the evolution of a better transport
system---the life blood of Australia.