No Ticket, No Start---No More!
The Live Sheep Dispute---Some Personal Reminiscences
In my remarks today I wish to summarise the lessons
we learned during this dispute, because there is no
point in doing all these things if there aren't some
The live sheep dispute, which had then gone some eleven
years, really signalled a change in the resolve of
a number of people. It certainly signalled a change
in the resolve of the farming community. Up until that
point we, like everybody else, thought about the problems
of handling the union movement in our own individual
circumstances, in wool sheds and other places, in wool
stores, and we couldn't work out how to handle it.
It was there and it was just too tough; the opposition
was too well organised. Luckily for all of us, this
dispute which, as David Trebeck said, took a while
to build up (at least a year or two or even a little
longer), got us backed into a corner. We were so much
backed into a corner there was virtually no alternative
for us but to stand and fight.
There were a couple of helpful things. For instance
the AMIEU got involved in this dispute at the end of
autumn, when all our live sheep had gone, most of the
fat sheep had gone and really all we had left was a
few wethers and ewes for breeding purposes. So we really
had nothing to lose. We could stand there and just
wait for it to rain which, luckily, it did. So they
chose a very bad time and that was a great help.
We had also done a lot of preliminary work on this
thing. We'd been to see Hawke at the ACTU. Sam Burston
and I took him down a paper with a number of points
on it and we said, 'Look, we think this is the logic
of letting these animals go, we think it is to everybody's
benefit, how about you taking it back to your fellows
and see if you can knock some holes in the logic'.
Well he didn't and they couldn't. But that didn't
deter the AMIEU. I think it is a very fortunate thing
that it didn't deter the AMIEU because the live sheep
dispute was certainly catalytic in changing farmers'
attitudes as to what they could and couldn't do industrially.
In the early days of this dispute it didn't look as
if the AMIEU had made a mistake, because there were
lots of things to be tested; Section 45D, our resolve,
amongst other things.
Stupid things came to our help like the South Australian
Road Traffic Act. I remember having a tremendous battle
with the Commissioner of Police, the man who was put
in to replace Harold Salisbury, the Commissioner who
was sacked by Mr Dunstan. This battle was over the
fact that he insisted that if we got sheep int trucks
that they wouldn't necessarily flow freely along the
highway and byways. I think the discussions that I
had with him, every two days or so, took about ten
days and a number of legal opinions before we were
able to persuade him that if we did get sheep out on
the road his police would then ensure that they could
travel wherever. They went because we needed that to
Another thing I learned came out of Mr Dunstan's attitude.
Mr Dunstan had just had his dispute with Commissioner
Harold Salisbury, and had just sacked him, and the
next thing that happened was the live sheep dispute.
As chairman of the committee I sent him a telegram
saying how bad this prohibition of sheep, and picketing,
was and we were going to make a stand.
I was, in effect, appraising him that we weren't going
to lie down. He was ultimately the responsible minister
and I said that I thought there was going to be a big
disappointment and he should contemplate that. I asked
if I could see him and a couple of days later he said
I could do that. I went to his office, where he kept
me waiting about twenty minutes. He came in and sat
very close to me---dangerously close in retrospect---and he absolutely lit into me.
I wasn't very versed at talking to senior politicians
and I flushed a bit and I didn't know quite how to
handle it. I didn't quite know how to handle his proximity,
either, but luckily for me he went on for five or eight
minutes and I managed to cool off. I explained our
situation and went through the logic of the whole thing
again and away he went again for another six or eight
minutes and got quite abusive, abusive about me and
abusive about graziers and abusive about farmers and
so on. And what I learned was that if you let them
go on long enough finally you will get a bright idea.
So I just asked him whether he would mind if I told
the media everything he had just said to me. Well,
he said he didn't think that would be a very good idea
and I knew then that I wouldn't have any more trouble
with Mr Dunstan. His performance in the previous fifteen
minutes had suggested to me that the Salisbury affair
had unhinged him, and, as time was to prove, it wasn't
too long before he left office for some reason associated
with that. And so I did learn 'let them talk', because
it can help.
During the whole of this dispute we were, as I said,
under enormous pressure from the Prime Minister through
Tony Street and Bob Hawke---the Industrial Relations
Bureau I think it was called---which they had set up
in Canberra to handle all these things. One of their
operatives who came down to this dispute not too much
later had a nervous breakdown. The PM, the Minister,
Hawke, and senior businessmen such as the Chairman
of SAMCOR, which had been the biggest meat killing
works in the southern hemisphere not long before that,
were all saying,
Well that was the sort of attitude we had to overcome
and our own feelings were that there may have been
some merit in that. All these people that had been
around during the previous twenty years, they really
hadn't been able to handle it. Maybe it was impossible
to handle maybe it was unreasonable but luckily we
were backed into a corner where we didn't have too
much to lose. And so the advice from the professionals
did not prevail.
But we did get to a situation one weekend where I
was rung up, I think at two in the morning, by Tony
Street and again by Hawke and somebody else, and our
other people around Australia were rung up and efforts
were made to persuade us that it would be in our interest
to come to a meeting and have an inquiry. Just to a
meeting. Just to get together and talk.
Now I have to confess that I was thinking, 'God, you
get tired after two and a half weeks of these things'
and you start to think, 'well maybe we will' and Sam
Burston rang and said 'I'm thinking about it and I
am going home to think about it---going back to the
hills of Casterton.'
So I rang a fellow called Jim Samson who was in charge
of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association in Western
Australia and before I had opened my mouth on the telephone
'If you bastards think you are going to a negotiation
with Hawke and those fellows' he said 'we'll cut ourselves
off from the organisation'.
I said 'Thanks, you've just made a decision for me---terrific.'
So that night Sam Burston rang me and said 'I have
walked the hills of Casterton---I got a good bit of
clean air into me---and I'm thinking straighter---and
we are not going to meet with Hawke'. From that moment
on, with all of those diversions out of our thoughts,
we started to think about winning. Prior to that too
much of our time was taken up with other people interfering
with the idea, and the prospects, of winning.
That lesson certainly stood me in good stead later
on at Mudginberri. Twice in the Mudginberri dispute
we were very nicely asked by the Prime Minister, to
go down to a negotiation which he would chair. It would
have been totally unbiased chairmanship, and thank
goodness we knocked it back.
I think that in those days there was so much interference
from government bureaucracies, organisational bureaucracies,
the business bureaucracy that it required a great effort
of will to shrug off all this well meaning advice.
Today, it would be easier, but then nobody was using
the legal processes and that brings me to the next
What we really did, I suppose, in the live sheep dispute
was achieve an avoidance of physical confrontation.
We spent weeks trying to work out how we could get
these sheep away without having the fisticuffs which
plenty of our people wanted with the picketers. With
a confrontation we would have been in the same situation
that they were in and we just couldn't work it out.
Luckily, again, some of these sheep started to die,
and they died because they had as strange internal
parasite from New England called fluke, and those sheep
started to die when it started to get cold.
Ken Dingwell, who ran Metro, said to me one Sunday
'I want you to come out to the feedlot tomorrow,
I have a big decision to make. You've been trying to
persuade me to move a ship to Wallaroo for ten days
and I am told we are losing a lot of sheep now with
We went out there and although it has been played
down I reckon there was three thousand dead sheep around
that place. So he really had to decision to make and
he said to me 'Can you get to Wallaroo wharf with some
people on it by 3 o'clock this afternoon---because
if you can do that I can move the ship'.
I rang the fellow, the president of the Wool Council
of Australia, Chip Sawers, and Chip is a peace loving
fellow. He knew that I might ring him sometime in the
next few days but we weren't able to persuade anybody
to move. I rang him, I remember very well at 10:05
in the morning, and I said
'Chip, we spoke about you putting thirty people on
the wharf at Wallaroo. There will be 500 there by six
o'clock but you have to put thirty people there somehow
by two to three o'clock.'
That was a good hour and a quarter, two hour drive
away, and there was a deathly hush on the other end
of the phone. He took a deep breath and said 'OK'.
He is a peace loving fellow and I have great admiration
for the people who found it very tough to make those
sort of decisions. Somehow he persuaded thirty blokes
to get there in a hurry and of course the rest all
turned up because their organisations got them there
and we had occupation of the wharf.
That was the most important point because we had found
out in all our approaches to the lawyers that if you
tackle somebody who is picketing you will be up for
assault, so we had to think up how we could put them
in a position where they couldn't tackle us. The sheep
went from Adelaide to Wallaroo and away they went.
I think there are one or two other short and interesting
lessons that I would like to briefly share with you.
One is if you have no logic in your argument, which
the AMIEU didn't, you have a real battle if someone
wants to stand up to you and stands up long enough.
As I said they picketed at the wrong time of the year
when we had nothing financial to lose.
They made another classical mistake, the first picket
was against Elders and they had the Metro people free
to export and while that was happening they had us
in real trouble because Elders were the bad boys. They
could pick up all sorts of reasons why Elders were
bad boys and there was a lot of public sympathy. They
had everything going for them but one morning at breakfast
I heard that they had put a picket on the Metro sheep
and I thought 'we're in', we've got a chance because
the whole industry will now be against them. That was
an important lesson for us. The mistakes they made.
From that point of view, or from our point of view,
I think it was a first for us and that's why it took
a long time for us to have enough resolve to move.
We had to have the public relations battle won, we
had to have the public sympathetic. We felt we had
to have the public sympathetic. I don't think we would
take that view today but back in 1978 I think we had
to feel that we were in the right and that people thought
we were in the right. I think we also felt that a lot
of our farmers were quite apathetic about it in the
first ten days and it took a while for them to feel
angry enough to be determined.
So that's why the whole thing took so long and we
got tremendous criticism from some for dallying, and
other criticism from other people for being 'right
wing nuts'. It was one of the first efforts where 45D
was used and we did get an interim injunction. Interestingly
I think that interim injunction is still in place,
I'm not sure about the technicalities of that but it
is quite an interesting point eleven years later.
We learnt that future prime ministers have very defective
memories. That's one thing, because there is no doubt
that Mr Hawke's recollection from the D'Alpuget biography
that David told you about is absolutely incorrect.
Somebody said earlier you have to make sure you do
your own PR, otherwise somebody will do it for you
and they'll get it wrong. The real fact was that Hawke
was trying to persuade the AMIEU, all the time, to
give in and he couldn't and finally when we went round
their pickets we did a deal where we would agree that
there would be no future court actions if they all
And, all this nonsense about iron bars and guns and
what-have-you, I mean there might have been one or
two around but it wasn't obvious and I mean at no stage
did I know that any pickets or farmers were in direct
confrontation at all.
The most important thing for us I suppose, we learned
that if you have enough resolve and you do enough work
and you have right on your side you can win. Never
go to an inquiry. If you're winning, the losing side
always wants to talk. To me that was a big lesson,
if you're winning, never go near them because you have
a chance of being whiffled away.
I think the other thing is that I hadn't realised
how unbelievably weak big employers were until that
time. I suppose it was summed up in some respect by
Jack Sutter, the assistant secretary of the AMIEU in
South Australia, and at the end of it all he was sitting
in his car, by himself, outside the loading yards where
the fellows were loading sheep. I saw him sitting there
and I said to him 'Jack it's all over'.
He said, 'yeah, we got talked into this by those bastards
I said, 'Well, it serves you right, you shouldn't
have taken any notice of them'.
He said, 'yeah, we were bloody fools', and drove off.
And from that moment on there hasn't been any problem
with live sheep. I think the most important consequence
of all was that it led to the amalgamation of the organisations
in South Australia. It made the formation, as David
said, of NFF miles easier. We learned that if you weren't
together you were still going to get beaten. If we
hadn't formed NFF we wouldn't have had any dispute
over wide combs; we wouldn't have had voluntary unionism
in the shearing industry; and we wouldn't have had
Mudginberri with all its ramifications; and we would
have no fighting fund; and we wouldn't have been able
to afford all the industrial things that we have been
doing over the last two or three years or four years;
and we wouldn't have the ability to put on a show when
justice and reason desert the opposition.
I suppose the last thing that came out of all this
was that it was just the start for a few of us to realise
that the law of the land will serve you better than
all the arbitration nonsense because we finish up,
at very best, in that circumstance with a 50% result.
The real law can usually look after you if you can
persuade anybody to use it.
I suppose all these things have stemmed from a little
win in a little dispute. But it was one of the first
and it has led and is going to lead to a lot of industrial
action by the NFF and a lot of other people, including
people in this room. I understand there is more to
come, especially on the waterfront---watch the papers.