Back to the Waterfront
There are two industries which symbolise, for the
Australian people, all that is bad in our industrial
relations regime. Those industries are the waterfront
and the airports. As air travel has become cheaper,
particularly since de-regulation, very many Australians
have experienced air-refuellers stoppages, baggage-handlers
stopwork meetings, and air traffic control delays.
These experiences have undoubtedly contributed to the
decline in public support for trade unionism which
has become evident in the last decade.
Because the waterfront is remote from most people's
experience the abuse of union monopoly power, which
has been characteristic of the industry for many decades,
is known and understood by relatively few people. But
the cost to Australia, cumulated over these years,
has been incalculable.
Australia is a small country whose prosperity has
always been dependent on exporting commodities to metropolitan
markets. The cost of transporting those commodities
has, from the earliest days of European settlement,
been a crucial determinant of economic success or failure.
- Despite the economic and strategic importance of our
waterfront industry it became one of the most expensive
and inefficient in the world. There have been numerous
official inquiries into the industry, the most recent
being the Inter-State Commission (ISC) Reports of 1988
and 1989. These documents were discussed at the H R
Nicholls Conference, 'Legacy of the Hungry Mile', of
At the 'Back to the Waterfront' Conference of September
1990, the Society was privileged to have as Guest of
Honour, Mr Nicholas Finney, formerly Managing Director
of the British Ports Federation. Mr Finney had driven
the campaign which culminated in the repeal of the
Dock Labour Scheme in Britain by Act of Parliament
in 1989. The Dock Labour Scheme had been brought in
by the Attlee Government and established a statutory
union monopoly for the majority of British Ports. Mr
Finney gave an enthralling account of the nature of
the British waterfront prior to repeal (it bore a striking
resemblance to our Australian experience), of the campaign
to bring about repeal, and of the changes which had
occurred since repeal.
Other papers on waterfront issues at this conference
were given by Peter Barnard and David Trebeck.
The waterfront was not the only matter of concern.
Other papers at this conference deal with developments
that were topical in 1990, and are of historical interest
today. The H R Nicholls Society is pleased that, after
regrettable delay, this volume is now available to
N R Evans
President, August 1992
Why HR Nicholls?