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Monday, 23 March 1998
Page: 1283


Mr McGAURAN —My question is to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Small Business. Will the minister advise the House of the ramifications of the nine-day strike in Sydney tomorrow, proposed by the Maritime Union bosses? Can the minister also advise the House what position the government has taken in relation to the strike? What is the government's response to the position taken by certain other parties in the dispute?


Mr REITH (Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Gippsland for his question.


Mr Adams —It's a very one-sided view at the moment.


Mr REITH —If there is a one-sided view, it is because we have not as yet heard a point of view from the Labor opposition. The government condemns this strike action; we condemn this action outright. It is about time the Labor Party had what it takes to stand up in the national interest and also condemn this campaign of vengeance and greed being run by the MUA. The reason we have not heard from this weak and pathetic Leader of the Opposition is that he is bound hand and foot to the MUA and he is unable to condemn their tactics.

As a further example of the guerilla tactics of these people, last week we were told they were going to run an eight-day campaign, starting this week. So the company has to reschedule, starting from tomorrow, and divert ships and provide for all the other damage associated with this strike. Now we find the MUA announcing this morning that it is calling off the first 24 hours of the strike—as if that makes any difference. The damage is already done, and these people in the Labor opposition again have failed to condemn the strike.

The union well knows that the company will be unable to reschedule ships at the last moment, and it again highlights the fact that these people are running a guerilla campaign. Their official reason for doing so is that they are seeking a wage increase of $4,500 on top of their second demand, which is to take all the rorts, inefficiencies, allowances and overtime and build them into a base rate which today already gives them an average salary of $74,000 a year.

This is nothing other than a campaign being run by the leadership of the MUA against the company which employs many of their members. I say to the rank and file: you are jeopardising your own jobs by running a campaign against your employer. In the meantime a lot of companies and a lot of small businesses will suffer unnecessary damage as a result of this vengeful campaign. Nothing could better sum it up than the comments of Dennis Cahill, who is an exporter who has been in the business for 40 years. This is what he said on radio last week:

Well, I mean the costs really come down to costs of interest and usage of funds, additional time where your containers are held at the terminal. But more importantly is of course the question of your overseas buyers and once you lose their confidence, they'll turn their attention elsewhere and we lose—we could lose market share and therefore we get—we are then forced to sell product possibly at a lower level to keep it moving.

That is the voice of someone who is actually in the business. I think what he says is commonsense. It is another reason why the Labor opposition should be ashamed at their inability to support a bloke like this who is genuinely out there looking after his business, giving other people jobs and boosting export income for Australia.

What is the Labor Party's policy on this? I could barely believe my ears when I heard the Leader of the Opposition asked the other day what his policy response was. His response was, firstly, basically to do nothing until the next election and then, secondly, if Labor were to be re-elected what would he do? He would bring back Bob Hawke. The then Minister for Finance and now Leader of the Opposition would bring back his great mate Hawkie. You were in the cabinet together. You were the people who oversaw the last reform process, which cost of $420 million and never fixed the problem. You have the cheek, the audacity to suggest that we bring back Bob Hawke. We might as well bring back Laurie Brereton. If you have a problem with the deficit, if your policy is to have a surplus, bring back Kim Beazley, the $10½ billion deficit man.

I conclude by re-emphasising the extent of the problems on the waterfront and the failure of the unions and the Labor Party to address our need for productivity. It was rammed home to me in what will be the rort of the day in the bulletin on the Internet and available to all. In January a ship was being stevedored in Fremantle on 21 and 22 January. It was interesting to see that in the first shift they moved 10.4 containers an hour. In the second shift the rate was 16.8 containers an hour. To show you that these blokes can really move containers when they put their minds to it, in the last shift they moved 29.7 containers an hour. For Fremantle this is basically world record stuff—29.7 containers.


Mr Crean —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. This is sheer repetition.


Mr SPEAKER —What is your point of order?


Mr Crean —The point of order is the length of the answer, Mr Speaker, which concerns your ruling. I would ask you to enforce it.


Mr SPEAKER —There is no point of order. The honourable member for Hotham will resume his seat. The minister will draw his answer to a conclusion.


Mr REITH —I will certainly do that, Mr Speaker. The deal basically is that you get paid for the whole shift, and if you finish early you still get paid for the whole shift. The explanation for this one was that the blokes were going to go down to the pub to see the strip show after work. They were going to do that, and therefore they had a real incentive. The incentive was to get to the strip show at the local pub. It shows you again what an absolute outrage the latest strike action in Sydney really is.