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Wednesday, 25 March 1998
Page: 1535

Mr SLIPPER —My question today is addressed to the Prime Minister, and it is a relevant question. Prime Minister, what are the benefits to all Australians of reforming the waterfront? Can you also advise the House of the restraints that have been put in the way of reform and who is responsible for this obstruction?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. I think it is very instructive that, since the parliament resumed this week, we have not had one question from the Labor Party about reform of the waterfront. We have had no question about the most important industrial relations issue facing Australia in 1998. There is a very simple reason for that and that is that the Labor Party, and particularly its leader, is scared stiff of the issue of reform of the Australian waterfront.

The problem is that the Leader of the Opposition is bound to the Maritime Union of Australia. The Leader of the Opposition does not have the courage to stand up for the public interest against the bullying tactics of the Maritime Union of Australia. You never hear the Leader of the Opposition condemning the bullying tactics. You never hear the Leader of the Opposition speaking out in favour of reform in the national interest. All he does is say, `Let's have another meeting.' When you were in government you had a meeting on taxation and that collapsed. You had a meeting on native title and that ended up with the 1993 native title mess that we now have the responsibility for sorting out.

Waterfront strikes are nine times higher than the national average across all industries. Despite the fact that the Labor Party spent over $400 million of the Australian taxpayer's money on an absolutely useless, pointless and unproductive reform process for the Australian waterfront, the Australian waterfront has suffered scandalous levels of productivity and scandalous levels of uncompetitiveness and has been way behind the standards required to make this nation a truly competitive export country. Despite all of that, what is the answer of the Leader of the Opposition? The answer of the Leader of the Opposition is to march down the road, bound to John Coombs, the Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia.

This is what the Leader of the Opposition had to say, this is what the alternative Prime Minister had to say, on 2 February 1998 on 3AW:

If you look at the record of the last eight years, one after another those bad practices have fallen over.

What an extraordinary sort of tick to give. What an extraordinary blank cheque to give to a union whose record of industrial thuggery is reaching its height in the way in which it is behaving in relation to Patricks at the present time. What do you hear from the Leader of the Opposition? Instead of getting up and condemning the Maritime Union of Australia in the public interest, instead of standing up for Australians and instead of standing up for the battlers of the trade union movement instead of the MUA, who are the elite of the trade union movement, what does the Leader of the Opposition do? The Leader of the Opposition puts his hand up and says, `It's perfectly all right. Don't anybody worry, I will fix the waterfront. I will solve all of these problems. I will do what has not been done for the last 30 years. If I happen to get elected at the next election, I have a solution: I'll have a meeting.'

That was the solution that Bob Hawke offered us; $420 million later we still had an unproductive waterfront, $420 million later we were still uncompetitive and $420 million later our crane rate was 18 a day versus 30, which is the average of our Asian competitors. The Labor Party, because it is bound hand and foot to the trade union movement of Australia, has no answer, no suggestion, no policy and no decent alternative on the waterfront because it is hopelessly bound, hand and foot, to the Maritime Union of Australia.