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Tuesday, 26 May 1998
Page: 3760


Mr PETER MORRIS (10:30 PM) —I have previously referred to the malevolence of this government in respect of members of unions and their families. Tonight I re-emphasise that the government's debacle on the waterfront has been engineered and orchestrated from this building. The international scandal of Dubai, the international scandal of confrontation and dissension on the waterfront, was similarly engineered from this building. It was all done in association with ministers' offices in this building.

But what is so anti-Australian and what is so malevolent has been the support given to Mr Chris Corrigan's actions in contriving the bankruptcy of his own companies so as to enable him to avoid his companies' obligations towards his own companies' employees. His actions have been applauded, aided and abetted by this government. The proposal to provide financial support for enforced redundancy payments to sacked employees was rushed through the cabinet in this building—without written submission but by verbal submission—months before the events of 7 April 1998.

But for Mr Corrigan the process of bankrupting one's own companies to avoid liabilities to creditors, including employees' entitlements, was not new. He had earlier form. In June 1994, as chair of Australian Stevedores Ltd, he put forward a similar proposal in respect of the company's Darling Harbour operations. What he proposed on that occasion was to strip the assets out of the Darling Harbour activity, including any provisions that could be removed into another company, let the losses mount up to the value of the residual assets, and then bankrupt the activity so that there were no funds to meet any creditors, including workers' entitlements, using the corporate veil to isolate such liabilities to the bankrupt activity. Fortunately, that proposal that he advanced was rejected by the other shareholders of the company, but it went on to create a deadlock among the shareholders of the company.

Earlier than that, we can look to the report of the inquiry into Elder Smith Goldsborough Mort Ltd and Petroleum Distributors Pty Ltd that was conducted from January 1981 to 25 May 1981 by J.W. von Doussa, Q.C., the inspector. I quote from paragraph 6.35:

The evidence of Corrigan about his communications with IEL if correct, discloses a conflict of interest and a disregard for confidential information to an extent that I consider to be improbable.

The report goes on to say:

. . . it seems that there was at no time any contractual relationship between Elders GM and BT (leaving aside the underwriting agreement made on 30th March 1981).

Further on—and I am just taking selected parts because of time—the report says at 6.37:

I consider the evidence shows that the story that IEL was BT's—

that is, BT Australia's—

principal has been concocted after the event.

It concludes at the end of that paragraph:

In my opinion, the credit memorandum which the BT witnesses say was executed shortly after the date which it bears is also a sham.

Honourable members can look further into that case and see more detail of that report at the time. But this government's debacle on the waterfront has cost this nation hundreds of millions of dollars—all based on the pretext of improving productivity.

I have said on a number of occasions in this place and in the Main Committee that waterfront costs are a small proportion of the total costs of getting product to market. That is the major reason why shippers do not take much notice. But the Productivity Commission report on page 34 itself says:

Waterfront charges make up a small proportion of importer's and exporter's freight bills . . . Usually they are less than half of land-side charges and less than a quarter of the blue water freight charge.

With respect to country dry cargo, the lift-on charges are 0.5 per cent of the total transport charge. In the case of city reefer charges, the lift-on charge or stevedoring charge for containers is 0.4 per cent of the total transport charges. These are readings from the government's own report about which they have bragged so much. But it exposes this whole charade, it exposes this disaster, as the contrivance it has been on the part of the government.