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Tuesday, 24 November 1998
Page: 559


Mr HOLLIS (10:26 PM) —Fifteen November 1938 is a significant date in the social, political and industrial history of Australia. It was the date that the Delfram docked at No. 4 jetty in Port Kembla to load pig iron for Kobi in Japan. The labour movement, especially the then Waterside Workers Federation, had been tipped off from Melbourne. Under the leadership of Ted Roach, its members refused to load the pig iron. They had loaded just enough so that the ship would not be able to leave.

Why did the Illawarra workers take this action? It was not for better pay—and we know that the pay packets were not all that great. Nor was it for conditions. It was a political point. It was for human rights. Japan was engaged in a particularly nasty and vicious war against China. Although Australia could not export iron ore, it could export pig iron. The workers of the Illawarra knew that the pig iron would be used to rain down death by the Japanese on the people of China and, eventually, Australians.

This day was celebrated at Port Kembla on Sunday, 15 November. Indeed, it was a celebration, for it portrayed what the labour movement in the Illawarra has always stood for: the dignity and rights of people, be they in China, Indonesia, Vietnam or South Africa. The labour movement, especially the maritime unions and the coal mining unions of the Illawarra, have a proud and progressive record. Even more reason for celebration was that three stalwarts from the dispute of 60 years ago—Norm Gamble, popularly known as `Sunshine', Alan Hetherington and Ray Elliott—joined us on that Sunday. Also joining us was the new ambassador for the People's Republic of China, His Excellency Mr Zhou Wen Zhong. I am delighted that one of his first functions in Australia was this one. I thank him for the honour he did us. His predecessor, His Excellency Mr Hua Jundho, joined us in February when we honoured Sunshine, Ray and Alan at a dinner. We, the labour movement of the Illawarra, intend to have a sculpture placed on land opposite No. 4 jetty. The land was given to us by the Port Kembla Port Corporation.

We have learned much from the Delfram dispute, but how far have we progressed, I sometimes ask. Even today the minister for transport made an ill-informed attack on waterside workers, the same as the Attorney-General in the conservative Lyons government, Menzies, attacked the workers. But like the Delfram he is recorded in history with the name Pig Iron Bob.

Back in 1938, on the eve of World War II, the wharfies faced up to a conservative Lyons government and also to a conservative business establishment. Today, what has changed? We have a conservative Howard government and a conservative business establishment putting profit before people. In 1938, BHP with blood on its hands put profit before human lives—nothing much has changed. BHP was earning huge profits from the export of pig iron to Japan. Menzies tried to bring in scab labour, as the conservatives opposite tried to bring in scab labour this last year.

In 1938, Sunshine, Alan and Ray, along with their comrades, stood up against the government and business to defeat appeasement and the prospect of the implication of more death and destruction upon the people of China by an aggressive Japan. They also knew that eventually this pig iron would rain down on Australian forces. They were determined it would not be returned in a shower of unexploded metal. Blood was the price to be paid for pig iron, a price not acceptable to Sunshine, Ray, Alan and their comrades.

There is a well-established bond of friendship between the people of the Illawarra, especially the working people and the trade union movement, and the people of the People's Republic of China. The sculpture will be a lasting symbol of this friendship. It will also emphasise the Labor principles of fairness, justice, community, human rights and dignity throughout the world.