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Wednesday, 9 June 1999
Page: 6465


Mr HOLLIS (1:45 PM) —The member for La Trobe said in his introduction that the member for Melbourne, in his contribution to this debate, was speaking with an outdated script. I say to the member for La Trobe, as he is leaving the chamber, that he obviously did not have a look at the speech by his colleague the member for Cook, because if there was ever an outdated script in this debate today it was that delivered by the member for Cook. It is very interesting listening to the member for Cook. I have said, time and time again, I think the nearest he has ever been to the waterfront is when he puts his well-shod heel onto a luxury yacht at Dolls Point. What the member for Cook did not say was that those who were most vocal in accusing the workers on the waterfront of rorts were involved in a few rorts themselves. Some of them are not even in this parliament now because of that rort.

We heard about the billiard table. That must be the most publicised billiard table in the world. We heard about the nick-off. Well, the old nick-off that they are using has been proven to be a set-up. They are old argu ments. As I have said, those opposite have never even been near a waterfront. I have said it many times, I have said it to the member for Cook, I have said it to other people: if they want to have a look at the waterfront, come down to my electorate. It is almost adjacent to that of the member for Cook. He can have a look at the waterfront in operation at Port Kembla.

We also heard the usual litany. We were told that WIRA was not a success. We heard that from both the member for Cook and the member for La Trobe. Quite frankly, they are the only people who believe it was a failure. Those listening to this debate and reading this debate must be aware of the ideological—indeed, the pathological—hatred those opposite have for the trade union movement, especially for the Maritime Union of Australia. The member for La Trobe proved in what he said in his contribution that he knows absolutely nothing about the waterfront. You cannot isolate one aspect of the waterfront from other aspects—it is a complex meshing. I would suggest that if the member for La Trobe or, indeed, the member for Cook want to be taken seriously when they talk about the waterfront they should have a look at the report from this parliament, Warehouse to wharf. Many members of the government, then in opposition, served on that committee.

What a surprise it is to see this bill, the Stevedoring Levy (Collection) Amendment Bill 1999 , introduced with such haste and speed today. As the shadow minister has outlined, the opposition will not delay the passage of this bill in the House, but we will refer the whole bill to a Senate committee for further scrutiny. We do not rule out the prospect of amending or opposing it. Government legislation relating to the waterfront is always an illusion. We on this side are always suspicious when the government brings in legislation dealing with the waterfront. Let us get one thing clear: we on this side of the chamber are not opposed to reform in the trade union movement, on the waterfront or anywhere. We are not opposed to reform, but we simply do not trust those opposite.

We can remember the original legislation introduced into this place the very night Patrick Stevedores sacked its entire waterfront work force, including 45 workers in my electorate. That legislation, we were told, had nothing to do with the Patrick sackings. We were also told that the government had no knowledge about Patrick's intentions. Mr Deputy Speaker, as you and others know, there are many questions not answered. As the member for Melbourne said, reports commissioned out of the former minister's office, and paid for by the taxpayer, have still not been made public. It is absolutely outrageous that taxpayers' money was used for these reports and that they were not made public. But the minister was so well prepared that he wandered into this place and introduced the legislation, still proclaiming no knowledge, and the Prime Minister slapped him on the back with great congratulations.

This legislation we are talking about today is a continuation. As time went on, we discovered that the minister did indeed know a lot more than he had disclosed to this parliament. We discovered through departmental leaks that the cabinet had signed off on a strategy to connive for an industrial dispute with the Maritime Union of Australia. We discovered a mountain of paperwork, briefing notes and diaries through the Federal Court procedures initiated by the MUA to have its membership—the workers—reinstated because of this government's core involvement in illegal mass sackings. We are therefore great suspects of this bill. We are concerned about this bill. We are concerned about the intentions and we are concerned as to why this bill was introduced into this chamber with great haste. As I said, this is a repeat of circumstances from the original legislation. When you want a sham, you race some legislation into this House, you give the members of this chamber no time for scrutiny and then, when the opposition stands up and starts questioning the government or the ministers on why they are racing this legislation in with such indecent haste, we just get a volley of abuse from the other side.

We are also concerned that the explanatory memorandum does not seem to ring true with the purpose of this proposed legislation. The bill seeks to increase an allocation of $100 million contained in the Stevedore Levy (Collection) Act 1998. The government says the increase is to meet the higher cost of expected redundancy from the stevedoring industry. The government says that the rate of levy on containers and vehicles will not increase, but the time period for the levy operation will be extended.

Mr Speaker, I ask you why. We know through the diligent questioning by my colleagues in the Senate that evidence provided to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee confirmed that the current estimate of the total payout for a redundancy was in the order of $195 million. The committee was informed that the $195 million covered all applications for funding for redundancies received by the Commonwealth. This includes two applications yet to be approved and, indeed, still to be examined. The closing date for a redundancy application was 30 April. Therefore, it is unnecessary for the additional allocation presented in this legislation to be put before this House. Again, evidence to the Senate committee makes clear that all redundancies are to be met with the $195 million. This is $55 million short of the original cap of $250 million set within the original legislation.

Does this government intend to deliberately extend the time period for further redundancy applications? We have no answer to this very important question. The government is mute on this essential question, as it is so often mute. According to the explanatory memorandum, the extra $100 million can be used by stevedoring companies for non-redundancy related reforms. These include the introduction of new technology, new wharf facilities, occupational health and safety training, and programs to improve workers' ability to use the new equipment.

I support the introduction of new technology and, particularly, new wharf facilities. I have long supported waterfront reform, but responsible waterfront reform involving each of the players in the industries, not just the workers or the MUA. As I said before, the waterfront is a very complex issue. Those opposite always single out one aspect of that complex equation, and that is always the Maritime Union of Australia.

If we are going to debate reform, let us do it honestly and openly, and let us put all the cards on the table. Let us stop using the futile argument of picking a European or an Asian port and comparing it with Australian ports. Firstly, as I said many times before, we do not have to use the same equipment. Compare like with like—that is what we are asking the government to do. Secondly, the major European and Asian ports always quoted by the government are hub ports. Vessels in Singapore, for example, are unloaded immediately. Singapore does not have container juggle as we do here in Australia. This port does not have to entertain the prospect of a double lift from not only ship to shore but also warehouse to ship.

I wish some of the experts opposite would visit ports. It is always interesting to me—and I have not been able to fathom this out—that government members opposite such as the member for Corangamite and the member for Hinkler, who know something about the waterfront, never speak in these debates. I have to ask myself, `Why don't the member for Corangamite and the member for Hinkler, who know something about the waterfront and waterfront reform, speak in these debates?' Have they been gagged? Maybe the government whip or someone else gags them or, as I suspect, are they too embarrassed because of some of the nonsense spewed out by members opposite—such as we heard today from the member for Cook and the member for La Trobe—to join in these debates?

I suspect that the government is proposing to extend the levy rate to reward Patrick Stevedores for their disastrous, illegal and immoral attack on the workers and the trade union movement. This is a taxpayer funded waterfront reform project to get the long suffering taxpayer to contribute to some infrastructure spending on wharves and technology introduction. First, the taxpayer is told to contribute to a long conspiracy involving the government and stevedoring companies to illegally sack workers detailed in nearly $2 million worth of still secret consultant reports. It is time that this parliament started demanding that those taxpayer funded reports were released. Then the taxpayer is told again to fork out money to help pay out workers in redundancies. Now the taxpayers will fund private company investments of such things as wharf facilities and introducing technology.

Why can the government not just say honestly and openly that this is what the legislation seeks to do? Why do we have to play around and fit a puzzle together when quite clearly the story presented by the government does not add up? Is this bill about paying out further redundancy which the government, through deliberate policy decisions, has decided to extend? Or is it a taxpayer funded contribution to Patricks and P&O to allegedly improve their waterfront operations? Will the minister come out with the answers or will we continue to engage in manoeuvring worthy of a best selling spy novel?

Other questions are raised over how this extra $100 million is to be allocated to so-called `non-redundancy related reforms'. Just how far will $100 million go? Will the funds be paid to individual stevedoring companies? Will the Maritime Industry Finance Company enter into the contracts with these individual companies and, if so, will the contracts be publicly open to scrutiny? If the funds are not to be directed to individual companies, how does the government intend to distribute the funds?

The legislation is full of questions. It is open to absolute scepticism and plain old distrust from this side of the House. We do not trust the crowd on the other side of the chamber when it comes to anything to do with the waterfront. Everyone—not only on this side—knows this government's record on the waterfront. We are all aware of its past inappropriate and illegal dealings with Patrick Stevedores, the Dubai debacle and the massive publicly financed attacks on the trade union movement. We all know that this government pays enormous lip-service to public honesty, transparency and accountability.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 p.m., the debate is interrupted. In accordance with standing order 101A, the debate may be resumed at a later hour. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.