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4 Treasury Place, Melbourne, 29 January 1998: transcript of doorstop interview [MUA; NFF]

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REITH: ... he's either in favour of the resolution that they've just passed at their own conference or he's not. You can only conclude that he's basically under the thumb of the MUA, that he feels embarrassed saying anything which might be seen as a criticism by the MUA even though he's got that policy position in his own conference fresh from just a week or so ago.

He ought to at least repudiate the unreasonable threats by Mr Coombs against Australian Wheat Trade. He ought to at least be able to, if you have any claims for leadership, repudiate the threats of various secondary boycotts which we've had from various union members in the last 24 hours.

The fact of the matter is that the NFF are proposing and have started to commence a new business. They're entitled to do so - to go about their lawful business in the way in which they have and that clearly does put a lot of pressure on the Labor Party to make some statement in support of their right to establish that business.

We now have the ludicrous proposition that the Shadow Minister who says that the NFF is entitled to go into the shipping business but not into the waterfront business, now, I mean this just makes a laughing stock of the Labor Party and I think it is a real test for Mr Beazley as to whether or not he can ever disentangle himself from the control of the MUA and the ACTU and the others.

JOURNALIST: So you feel he's honour-bound to support the NFF?

REITH: He's honour-bound to support the right of any Australian to establish a new business if they want to and to act lawfully and it just shows you the embarrassed position in which he's in. He really hasn't been able to address any of these issues but he's got his shadow Minister saying of course you can go into a shipping business, that's okay. I mean if a shipping business is good enough for the NFF to go into according to the Labor party why isn't it good enough for the NFF to go into the stevedoring business. Is there some special difference between whether you're on the waterfront or on a ship? Is there some special difference which no one else can yet see?

This is a major embarrassment for the Labor Party and they are just caught like bunnies in the spotlight when I think the Australian public would like to know whether or not the Labor Party would ever be able to stand up for the right of Australians to establish a business and whether or not any Labor leader could actually stand up and say they're opposed to threats by trade union bosses against the rightful legal activities of Australians engaged in trade like the wheat trade.

The other point I want to make is that the decision by the Commission today in the Rio Tinto matter I think is very significant indeed. It is a landmark decision. It places limits on the arbitral powers of the Commission. This is of course consistent with the Workplace Relations Act, consistent with the policy direction that lies behind the major reforms that this Government has introduced. It is a major blow to the CFMEU who were looking to the Commission to arbitrate in this issue and yet it has been arbitration and layer upon layer of arbitration which has given us a lot of work practices which are inefficient in an industry which is under a lot of commercial and market-place pressure. So it's an excellent win - a stunning win really for the reform process good news tor the coal industry and to protect jobs in the coal industry in the future and of course, a major blow particularly at a time when the CFMEU, one of the major allies of the MUA.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) go ahead with further curbing of the IRC's powers now that it has been so curtailed by this decision?

REITH: I'm not here to be talking about further development of policy. But I can say that our view is that there are still further steps to be taken to improve Australia's industrial relations system. We're pleased with the progress that's being made and the progress that's being made has demonstrated the benefits of this reform process, so it's all an encouragement to keep going.

JOURNALIST: On the waterfront, Mr McGauchie this morning said he's investigating looking at the Crimes Act and pursuing Mr Coombs over his wheat (inaudible) conspiracy to affect international trade with the Government (inaudible)?

REITH:

I haven't had a discussion with Mr McGauchie about the legal ramifications of anything that John Coombs ...

JOURNALIST: ... but Mr Howard ... (inaudible) ...

REITH: ... sorry I'm Just answering your questions (inaudible). I'm just telling you as a matter of fact I've not had a chance to talk to Don about the legal consequences of anything that John Coombs has said. But I can say this, that we are monitoring what is being said very closely and as it's appropriate for the Government to act we will.

JOURNALIST: Do you support Patricks or the NFF taking action to end the picket at Webb Dock?

REITH: I don't know whether they are going to take any action but we certainly support the right of the employers to take any legal action available to them, to remedy any grievance they might have - yes. And I should say in the Commission the Government has on many occasions supported applications, put a point of view, expressed our understanding of the Workplace Relations Act to guide the Commission in any decisions it might make.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

REITH: I don't know, I mean there are no matters in the Commission, so we'll cross those bridges when we get to them. But I mean that's been our attitude up until now.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned any perceived conflict of interest involving Mr Houlihan given he helped (inaudible) your legislation and is now one of the backers of this - and a consultant on waterfront reform - is now one of the backers (inaudible)?

REITH : We consulted very closely. I spent probably 30 hours or more in the NLCC with members of the ACTU. Now, if anybody's seriously, this makes a conflict of interest for the people who were involved in the drafting of the legislation to be now advising the MUA - I mean it is a ridiculous proposition, one which some are touting but not many - not anybody with any sense.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)?

REITH: I don't know what next steps you'll see from either player but the simple point is that the responsibility for managing employee relations has basically got to be with the employers and the employees in the enterprises and this is a very big decision, or one of the most important decisions since we've been in government and the Workplace Relations Act has been in place and it's a big signal to all the operators - whether they're in the coal industry or elsewhere - - that there are very significant limits on the arbitral power and we think that's a good thing and we think that will be good for employees and it will mean more jobs.

JOURNALIST: How satisfied with the decision are you?

REITH: Well it's a very good decision without going into the technicalities of it. As a Government we're prepared to put things on the line and we fronted up on that issue and it was good that the decision came down the way it did.

JOURNALIST: Have you had to employ personal security because of the waterfront dispute?

REITH: I haven't employed personally any personal security. There are ...

JOURNALIST: Do you have enough to (inaudible)

REITH: First time I saw those gentlemen was when I walked out the door a minute ago. They didn't seem to be there when I came ...

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) came out with you?

REITH: Well I don't think anybody came out with me ... no that gentleman there is part of DOFA. That's not a mysterious cloak and dagger organisation

(Laughter)

REITH: I think it's standard issue in DOFA. He's an administrative person based here. Looks like we don't have any more questions. I think I'll go. Sorry, Ewin, one last question.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) talked about setting up other facilities perhaps at other operations around Australia you'd support them would you?

REITH: The NFF, like anybody else, is entitled to set up any other operation in any other port if they want to - good luck to them.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)?

REITH: I honestly don't know. I mean ...

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)?

REITH: There was talk last year of who was going to go to berth six in Brisbane but that's sort of, I think that's been resolved. I'm not sure, but look, if somebody else wants to set up a non- - union or a union or any other sort of operation on the port good luck to them and of course we'll support ... I mean we're looking for 40,000 businesses this year, so that's 40,001 maybe two.

JOURNALIST: In light of the ALP policy on fresh entrants into the market, are you laying down a gauntlet to Mr Beazley to come out and support the NFF move to put a new entrant in there?

REITH: I am laying down the gauntlet to Kim Beazley to have the guts to at least stand up and support the resolution of his own conference only ten days ago. I mean this bloke is absolutely gutless. When the MUA say Kim keep your mouth shut for three days he has done so. Now, I think it's about time Kim Beazley came out - if his Shadow Minister reckons the NFF ought to get into shipping, he might like to explain why they're not allowed to get onto the waterfront. Thanks very much.