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Mirror mirror on the wall

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PO BOX 700, GOULBURN 2580: Tel 048 21 1399, Fax 048 21 9766

Senator Collins, the Minister for Shipping and Aviation Support, embarked on a pointless exercise of asking "Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose is the best reform of all?" at the Queensland Port Authorities Association's annual conference in Brisbane yesterday.

In an exercise driven by deadline desperation, he tried to assure the conference that the Government's reforms were on target to become as efficient as waterfront operations overseas. This is nonsense.

While the Australian reform program has been failing to meet its own inadequate targets, the rest of the world has been reforming its way further and further ahead of Australia. The United Kingdom has achieved a 130% productivity increase, New Zealand a 100% increase. We are quite plainly making up ground; we are simply getting further and further behind.

Either Senator Collins is deliberately misleading us all, or he is simply away with the pixies.

His notoriously imprecise statistical information got even more so at the conference.

His claim that the waterfront work-force has been reduced to "just over 5,000 today" (the Australian 24-9-91, p5) is at odds with the evidence given to Senate Estimates Committee F on 12 September, where the Secretary of the Waterfront Industry Reform Authority confirmed the current numbers as 4,642 A-registered workers, 1,174 clerks and 386 foremen - a total of 6,202.

Senator Collins was present at that Committee hearing, so he is either being veiy forgetful or deceiving. The discrepancy is a significant one, since it is a greater number than the entire number of redundancies that have been processed under the reform program.

The Senator, like the Prime Minister, does, of course, have a track record of claiming achievements prematurely, The premature and prejudicial announcement of the National Terminals enterprise agreement was a case in point, as was the premature announcement of the finalisation of the CTAL enterprise agreement in the March

Industry Statement (that agreement was not to be finalised until more than three months later and after considerable further wrangling).


His claim that a further 2,000 employees will leave "shortly” also loses credibility, given the fact that last week the Secretary of the ACTU advised members of the WWF that they had already done enough by way of reform and should go no further. It loses even more in view of the fact that the WWF again went back last week on its

apparent acceptance of the Conaust enterprise agreements in Melbourne and Adelaide.

The Senator's loudly-promised redundancy chickens are not at all in the bag.

He is at least right when he says that there are many who have criticised the Government's reform program as having over-modest aims and too long a timetable. His error is in not listening to those criticisms.

The Government has addressed reform, as he says, in terms of what is achievable in the Australian context. That is not enough. Our exporters operate in a world market context, not an Australian context, and the very point of reform is to change the Australian context that makes their products non-competitive.

It is not enough to be better than we were - we have to be better than our

competition. The point is not to lose by less than we were losing by - it is to win!

The Government's aims are still too close to the ground. And its timetables for even those aims keep slipping.

The Senator is now promising the review of the WIRA program "about the middle of 1992". What is wrong with it taking place on schedule, at the end of March 1992, or even sooner, as asked by the industry?

The Government has tried before to slide the September 1991 target for redundancies back by referring to "the end of the year". Now March is being slid back to mid-year!

The Second Six Month Report of WIRA was published on schedule in October 1990, one year after the In-Principle Agreement in September 1989 - the review is clearly due at the end of March. Senator Collins might at least stick to his own timetables! It is time that these elasticities in statistics and timing ended.

It is also time that Senator Collins ended his conversations with the mirror on the wall, and got back to the point of reform ยท which is, quite simply, to make our waterfront as efficient as possible, to reduce costs and to improve services for the users of the ports, so that Australia can compete in the world marketplace again.

In order to do this, the structural issues such as flexibility of the labour force (ending the job for life) will have to be dealt with.

Genuine waterfront reform is not about tinkering within the Australian context - it is about reform of that context itself!

Ends........ WR96/91 23-9-91

Contact: John Wallis A/H 048 21 2098