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Conaust, Brian Burke



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29I^acfer o?9 tlie Opposition

TRANSCRIPT OF DR JOHN HENSON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION DOORSTOP INTERVIEW 70 PHILLIP STREET, SYDNEY

B 6 Ο B - PROOF COPY ONLY

Subjects * Conaust, Brian Burke

I'm calling this in response to some requests to discuss the Conaust decision to reject the Hawke-Kelty wage package of last week.

It seems to me that there are two reasons why Conaust has rejected it. Firstly because it sees some elements of the waterfront reform process as being in what they describe a,? a serious impasse; and secondly they argue that they * can' t

afford the wage increase and they don't think the country can afford the wage that's in that deal. And we couldn't agree more. I was very surprised that in the midst of the worst economic recession in 60 - years in this country the Prime Minister could promise an open-ended wage increase outside his

centralised system at such a significant order of magnitude without any further reform processes on the waterfront. So his deal has been seen for what it is.

Do you think Conaust is questioning whether the reforms will go ahead?

Well Conaust, I imagine, is very concerned that they have fallen behind the pace '$hat was set by the Prime Minister some time ago. I think they& would have shed something like 1500 jobs through redundancies. They are up to around 500 I'm told. They are well behind the pace, and even if they achieve the Government's objectives in terms of waterfront rdfonti

they'd still be markedly less efficient than comparable ports around the world. I think it's somewhere around 30 to 50% less efficient than, say, Yokohama - a comparable port - even if they achieve the objectives which they are now well short

of.

Hewson;

Jrnlstt

Hewsoni

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Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 774022

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Is waterfront reform now out of the question, do you think?

Hewson:

No, no. I think what you have is a situation which now calls for decisive leadership - and that is, for the Prime Minister to recognise that the whole waterfront package that he's been advocating isn't anywhere near good enough to turn our country around. Look, we haven't got time to play games and to hope that things come right. We've got to make substantial change and we've got to make it quickly.

Jrnlst!

What would you do in the situation Mr Hawke's in?

Hewson:

Well, we've identified the elements of a genuine waterfront reform package which involves genuine enterprise bargaining at the workplace level, at this case at the waterfront level - that can be done. The opportunity exists for genuine enterprise bargaining to be introduced now. Secondly, there's certainly elements of competition that have to be developed in

the waterfront, either at particular ports or between ports around Australia; and thirdly of course, there's a need to privatise the Port Authorities and get them out of Government ownership and control - usually that is State controlled. They're the three key elements. The point I put to you is,

here we are in difficult circumstances. We have to boost our export performance and we're falling off the pace.

Last week I was in New Zealand, for example, and talking to the Port Authority in Auckland. They told me of a recent ship, the La Perouse, which went from Melbourne to Auckland. It was loaded in Melbourne at about 8 to 10 containers an hour. It was unloaded in Auckland at 42 containers an hour. Now we are markedly less efficient than Auckland, which isn't anywhere near as significant a port as is Melbourne. And we

all less, much less efficient than comparable ports around the world. So here's a country who's got to trade its way out of its problems, and it's going backwards rather than forwards.

Jrnlst$

Conaust have indicated that they're still prepared to negotiate on the basis of last week's ...inaudible...

Hewson:

I can understand that.

Jrnlsti

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Jmlst:

How would you see that panning out this week?

Hewson:

Look, I don't know, I'm not involved in those discussions at all and I'm not close enough to know what they've got in mind. But the two key elements that they picked on, which is the impasse in waterfront reform as it is, and secondly the fact that the wage increase is open-ended and more than they can

afford and more than the country can afford, we think are dead right.

Look, the deal was, I think, $12 plus 4% in July plus two open-ended wage increases next year. Now that's crazy in current economic circumstances.

Jrnlst:

So does that deal provide no basis on which to negotiate?

Hewson:

Look, that's for the parties to decide. But I think it's an opportunity, really, for the Prime Minister to seize the nettle here and to provide a genuine thrust to both waterfront reform and industrial relations reform. They've a great

opportunity to go to genuine enterprise bargaining - not the sort of enterprise bargaining that Bill Kelty and others have talked about, but genuine enterprise bargaining where the

workers and the employers sit down together at a workplace, in this case in particular, the waterfront, and negotiate the full terms and conditions of employment.

Jrnlst:

Are you urging the employers to reject the Hawke package?

Hewson:

No, they've already rejected it. *'·

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Jrnlst:

Well they haven't yet.

Hewson:

Well, they've said that it's unacceptable in its present form and I would urge both parties to start to work towards genuine waterfront reform and a new industrial relations system which is an essential element of that.

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But Dr Hewson, you know the alternative would be chaos - if no agreement is reached.

Hewson;

Not at all. The alternative is for us to continue to slide down the scale in terms of international efficiency. We are falling off the pace at a time when we really ought to be lifting our game, and the point I put to you is - you can't

play these sort of games any longer. The world doesn't owe us a living. We've got to carve out our way in the international community and we are not going to do it with a half-baked or a stalled or an ineffective waterfront reform package. It's an essential element of what needs to be done. Don't get me

wrong. It's only part. We've got the tax system; we've got privatisation; we've got overall industrial relations reform; we've got land transport reform; we've got Government public sector reform. There's a whole host of issues that have a

sense of urgency which isn't being reflected in todays's debate.

Jrnlst:

Can we afford industrial anarchy on the waterfront at this time?

Hewsons

I don't think you'll get industrial anarchy, because I don't believe the average waterside worker can defend the

indefensible. You've seen newspaper stories in recent days of very large sums of money paid - over $100,000 - paid for a 27 hour week. Go and have a look at the work practices and the management practices on the waterfront and see whether they

can publicly defend those to the average Australian who's struggling on about $28,000 or $29,000 a year, and is finding it very difficult to make ends meet. The fact is they cannot

defend the indefensible. If the Government was providing leadership they could get out there now. They could paint some specific examples for the electorate to see of

inefficiency on the waterfront - over-manning, idle time, other work practices - and the waterside workers could not defend the indefensible. And as I say, there won't be chaos. There would be a basis, I think, for a very effective

negotiation.

But it all comes back to leadership and that leadership isn't being provided by the Prime Minister or by Bill Kelty at the present time.

Jrnlst:

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Do you see a role for the Industrial Relations Commission in this dispute?

Hewson:

Well, they've made their decision, and in fact I think they've created the circumstances, as I say, where you can go to effective enterprise bargaining. And that's what I think should happen now. I don't pin it back on the Industrial Relations Commission. I think for the parties it's a unique opportunity to actually change the face of industrial relations and our waterfront and we shouldn't lose it.

Jrnlst:

Dr Hewson, can I turn to Western Australia. You've been calling for Brian Burke to stand aside as Ambassador to Ireland. It looks as though this afternoon that may indeed be what happens. Do you have any reaction to that?

Hewson:

Well, I don't know what Brian Burke is to say this afternoon. I gather there is to be a press conference, but we've been calling for some time for him to stand aside. I think it's very important that he does. Our international reputation is

suffering because of him continuing in that position while he's subject to these sort of allegations and I hope he does the right thing.

Jrnlst:

Could he stand aside just for the duration of this hearing?

Hewson:

Well the technicalities of how he stands aside, I haven't entered into. That's really for Senator Evans to determine. But the important point is that it should be seen that he is not continuing in his ' capacity as Ambassador to Ireland and

the Holy See. I think' there's been a very important and difficult fight going on within Government between Senator Evans and Bob Hawke. Hawke has put mateship above leadership.

That has been wrong. I think if Brian Burke stands down this afternoon it will be because Senator Evans has managed to have his way over the top of the Prime Minister and commonsense has prevailed.

It's a very important issue and it goes to the very heart of what's been wrong with this country for 8 years. That is that the Government has run policy on the basis of deals and mateship - looking after mates, looking after special

JrnsIt:

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interests - and not worrying about what's in the best

interests of Australia? not governing for the great bulk of the Australian people. This is a specific example of where they put mateship above leadership and it's been to our detriment as a country.

Jrnlsti

Do you think Mr Burke may be making the decision by himself, or do you think that the Federal Government and Mr Hawke are putting direct pressure on him?

Hewsoni

I have no idea. Let's find out. I've no idea whether they've put pressure on him. But look, I would think that anyone in Brian Burke's position who said what he said on Saturday, which is that anyone else in an ambassadorial post without the mates in the ALP would have had to stand down long ago. I

think he knows that he should stand down and he should make that decision off his own bat. I certainly would in his position until such time as my name was cleared.

Jrnlst:

Can I just ask, if we assume that he has gone ...inaudible... could we just have one, maybe...

Hewsoni

I don't want to assume that he's gone. I don't know what he'll say.

Jrnlsti

Well do you ...inaudible...

Hewson:

No no, not at all. I focus on issues, often to the

disappointment of a lot. of people in the gallery. It's issues that are important. Tt',^s ideas that are important, and this is a very important issue. It's a very important matter of principle, and I'm very concerned about the damage that could be done to our international reputation, just as I'm sure every other ambassador in the service is concerned of the damage that could be done.

Jrnlst;

You've taken a real lead on this one ...inaudible...

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Hewson:

I've raised the issue because I thought it was very important. As I say, it goes to the very heart of the way this Government has run the processes of Government for 8 years - looking after mates rather than acting in the best interests of this

country has been one of the essential reasons why we have been on a slide for 8 years.

Thank you.

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