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Transcript of Interview Dr John Hewson, Leader of the Opposition AM, ABC Radio

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Leader of the Opposition

21 March 1991 REF: TRANSCR\0110.tmc



SUBJECTS: waterfront reform, disclosure of political funding


As I mentioned, the Opposition Leader, John Hewson, is in our Canberra studio. To talk to him our chief political

correspondent, Maxine McKew.

Dr Hewson, condemnation all round for your comments from the Government, from Unions and from the Waterside employers.

Yes Maxine, well the point is that we wouldn't be precipitating, to use Mr Coventry's words "severe industrial confrontation". The circumstances I described would be responding to that if the waterside workers had pulled on a major debilitating strike. It would be a last resort option but it would one that you would

need to look at.

And, in that sense, I don't think I am saying anything more than others have thought or said or done in the past.

But Mr Coventry's comments highlight, I suppose, one of the biggest problems you might have. You bring on a tough move like this and the problem is you might turn around and find there is

nobody behind you. You have hardened resistance and perhaps made the problem worse.

No, look we have been making more general points about the need to accelerate the pace of reform. Senator Collins himself has admitted that it can be faster in what he just said and he

admitted that there are other things that they could d o .





Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Phone 277 4022

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I ask him why he is not doing them.

But, we are not, as I said yesterday very carefully, not

confrontationist. I believe however, there are major rorts on the waterfront which need to be dealt with, the pace of reform is far too slow, even if the Government achieves its objectives, we will still only be half as competitive as say a comparable port of Yokohama. If Mr Collins doesn't like us using Singapore, which is super efficient by world standards.

But, the point is that our program would accelerate the reform. We would do it in a conciliatory way, I believe as I said

yesterday, the waterside workers and employers on the waterside can't defend the indefensible. A lot of the practices are to most Australians indefensible and I believe under those

circumstances they would accelerate the pace of change without taking the sort of action that is being referred to.


How would you accelerate the pace of reform because it was only on this program last week, you admitted that structural reform is a very lengthy complex process.


It is a lengthy complex process because there are so many fronts on which you have to work. It is not just the waterfronts, you have got land transport, you have got privatisation, a tax reform, you have got labour market reform itself and that is what

I meant by that comment. It is a very big and potentially

lengthy process....


So how would you accelerate it?


Senator Collins actually has mentioned some of the areas in which you can accelerate it. Now, clearly we would be forcing through the Parliament our new industrial relations legislation which would change the nature of the industrial relations process on

the waterfront. That is one way of quickening the pace. We have quite a different approach if you like, to industrial relations generally which would be, in terms of the waterfront, would quicken the pace. Privatising port authorities could be

accelerate as a second element of that. Now, there is two ways in which the Government isn't going at the present time...


But again that requires the agreement of the States and as we are saying again, that is a lengthy process.


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The industrial relations legislation doesn't require the agreement of the States...


No, the privatisation of ports...


Privatisation of ports does and that is why as I have said in the past, our Shadow Minister is talking with some of Nick Greiner's people just as an example as to how that process might be

accelerated. Now, I believe that the States in their difficult financial circumstances are more than interested in accelerating the pace of reform as well. So, we are just saying this country is in desperate shape, you need to make tough decisions, you need to show leadership and you need to be prepared to accelerate the pace of reform.

The country can't wait. Now, in those circumstances I believe most people are prepared to participate in that process and so what was said yesterday was very much as a last resort, not

something that I anticipate necessarily would happen. But, if it did and if there was a major confrontation, if the waterside workers did pull on a national strike which held the country in effect to ransom, you would have to be prepared to take the

action I have described.


At what point, Dr Hewson, just how bogged down would the process have to become before you would consider that an appropriate last resort?


It just has to be judged in the circumstances of the time. I

can't foreshadow that and I am not foreshadowing that sort of confrontation. As I said very carefully yesterday, I actually think that when you put waterside workers or employers in the position of having to defend some of those ludicrous work

practices and management practices that they will just will not be prepared in the end to stand up and do that publicly and they will therefore accept a faster pace of reform.


Do you think on this question you might have played into the Government's hands. I mean, talk of sending in troops, doesn't that given the Government more ammunition to portray you as a divisive leader?

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Look, Bob Hawke is going to do that, Paul Keating is going to do that, Senator Collins is doing that. They were going to do that anyway, Maxine. My point is that we do have genuine proposals for reform and we are prepared to implement them, as I said it was a last resort the suggestion of using troops. It is not

something you would normally want to do or advocate but you must be prepared to stand by what you believe in the end. As I say, if the rest of Australia is suffering and suffering significantly because of the actions of a few, then you have got to be prepared to take a hard line stand.


Just one final point. Another matter you raised yesterday, you said that you favour disclosure of political funds but of course this goes against the view of many of your colleagues.


Well I said, on equitable basis and what I meant there is that we have been very concerned in the past about intimidation and so on that can flow from disclosure and we would need to be

satisfied that that sort of process couldn't run its course, but my natural disposition in politics as you know in a lot of other areas, is to be open and honest and tell the truth and provide as much information as possible. I don't draw a line here...


Will you win this one in the Party Room, do you think?


As I said yesterday, we don't know what the Government is

actually going to do yet but and as I said, we have been very

concerned about the use of such information as a basis for

intimidation. Of course, we would have to look at it very hard in those terms but you should start with the disposition to being upfront and open, but if the Government is going to play silly games with it, well we will just have to look at it on its


And that is why I say, let's see the legislation before we make a final position.


Dr Hewson, we will end it there, thank you very indeed.

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