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Parliament House, Canberra, 20 January 1998: transcript of doorstop interview [ALP Conference]

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JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) industrial relations and waterfront issues should focus prominently down at the ALP Conference this afternoon, what's the Government's position on the ALP?

REITH: Well, I think what's becoming very clear is that the union influence over the ALP is not receding, it's increasing. We had yesterday an outrageous move by the Labor Party to delete references to the rights of workers to enjoy freedom of association. This is clearly acting at the dictate of the union movement that would like to reintroduce preference clauses and compulsory unionism to shore up the leadership of the trade union movement and here we have the Labor Party resolving to support them against the interests of workers, not in favour of the interests of workers.

We saw yesterday, down at the ALP conference, John Coombs the Secretary of the wharfies basically running the Labor Party's transport policy. This is not in the national interest, this is in the sectional interest of the union against the national interest. The wharfies are the elite of Australian workers on an average of $70,000 or $80,000 a year and the whole of the Labor Party's policies are being dictated by John Coombs, who has the audacity to actually be down there and direct the traffic for them.

We also saw yesterday the Labor Party put in specific references, into their platform, about how close they are with the unions and of course just to cap it off we've got a non-entity trade unionist apparatchik trying to knock off Barry Jones and federal leader Kim Beazley unable to do anything about it for day after day after day. Now this just shows you that the unions are preparing to take as much as they can possibly get at everybody else's expense.

JOURNALIST: Are you saying that the reason Kim Beazley hasn't come out and actively endorsed Barry Jones is because of the union presence?

REITH: Well, what we are seeing with Greg Sword is yet another unionist moving in to take further control of the Labor Party. Kim Beazley six months ago said "oh no we wouldn't have an Accord we'd be more removed, we'd be more independent from the unions." Instead of becoming more independent they are more reliant so much so that the federal leader of the Labor Party is paralysed by the political manoeuverings by one of these trade union hacks from a back room no one's ever seen before.

Now this is just typical of what goes on within the Labor Party, it's basically the unionists calling all the shots. They've reversed their long standing positions when they were in government on industrial relations policy, their giving over to the unions basically anything they ask for and I think the other big question to come out now is what secret deals have been done to pay off the unions if Labor were ever by ill chance re-elected?

JOURNALIST: They never said that they were actively going to disassociate themselves from the union movement.

REITH: No, but what they are doing is they are actually now moving closer, they are moving closer, rather than taking some more broad national view they, because of their declining support base, are finding themselves under increasing pressure by the unions to basically give way to their demands and that's why we have already seen publicly the Labor Party move away from positions on industrial relations which they were, when in government, actually in favour of.

JOURNALIST: And any waterfront policy that comes out today you think would be disadvantageous to (inaudible).

REITH: Look, any Labor Party policy on the wharves will be written by the wharfies and so you can be absolutely certain it will be basically no change and the Labor Party will say that they will talk to the wharfies, but I tell you that's a one way conversation and John Coombs does all the talking.

JOURNALIST: And will this be a factor in Cabinet today? (inaudible)

REITH: The Labor Party, well that's a very low factor. Thanks