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National Secretary of Maritime Union says he has no control over international boycotts and denies action by International Transport Federation was recommended by the Maritime Union.

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JOHN COOMBS:  The man’s got an ego bigger than Ayers Rock, and harassing me with faxes and threats.  You know, if he’s got evidence of something, why doesn’t he do something about it?


PETER CAVE: The Maritime Union’s John Coombs telling Allan Fels, the head of Australia’s competition watchdog, to put up or shut up.  Mr Coombs says an ultimatum that Professor Fels has served on the union is ludicrous.  Mr Coombs told Petria Wallace it’s beyond his power to stop the international action on Australia’s wharves going ahead.


JOHN COOMBS: I don’t know how they expect me to call off international boycotts.  I mean, whatever these affiliates of the ITF do is their business;  I’ve got no control over them whatsoever, and so….


PETRIA WALLACE:  Well, Professor Fels says that the ITF constitution requires it to take boycott action only when recommended by its local affiliate - that’s you.


JOHN COOMBS: Well, it hasn’t been recommended by me, and if Fels thinks he’s got an argument, why doesn’t he take it somewhere?  I mean, he took it to the High Court….


PETRIA WALLACE:  Well, he says he has evidence of - and I quote - ‘illegal local MUA participation in ITF behaviour.’


JOHN COOMBS: Yes, well, you know, let him produce the evidence.  What, has he been tapping our phones or something, has he?  I mean, this is ludicrous stuff.  All of these threats in advance of anything, you know, and now they want me to give undertakings.  You know, if he thinks he’s got a case, why doesn’t he take it somewhere.  They took it to London and the High Court judge threw it out.


PETRIA WALLACE: That’s a separate issue, though, isn’t it, Mr Coombs?


JOHN COOMBS: Well, no, I don’t think it is a separate issue.  I mean, this stuff he sent me on the weekend relates directly to what’s happening in London and accuses me of actually masterminding some worldwide blockade.  It’s an absolute farce.


PETRIA WALLACE: What communication has the MUA had with the ITF and other international unions?


JOHN COOMBS:  Nothing more than we would have under any normal circumstance of our relationship, particularly in respect of the Flag of Convenience campaign.  You know, I’ve got plenty of communication coming the other way.  I mean, I’ve got international phone calls coming in on the hour from unions who have taken decisions quite independent and quite autonomously of any ITF involvement or anything else, you know.


PETRIA WALLACE: Have you spoken to the Longshore and Warehouse Union in the United States?


JOHN COOMBS:  I have on two reasons:  one of their retired presidents passed away recently and there was a memorial service for him on Saturday, so I spoke to them about that, and also corresponded to them, and Fels can have a copy of it if he thinks that that’s some conspiracy;  and secondly, they spoke to me from a meeting of their executive where they took decisions in respect of supportive action.


PETRIA WALLACE: So you’re saying you’ve in no way helped to engineer this international boycott.


JOHN COOMBS: I don’t have to engineer it, I don’t have to do anything.  I mean, the international solidarity works on the basis that they hear about these attacks and they autonomously take decisions in support, in much the same way we would if they were under attack.


PETRIA WALLACE: Mr Coombs, farmers in Western Australia are saying they’re going to crash trucks through the pickets there if this international boycott isn’t lifted.  It’s getting pretty ugly, isn’t it?


JOHN COOMBS: Well, yes, and it’s getting ugly because, you know, as I said last night on national television, they set the standard, putting black-faced thugs in the gate with dogs on chains and physically removing workers from their place of employment.


PETRIA WALLACE: What would it take for you to call off this international boycott, Mr Coombs?


JOHN COOMBS: For our people … to call off the international boycott?  That requires rank and file farmers to get to the National Farmers’ Federation and tell them to butt out, get off the waterfront, because your actions on the waterfront look like involving us in some worldwide blockade of their products, and I’ve got no control over it whatsoever and I’ve got no desire to see it occur.


PETRIA WALLACE: Are you saying you would speak to the US union then?


JOHN COOMBS: Of course, I would, and I’d speak to the rest of the unions as well, but it requires rank and file farmers, who constantly tell me they do not support the National Farmers’ position in involvement on the waterfront, to force them to get off the waterfront, walk away from it and let it be belted out between Patrick and us.


PETER CAVE: The Maritime Union’s John Coombs.