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Patrick stevedore chairperson defends his role in last year's Dubai mercenaries affair; discusses action against the Maritime Union of Australia over their refusal to return to work at Webb Dock.

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PETER CAVE:   It’s flashpoint this morning on the Melbourne waterfront.  Members of the Maritime Union are refusing requests by Patrick stevedoring to return to work this morning and claim they no longer have any confidence in the company.  The union is calling for Patrick chairman, Chris Corrigan, to resign after he admitted last night that he had a direct role in last year’s Dubai mercenaries affair.  Mr Corrigan is in our Sydney studio;  he’s speaking to Matt Peacock.


MATT PEACOCK:   Mr Corrigan, a few months ago on this program, you told me you had no knowledge of the Dubai operation.  That was a lie, wasn’t it?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   Well, we had some commercial interests to protect and to some extent I think we have a right to go about protecting our commercial interests if there isn’t an overwhelming public interest to know.


MATT PEACOCK:   Well, the Maritime Union has asked you to come clean on these matters.  What other involvement have you had in the Dubai operation.  For example, have you or any of your associates put any money into it?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   I’ve explained that yesterday.  No, we have not.  We had a very simple role in the Dubai affair, which is we agreed to lease facilities in number five Webb Dock, much as we’ve now done with the Farmers’ Federation, and we were involved in the supplying of equipment for that operation.


MATT PEACOCK:   Now, how can you expect your workforce, MUA members, to have any confidence in you after being involved in that manner and basically lying to the media and the rest of the country about it?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   Well, I think there’s no point in talking to me about my credibility when the Maritime Union itself has been engaged with us for two years in negotiations to try and bring about a profitable situation in our Melbourne environment, in the Webb Dock situation.  And what credibility have they got left after two years we’re still losing a fortune?  Haven’t we got some rights to take economic action ourselves?


MATT PEACOCK:   You say it’s a desperate act of a desperate man.


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   That’s right.


MATT PEACOCK:   How desperate are you?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   Well, we’re desperate to make a profit.  And last year we had $450 million invested in a business that loses money.  How long can we go on doing that?  If Maritime Workers Union people and our employees think they can go on earning $90,000 a year - $80,000 to $90,000 a year - for world’s worst practice, and think that my shareholders are going to go on subsidising that sort of an operation, then I think they’ve got another thing coming.


MATT PEACOCK:   Well, of course, I’m sure John Coombs would take issue with those statistics, but just back to this question of serving Australian Army officers working in the Dubai thing, you think that was a mistake?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   I do think it’s a mistake.  Clearly, it was a….


MATT PEACOCK:   Why is that?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   Well, clearly it was a publicity disaster as it’s been described.


MATT PEACOCK:   Just publicity or a question also of a … a moral question, I guess, and a political question?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   Frankly, I don’t know whether … what the legality of it are.  I mean, I’ve never investigated the legalities of it, but in any event it was clearly a public relations mistake - no question about that.


MATT PEACOCK:   Well, the union says there still are serving SAS officers working at the Webb Dock at the moment, with the NFF operation.  So, presumably that’s a mistake too, is it?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   I know nothing about this.  Absolutely nothing about it.


MATT PEACOCK:   Okay.  Let’s get to the Webb Dock.  If MUA members don’t return to work today, what then?  Are you going to take them to court?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   We are going to take legal action to get our workers back to work, and we have every right to do that.  And quite frankly, if indeed their jobs are in jeopardy it’s because of their own actions and because they are refusing to load and unload cargo and are making clients of ours risk going to other operations.


MATT PEACOCK:   You’ve got a lot at stake, haven’t you?  Have any clients already gone to other operations?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   Not since this dispute started, but clearly if cargo is not loaded, clients are going to become unhappy and it is our own workers who’ll be then putting their own jobs at risk.  And so I’d put it to them very clearly, they have their own interests at stake in going back to work immediately and we’ll be taking legal action through the Industrial Relations Commission and possibly the courts to bring about a fast resumption of normal work at Webb Dock.


MATT PEACOCK:   So, this is real crunch time, isn’t it?  If they don’t go back to work, have you got any alternative labour pool?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   No, we do not have any alternative labour pool, but that’s not the point.  The point is we’ve got to get our cargo moving, we’ve got to get our customers requirements satisfied, and that is in our interest and it is in our workers’ interest and it’s time they got that point clearly in their minds.


MATT PEACOCK:   This is absolute crunch, though, is it not, Mr Corrigan?


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   Well, I don’t know what you mean by the absolute crunch, but I certainly think it is time for people to wake up and get on with the real issues of the waterfront.  You see, the problem with the Maritime Union, if I can say so, is that they are in a state of denial about the problems on the waterfront.  This is an industry in total, in desperate need of reform and what they want to do now is shoot the messenger.  I don’t expect to win a popularity contest by trying to reform an industry that is in desperate need of reform, but there’s no point in them shooting the messenger.  Let’s get our mind on the job;  let’s get out there and try and bring this thing from world’s worst practice to world’s best practice.


MATT PEACOCK:   Mr Corrigan, thanks for joining us.


CHRIS CORRIGAN:   Thank you.


PETER CAVE:   The Chairman of Patrick stevedoring, Chris Corrigan, was speaking to Matt Peacock.