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Leader of the Opposition criticises the lack of genuine bargaining and the Government's performance in negotiating the waterfront dispute.



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TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH FRAN KELLY, ABC RADIO NATIONAL, DAYBREAK PROGRAM, 22 APRIL 1998

 

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

 

KELLY; Kim Beazley, yesterday there was a win and then a loss, if you like, within hours in the Federal Court. Overall, how significant do you regard the decision of Justice Tony North?

 

BEAZLEY; I think it’s pretty significant. It’s significant on a number of fronts, Firstly, it demonstrates the very...what we all actually know in common sense terms, that workers have been illegally sacked. And I think any sensible reading of Peter Reith’s own legislation would indicate that would be the case. But it is important that we have effectively had a reiteration of that by Justice North. But there’s also the opportunity that comes out of this. This is going to drag on and on if the Prime Minister doesn’t cut the Gordian knot now. The problem with the Government all along has been its mixed motives. Waterfront reform, from my point of view, is about container rates, it’s about productivity on the waterfront. And it was that way with the previous Government. And I think out there there would be common sense interpretation, also, that that’s what waterfront reform is about. But what the Government has said it’s capped to is breaking the union. And, frankly, that’s just a political objective of the Liberal Party, it’s not a reform objective in relation to the waterfront.

 

KELLY: Well, others would argue with you. I mean, you say that under the Labor Government it was all about trying to lift container rates and it was nothing to do with the union monopoly. But, you know, those using the waterfront say that under Labor it didn’t happen quickly enough and the union monopoly made it impossible to reach the productivity outcomes.

 

BEAZLEY: Let’s take a look at that, Fran, What did we see under Labor? The workforce came down from 10,000 to just over 3,000. We had world best practice put in for 65 per cent of our exports, that’s bulk cargo. We had container rates lift by 40 per cent and then we had an enterprise bargaining position put place which arguably, I would say, would deliver the final 25 per cent which, after all, is all Peter Reith is actually asking for in improved productivity on the waterfront. The cost of securing that by this process is out of all proportion when you can get it by simply sitting the parties down and bargaining in good faith.

 

KELLY: Can I just ask you there, you said you can get it by sitting the parties down, the Government and the farmers and Patrick point out that they have set down with the MUA now for weeks, for months, for years before this and failed to get them to agree to the processes they say are vital for reform.

 

BEAZLEY: No, let’s get this accurate. Not weeks, months and years months. Let’s eliminate the years. They haven’t been doing it for years. They have been doing it for months. But what have they been doing it for months against a background of? The belief on the part of the unions that no genuine bargaining has been entered into, that there has been a sub-agenda running out there that confuses the bargaining process. And I think that that’s manifestly the case. How can an organisation sit down and bargain in good faith with somebody who is at the same time he’s saying, ‘well, let’s put this on the table and, oh, by the way, do I have a plan for you’. Now, that has been as obvious as the nose on your face for the course of the last 12 months that the employers’ side and the Government have not been bargaining in good faith because they’ve not been about productivity. What they’ve really been about is arriving at a conclusion which gives them an opportunity to wallop the union, That’s the problem of the mixed motives. And that’s what the Government has got to step back from. I know the Liberal Party has hated the MUA for years. But at some point of time you have to set aside your Party advantage, stop trying to exploit a situation for your political advantage or your obsessions and worry about the country. And worrying about the country seems to be the last thing at the moment on the Government’s mind where it ought to be the first order consideration of a Prime Minister.

 

KELLY: Well, the Prime Minister says that in fact that his critics are overstating things when they say there’s an economic crisis coming to a head because of this and he says the country is not divided. But what would you have the Prime Minister do now, then?

 

BEAZLEY: Last week the Prime Minister was saying the country was divided and that wasn’t a bad thing because you have to, you know, in the old Leninist terms, you’ve got to break eggs to make an omelette. I mean, that was the Prime Minister last week. Last week the Prime Minister was saying that the country was being economically, massively disadvantaged by this waterfront dispute. This week the Prime Minister says the country is not divided and that there is no damage to the economy. I mean, really it’s been a very erratic performance. But what I would do is this, if I was the Prime Minister, firstly, I’d take advantage of the offer that the union made yesterday, which effectively was an offer to the administrator, to say that they were prepared to work without pay while the fundamental issues In relation to Patrick’s solvency were in train. So, that’s the first thing I’d take advantage of. That was an olive branch from the union - grab it. In these situations where olive branches were put out - grab them. That’s the first thing I’d do. The second thing I’d do if I was the Prime Minister, having got Patrick effectively back to work, knowing now that there can be no trust between his Minister, the Patrick management and the workforce, insert himself in the process despite the high-five performance when Peter Reith introduced the legislation, a sort of rather obscene chortling, the Prime Minister, nevertheless, is not completely embroiled in the situation created for him by his Industrial Relations Minister, and even if he is completely embroiled, there’s a bit of mandate of heaven

that attaches to the head of a Prime Minister, people do actually have to talk to the Prime Minister whether they like it or not and whether or not they want to talk to his Ministers. So, you sink yourself in the process, at least at the stage of bringing the parties together. Then because to some degree there’s an element of compromise there, it might be sensible for him to bring in a third party who has some noted background in terms of this sort of activity. I mean, if it was me in the Prime Minister’s position, I’d probably use Bob Hawke. He could probably contemplate somebody like Ninon Stephen. And get a set of objectives and say, ‘listen team, I want container rates of this particular rate, I don’t care how you come at the outcome, but you’ve got to come at that outcome’.

 

KELLY: All right. Well, let’s talk about your role here. I mean, Peter Reith points out that you are happy to say that the company should obey the law as handed down by Justice North. But you’re happy to support the protestors’ rights to ignore the ruling of Justice Beach in the Supreme Court in Victoria to remove the picket He says you want your cake and eat it too. Now, it’s true, isn’t it?

 

BEAZLEY: No, it’s not true. And get a bit of proportionality in all this. Whatever is decided from time to time about picket lines doesn’t actually get to the gravamen of the matter as far as waterfront reform is concerned.

 

KELLY: No, but if we’re talking about obeying the law of the land...

 

BEAZLEY: .. . central issue of employment is concerned. Now, look, what I’ve said at the outset of this is you’re going to get, in terms of activities by protesters, in terms of violence, in terms of assembly, in terms of people’s disagreements with each other in this, you’re going to get, as this issue proceeds, If you don’t bring It to a head and finish it now, you’re going to get unacceptable acts all over the place. And that’s not the point, It is partly the point, because that’s the point about national unity, but it’s not the point about achieving conclusion to this process. And, look, those issues are going to be determined by the courts from time to time related to freedom of assembly. We in this country respect the idea of freedom of assembly and the right to protest and the right to make a statement about what you believe. That’s one set of issues. The main issue is waterfront reform and getting a reasonable conclusion to the situation of workers who have been illegally sacked. Let’s focus on that because that’s where the solution to this issue lies.

KELLY: Kim Beazley, thank you very much. 

BEAZLEY; Thanks very much, Fran. 

ends