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Opposition Leader criticises Federal Government's handling of the waterfront situation; hopes that administrator will proceed at a faster pace than he is considering; a process should be found by which waterfront reform can be seriously achieved but it would be difficult with this Government.

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Subject: Waterfront


PEACOCK: Mr Beazley, does Mr Reith have a point when he said earlier that now this decision’s been made the pickets need to be removed? And unless you or somebody else gets a stay, they’re illegal? Are you going to tell your party members to obey the law?


BEAZLEY: Look, I don’t know why you’re bothering to talk to Mr Reith, frankly. I mean, you’re talking about world best practice. This is world best practice - this is world best practice ministerial incompetence, and overblown zealotry. That’s what we’ve seen for the last few weeks from Mr Reith. Mr Reith, being the cheerleader and spear-carrier for Patricks for the last three or four weeks and probably longer. You would think over the last couple of days he’s sort of been saying, ‘well, I don’t really know what’s going on in Patricks, I just read about it in the newspapers’. I mean, the fact of the matter is that he has been, front and centre, in a bungled piece of zealotry as far as this issue is concerned. And he’s got very little, nothing at all I would say, to contribute to the conclusion of this. I think one of the useful things that has actually happened over the last few days is people have begun to get waterfront reform in some degree of perspective. They’ve seen actually how far we’ve come over the course of the last decade. We’ve got rains falling, thank God, again in this State here in New South Wales and elsewhere. That means we’re going to get a reasonable crop this year and EL Nino’s over. That crop will pass out of this country through world best practice bulk handling — like two-thirds of our exports. And where did that world best practice come from? The previous set of waterfront reforms.


PEACOCK: After the farmers’ action, wasn’t it?


BEAZLEY: Well, it’s a long time ago now, six or seven years ago. But, nevertheless, that’s what was achieved. And plus a 40 per cent improvement in container rates, plus company employment, plus a reduction on the waterfront from 10,000 to just over 3,000 in numbers of stevedores.



BEAZLEY: No. The point I’m trying to make with all of that is this, I suppose. As Joe Dawkins said to me over the weekend, one of our problems was because we tried to organise this cooperatively and there was not blood in the water, people thought nothing was achieved. Let me tell you that Reith’s targets, that he spoke about to you a few minutes ago, by no means compare with the amount of shifting that went on in the course of those five or six years. And the point of all of that is this: if we weren’t dealing with grand-scale incompetence as Ministers in this Government, we could have had a sit down which would have produced Reith’s targets over the course of the next eighteen months or something like it. And we’d have concluded the process of waterfront reform that the previous government began.


PEACOCK: But that’s all very arguable, isn’t it? I mean, you paid many millions of dollars and got very little, according to the Government?


BEAZLEY: Well, the Government is wrong. Do you regard reducing the workforce from 10,000 to 3,300 as very little? Do you regard world best practice on 65 per cent of our exports as very little?


PEACOCK: And how many millions of dollars?


BEAZLEY: Do you regard 40 per cent of improvement of container rates as very little? And what is Mr Reith asking for? A further 25 per cent. And they’ve already got that in some ports anyway ... (inaudible) ...


PEACOCK: Mr Beazley, let’s return to my previous question. What about this issue - if the court makes a ruling, you abide by it. Now, members of your Party, senior members of your party, have been saying, ‘ignore the injunction in Victoria’. Jennie George told the workers to ignore the court order. Do you endorse that sort of advice?


BEAZLEY: Senior members of my party are appealing that particular proposition. But let us understand why they’re there. They’re there because, in the first instance, the Government and Patricks supported the illegal sacking of the membership of Patricks workforce. And, as a result of that, everything else has flowed from that. Now, what actually happens over the next couple of days - we’ve heard discussions from the administrator which has quite clearly surprised some people; we’ve seen give, give, give in this situation as far as the MUA is concerned; and nothing but grumpiness and trickiness from the Government and from the Patrick management. The waterfront workers have been prepared, as they’ve indicated, and they’re clearly discussing this with the administrator, prepared to work for nothing for a period of time, or deferred wages for a period of time. You’ve heard from Mr Coombs, today, that he’s actually prepared to cover the workforce in terms of workers’ compensation. They’ve been prepared to talk through with the farmers mechanisms over the previous few days of getting any perishables or other essential goods off the waterfront. And this, in the face of people who

PEACOCK: So you’re saying there’s no problem?


have been organising their sacking on any reasonable reading of Peter Reith’s Industrial Relations Act, in an illegal way. But what I would hope would happen now is these things. Firstly, that the administrator proceeds at a little faster pace than he apparently is considering doing. Secondly, that the workers get back onto the waterfront so that the pickets and everybody else who are of course associated one way or another with trying to defend their position, are able to withdraw themselves. And, thirdly, that we find some process now by which waterfront reform can seriously be achieved. And I just don’t know how that can occur if Mr Reith and this Government is still somewhere there in the loop. And while you’ve got a management so reluctant or so prideful in this sort of situation that they will not talk sensibly to the MUA.


PEACOCK: Mr Beazley, thanks for joining us.


BEAZLEY: Thanks, Matt.