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Workplace Relations Minister discusses the High Court's decision awarding the Federal Court jurisdiction in hearing the waterfront dispute case presented by the Commonwealth, the NFF and Patrick stevedores; delivery of Toyota spare parts through P&O.

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2CN    PM    1810 17/4/98

Subject:   I/V Peter Reith



Compere:    We begin with the waterfront dispute and first what appears to have been a set back for the Government and the Farmers' Federation in the High Court today, Justice Mary Gaudron ruled that the Federal Court does have the jurisdiction to hear the case that's been taken there on the waterfront dispute.  She criticised the application by the Government and P & C Stevedores as poorly prepared and a waste of the Court's time.


And also in another development in that story today, the re could be some good news for two and half thousand Toyota workers who were told yesterday they'd have to take compulsory holidays because spare parts were caught up in the waterfront dispute.  PM has confirmed this evening that the ship which holds the spare parts, the Australian Endeavour , has now been redirected to P & O's port at West Swanson in Melbourne.


A Toyota spokesman's told PM that if the ship docks tomorrow as scheduled, it looks very promising that the stand downs will be called off.


To discuss the latest developments and another tumultuous day on Australia's waterfront and in the courts, I'm joined by the Workplace Relations Minister, Peter Reith.


Mr Reith, first of all I understand that contrary to the reporting that you're re garding this High Court decision as a victory for the Government.


Peter Reith:   Well with respect to your reporting it's factually wrong.  The Commonwealth made an application today as did the Farmers and Patricks.  The Farmers and Patrick's applications were not accepted because the constitutional point had not actually been raised in the matter in the Federal Court, but the Commonwealth's application was accepted and upon it being accepted it was then remitted to the Federal Court which was hardly a surprise, but the constitutional point which was the foundation of the Commonwealth's application was in fact accepted in the High Court.


Compere:    This is what some people consider the rather technical issue of cross vesting, but surely what actually happened was that the case can go ahead in the Federal Court, so it must be seen as a setback to you, mustn't it?


Peter Reith:   With great respect you might be keen to put your own interpretation on it, but can we just stick with the facts?  The facts are that the application was accepted in the High Court and the constitutional basis upon which the matter was made was upheld.


Now there may be reports about other things said in the Court hearings but those are the facts.  The application was upheld.


No w can I just say.  I mean there were going to be wins and losses in the court processes in the days and the weeks ahead and you win some and you lose some.  I think from the Australian community's point of view, the real issue is are we going to have a competitive efficient waterfront, are we going to continue to be an international laughing stock because we can't compete with Auckland, Mozambique and Manilla that all have better productivity rates? 


But on the legal technical point it was upheld and has been remitted to the Federal Court and that's a matter before the Federal Court as you would expect and the Federal Court is of course still hearing.


Compere:    But did you or did you not want today's outcome in the sense that did you want the case to go ahead in the Federal Court?


Peter Reith:   Well what we expected was was that the Federal Court would continue hearing, that it was open to High Court - it is standard practice for the High Court to remit matters back, but what the lawyers wanted to do was to make the constitutional point and they did so and it was accepted in that the application made by the Commonwealth was accepted by the High Court. 


Now you can't do better than make an application and have it accepted.  The fact that there wa s a remittal again is hardly a surprise.  From the point of view of the applicants though before the High Court, the point that they were making, the technical point, was accepted.


Now I know the MUA says it's a win, but they say everything is a win regardless of the facts.


Compere:    Now turning to the Toyota matter, do you know about these reports that the Australian Endeavour has been directed to the P & O terminal?


Peter R eith:   Well the last indication I had was that the Australian Endeavour will berth at P & O at seven o'clock in the morning and after certain loading or unloading, presumably including the Toyota seventy odd containers, it will then move across to Patricks for further loading and unloading, so ....


Compere:    Well will the spare parts be able to get to Toyota in that case?


Peter Reith:   Well I would hope so, and I know that the union will be disappointed that they've failed to, you know, put in jeopardy the jobs of those people at Toyota which of course has been their plan and which is why they've been openly defying the injunction issued overnight in the Supreme Court.


Compere:    Did you intervene to divert the ship to the P & O terminal?


Peter Reith:   No we didn't.  That was a commercial decision for the Operations Committee of the Consortium.  ANL is one of a number of shipping lines involved commercially in a consortia which is, you know, on the Korea traffic.


Compere:    And nothing that you could have said could have made any difference to it?


Peter Reith:   Well quite frankly we did not attempt to intervene.  We certainly asked them yesterday what was happening so we've been in communication with them as to the circumstances, but that was a decision taken by them commercially.  I think everybody welcomed the fact that P & O is still operational and has been an important feature of this dispute that the ports are still open.


Compere:    But why was the ship going to the Patrick's terminal in the first place?


Peter Reith:   Well as I understand it, the ship has open ended contractual arrangements with Patricks so they can go there or not go there depending on the circumstances and the commercial decisions that they make.


Compere:    So the change of venue is just purely coincidental?


Peter Reith:   Well you'd have to ask them, but I mean I wouldn't describe it, I mean as a matter of common sense I think everybody should be pleased that the union ploy to have two and a half thousand workers stood down has been defeated by the commercial decision taken by ANL. 


It is typical of this union in its typical bully boy tactics to hold the country to economic ransome to achieve for itself the maintenance of its privileged position, its monopoly so that peopl e can enjoy benefits as workers on the Australian waterfront at an average of seventy-three, seventy-four thousand dollars a year, five weeks annual leave, twenty-two and a half percent annual leave loading, and all the other lurks and perks which are part and parcel of their privileged monopoly.


Compere:    We're a week and half into this dispute now.  Did you expect it to come to this?  Did you expect this kind of damage to have been done by this stage?


Peter Reith:   Well this union is infamous for all the tactics which have been employed.  I mean yesterday, for example, or the day before, in Newcastle a group of employees working for Patricks lawfully whilst being transported in a bus were hounded around Newcastle by a bunch of thugs, unable to secure proper protection by the police authorities in Newcastle. 


There have been threats of violence, death threats against journalists for writing things which the union doesn't like. 

In Victoria we've had razor wire, we've had concrete blocks, we've had attempts to criminally damage property - all the usual tactics by a union today openly defying Supreme Court orders in three States and being supported politically by the Labor Party even though there have been injunctions by duly constituted courts to remove pickets.


Compere:    Is the economic damage which this is already causing and will presumably continue to cause for some time, is it worth it?


Peter Reith:   Well there's no question that the prospects of economic damage are there, but I think at this point in time it's been limited because the campaign by the union to firstly prevent shipping companies going to Patricks was stymied by the injunction processes in the High Court of Justice in the UK. 


The attempts to intimidate and to prevent non-MUA labour working on the wharves were thwarted in the first twenty-four hours of this dispute, and P & O have continued to operate.  Now that is the position as at today, but it is very important that tho se ports which have been blocked up by illegal pickets have land access made available for those terminals.


Compere:    Peter Reith, thanks very much for joining us on PM tonight.

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