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Tuesday, 8 November 1983
Page: 2434

Mr HOLLIS(10.45) —In a recent adjournment debate, the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron) made a claim that Australia has one of the worst industrial records of any country. This nonsense is peddled by people with little regard for the truth, who continually look for divisive propaganda to blame working people and trade unions for Australia's economic problems. The waterside unions, of course, have a militant and courageous history and have struggled to ensure that waterside workers receive secure employment and dignified living conditions. Wharfies have been prominent in making Australia a more democratic and prosperous country and have given international solidarity support to workers in other countries. How can we ever forget the commitment to peace and democracy of the wharfies of Port Kembla in 1938-39 when they stood up to the then pro-Japanese Lyons-Menzies Government and refused to load pig iron for the Japanese war machine? History has shown who was right.

During the 1970s, Australia's regional ports were mismanaged and severely neglected as governments slotted into the strategies of international shipping companies and concentrated investment facilities on centralised locations, without consideration of congestion problems, long term development of regional ports and land use planning. In New South Wales, Newcastle and Port Kembla were turned into bulk commodity ports. For both these ports, the focus on development of Port Botany has been disastrous. In relation to Port Kembla, general freights have been increasingly transported to Wollongong by road, older facilities have been disintegrating and the lack of a multi-purpose port has virtually ruled out future export based industrial development of Port Kembla.

With fewer ships coming in as a result of this strategy, wharfies have spent much of their working lives on idle time. It is a disgrace that these human skills have been wasted as a result of thoughtless policies. There has not been a significant strike in Port Kembla for a decade, yet all we hear from conservatives is about industrial relations strife on the waterfront. The public was notified about the run down of Port Kembla, not by governments or stevedoring companies, but by the waterfront unions. In the past three years, I have been proudly associated with the Port Kembla task force, an organisation comprising trade unions, employers, local government and community representatives. This was established following the publication of a report commissioned by the Port Kembla branch of the Waterside Workers Federation, which detailed the run down of the port.

The task force is a model of how different groups can co-operate and develop expertise over time. The task force recognised that port redevelopment is a key to the future economic prospects of the Illawarra. At that time a group of consultants, Coopers and Lybrand, published a report which examined a number of options for the location of a major export grain handling terminal. Port Kembla was not even considered. The task force recognised that as Port Kembla had the deepest harbour on the eastern seaboard, grain growers could save money if the terminal were situated at Port Kembla. No transport facilities were adequate, they made submissions to the New South Wales Government and successfully requested that the Port Kembla option be considered on the same cost benefit criteria as other options. This investigation demonstrated that Port Kembla was by far the most cost effective option for the location of a new grain terminal in the eastern coast.

Not content to be shown to be correct, the task force organised delegations to travel through the rural areas of New South Wales in order to talk to wheat growers and develop a new sense of understanding of each other's problems. The unionists on the delegations were able to present the facts on industrial relations and were able to dispel some of the destructive and divisive myths put about by our opponents and uncritically accepted by bureaucrats in the relevant department. Port Kembla has the potential to be a major agricultural export port for south-eastern Australia. The spirit of consensus shown between waterside workers and farmers augers well for the future, providing differences are honestly discussed and these political forces that depend for their existence on divisiveness remain isolated.

Another example of the industrial relations environment at Port Kembla was the agreement between the New South Wales Government and the trade unions in regard to the construction of the Port Kembla coal loader. As a consequence of this agreement, completion of the project occurred ahead of schedule and saved the Government $20m. Since the loader began operating a year ago, there has been one minor stoppage by the workers, lasting 24 hours. Were the unions trying to bring the country to its knees? No; in fact, the strike was to bring attention to the fact that a commitment by the management at the loader to improve efficiency was being continually deferred.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.