22 April 1998 TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP RADIO INTERVIEW WITH JOHN LAWS RADIO 2UE
Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007
Release Date: 22/04/1998
Release Type: Interview
Transcript ID: 10729
Prime Minister, good morning and thank you for your time.
It's very good to be on your programme again, John.
Thank you, that's nice of you. You've got your hands
full, really full now, haven't you?
Yes, but I never thought the cause of waterfront reform was going
to be easy. And we've got to remember that what is at stake
here is whether Australia will have a productive, world-class waterfront
or whether we'll continue, in that area, to be the laughing
stock of the world.
How far will the Government go in this dispute? I mean, what avenues
are open, for example, if the court action this afternoon fails?
Well, the Government's not part of that court action this
Well, it's not - none of the orders made yesterday affected
the Commonwealth. The Government's role is that of achieving
a policy objective that we've never disguised. And that is
to give Australia a more productive waterfront to end the situation
where our crane rates are 18 against 30 for our competitors, the
50 per cent over-manning, the rorts, the feather-bedding and all
the things that cause the most respected economic magazine in the
world, The London Economist, to say this week that the time
has long passed where old-fashion union practices can be part of
a forward-looking Australia. So we've got to remember, amidst
all the tooing and froing - and let's face it, there's
going to be a lot of court actions, you're going to win some
and you're going to lose some, but people should not lose sight
of the fundamental objective and that is that it is in Australia's
national economic interest to have a modernised, reformed, competitive,
Yeah. I think...
And I think 97 per cent of your responders yesterday demonstrated
that. And that is the Government's objective. You ask me how
far will the Government go. The Government will do all it legitimately
can to achieve that objective and I have always said that.
Okay but with respect Prime Minister, we've heard the rhetoric
about the problems on the waterfront...
It's not rhetoric, it's reality.
Well, but it's still rhetoric. I mean, we've had it repeated
time and time again.
Well, are you suggesting it's just rhetoric that Australia
has an uncompetitive waterfront?
No, no, we've constantly said that as the case.
But I think it's important, amidst all of the tooing and froing...
Well, I think Australia knows that 97 per cent of the people...
...I think it's very important, even in that you asked me
what does the Government intend to do.
That's right. Well, how far is the Government prepared to
go? I mean, if this court action today fails, if the appeal by Patricks
fail then obviously the Government has a problem, whether it wants
it or not or whether it's part of it or not, it will become
part of it.
The Government will continue to support the cause of waterfront
reform and will continue to support the principle of voluntary unionism
on the Australian waterfront and will continue, within the law,
to support anyone who pursues those objectives irrespective of the
outcome of the court case today or, indeed, the outcome of any other
You see, courts don't determine government policy, courts
interpret the law as determined by Parliament and that is their
role and it is our role to set objectives and to pursue policy changes.
But court decisions can affect government policy.
Court decisions can determine the legal parameters of the behaviour
of people including governments. Now, I have said all along, John,
that we will, in pursuing our objective of a reformed Australian
waterfront, we will support any company or any group of individuals
that pursues that objective provided they act within the law.
Well, you've certainly supported Patricks.
In the sense of saying that, to the extent that they are committed
to waterfront reform, yes. The question of their own individual
conduct, of course, is a matter for them.
That's right. But in discussions I had with Peter Reith he
made it very clear to me that he'd had lengthy discussions
with Patricks. So obviously...
Well, of course, he's had discussions...
Prior to this taking place.
But it is the job of a Workplace Relations Minister.
No, I'm suggesting there's anything untoward about it.
And, of course, he had lengthy discussions with the MUA until the
MUA walked out on those discussions.
I'm not suggesting there's anything untoward about it.
I'm simply saying, as he has had discussions, you said that
this court decision this afternoon won't affect you, well,
it'll affect him and he's part of your Government.
Well, no, it won't affect him in the same sense that it won't
affect me. I mean, you're asking me whether the court decision
this afternoon will in any way affect my commitment or the commitment
of my Government. And it's not just a commitment...
No, I didn't ask you that. I didn't ask you that. I just
said: how will it affect you.
Well, I'm saying how it won't affect me is that it won't
divert us. It won't divert us from our objective of pursuing
waterfront reform. But, I mean, if we're going to spend 20
minutes or so talking about how we are going to hypothetically respond
to a decision that hasn't been handed down - I mean, we can
have all sorts of hypothesis. I'm going to wait until I get
Well, I can assure that's not my intention, to spend 20 minutes
doing anything. All I'm seeking is an answer.
Well, my answer is that I will respond or my Minister will respond
to the court decision when it's known.
How do you respond to Justice North saying there is an arguable
case that Patricks have engaged in an unlawful conspiracy?
Well, I don't think it's appropriate at this stage for
me to respond to that because all he has stated is that there is
a case to go to trial. And, in the meantime, the interlocutory injunctions
that he has granted against parties other than the Commonwealth
are being appealed by those parties.
I mean, I'm not going to try - I'm not going to publicly
debate at this stage, particularly against the background of an
appeal. What he said - look, John, through the whole course of this
dispute there are going to be allegations. He hasn't made a
finding of illegality and he hasn't told Patricks to do anything
that they are refusing to do, unlike the Supreme Court of Victoria
which has told the MUA to stop blocking the removal of goods from
the East Swanson Dock.
And they have defied that.
They have defied that. And they are supported in that defiance
by Kim Beazley and by the Australian Labor Party.
Yes, well, I wonder, could one say, perhaps, that there is a conspiracy
between the Maritime Workers and the Australian Labor Party?
No, look, it's simpler than that. I'm not making an allegation
- I mean, whether there's a conspiracy or not, the allegation
I make is that the Leader of the Opposition in Australia and the
New South Wales Premier are encouraging people to defy lawfully
made orders of courts of competent jurisdiction in this country.
They are encouraging the Maritime Union of Australia to behave above
the law. They are giving comfort and aid and public sucker to people
who are thumbing their noses at the courts of the country. You see,
when Patricks copped an adverse decision yesterday...
They copped it.
...you didn't hear me and you didn't hear Peter Reith
saying to Patricks: you defy that decision. We said: you've
got to obey it. Now, has Kim Beazley told the MUA to obey the decision
of the Supreme Court of Victoria? Could you get Kim Beazley this
morning on radio, Greg Combet, Mick O'Leary or John Coombs
on television last night or this morning to give an undertaking
that if any of the court decisions went against them they would
obey those decisions - no. They, in fact, said that if they lose
in the courts they'll continue the civil disobedience in the
Now, amongst other things that Kim Beazley said yesterday, he said
this - I'd like a comment on this:-"John Howard takes
the ball. There is no reason why all that material on the docks
could not move tomorrow and everybody be back at work."
Is that correct?
Well, this is the man who for 13 years sat down and had meetings
and delivered the world's laughing stock of a waterfront. I
mean, he's saying that we ought to try what they try and, through
that method, fail to achieve. I don't remember him, incidentally,
using that language when the pilots dispute was on. He was in there
as Mr Gung Ho' Defence Minister using the resources of
the Royal Australian Air Force to smash the pilots federation, which
was a union...
Yes, now all of this is true, Prime Minister, but we both have
a problem with time. I don't want to hear about his frailties,
I want to hear about your strengths. I mean, can you do what he
said you should do?
Well, his argument - what he's saying to me is that I should
do, as a response to this dispute, what he did and what his Prime
Ministers did and failed to deliver a dispute. I mean, he says we
should have a meeting.
He says you could get them back to work.
Oh yeah, look, clearing the docks of the accumulated goods is one
short-term, immediate and very important problem. But the greater
problem, the long-term problem, is how we are going to have a productive
waterfront. And you do not achieve a productive waterfront in this
country by adopting the methods employed by the Labor governments
of the past which have completely failed. And, in any event, why
should the Government of this country, whether it's Labor or
Liberal, why should the Government of this country sit down and
negotiate with people who continue to openly defy orders made against
them and findings inter alia of illegal conduct, findings of illegal
conduct made by the courts of this country. I mean, what kind of
example does that set? What kind of ethics...
Okay, Prime Minister, can we just go back to Kim Beazley. Just
hear again what he said:- "John Howard takes the ball.
There is no reason why all that material on the docks could not
move tomorrow and everybody be back at work."
Well, I could equally - I mean, you know that the best way to remove
the material on the docks.
Not by having a meeting, is by everybody in this country obeying
And if everybody obeyed the law?
If the MUA obeyed the law in 30 minutes time that material could
be removed from the docks. You don't need a meeting to clear
the docks. I mean, that is Beazley covering for his union mates.
You don't need a meeting to clear the docks. All you need is
for people to obey the laws as handed down by the Supreme Courts
of New South Wales and Victoria. In both of those courts injunctions
have been issued forbidding people from interfering with others
carrying out their lawful business. Now, if those injunctions were
obeyed, that is all that is needed. You don't need a meeting.
You don't need the Prime Minister to intervene. You don't
need anybody else involved. All you need...
What about Justice North's ruling?
Justice North's ruling in no way affects the injunctions of
the Supreme Courts of New South Wales and Victoria because Justice
North has not made a finding of illegal conduct. I'm sorry,
John, it is a very simple situation.
But he has suggested that there is room to investigate that conduct.
No, what he said is that there is a case to go to hearing.
That's right, room to investigate.
Well, John, he has not ordered people to do other than the interlocutory
orders that are now the subject of potential appeal by Patricks.
But let me go back to the tape you played of Kim Beazley, twice.
What he said was, all John Howard's got to do is to pick up
the ball and run with it. My reply is that if you want the docks
cleared, Kim Beazley, you tell the MUA to obey the decision of the
Supreme Court of New South Wales and the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Because if those blockades were lifted, if the illegal nature of
the pickets were removed in both Sydney and Melbourne, those millions
of dollars of goods on those wharves would be removed. You don't
need a meeting. You don't need prime ministerial intervention.
All you need is for the Leader of the Opposition to do something
he has failed to do so far during this dispute and is to exhort
his fellow Australians to obey the law. He should stop being a ventriloquist
dummy of the trade union movement in this dispute.
Well we've always understood that the Labor Party is the political
wing of the trade union movement anyway.
Well as Graeme Richardson said in the Bulletin on the 10th of February,
the unions still own a majority of the stock in the ALP.
It's now being shown.
And it's being shown and the MUA is behaving above the law.
And Kim Beazley does not have the guts to say whatever the rights
and wrongs are, John Coombs, you like everybody else as a citizen
of Australia, must abide by the laws of Australia. And I say again
to Mr Beazley, forget about a meeting, forget about this rhetorical
invitation to me to convene a meeting, you just get your union mates
to obey the law and all of those goods that are lying and rotting
on the docks in Australia at the present time can be cleared overnight.
That's all you need, you need people to obey the law. You need
people to behave like civilised people in a civilised society and
not adopt this heads I win, tails you lose approach to court decisions.
While speaking of John Coombs, Mr Coombs yesterday said this:-
"John Howard will be remembered for the quote that these people
were sacked because they were members of the Maritime Union of Australia
and for no other reason."
I never said that.
Well I didn't think you did.
No, never. I have never, I mean he allows me to make it very clear
that our policy objective does not include the destruction of any
union including the Maritime Union of Australia. The only goal that
we seek generically, so far as unions are concerned, is to have
voluntary unionism on the Australian waterfront. In other words
to have a situation where both members of the MUA and other people
can work on the Australian waterfront. I mean for example at the
moment, members of the MUA are employed on the Australian waterfront
And they are still working.
No, no, no. I mean, I'm not saying....
But they're working.
Exactly. And at no stage, at no stage, have I ever argued that
you should replace the MUA closed shop on the Australian waterfront
with a situation where people who belong to unions can't be
employed on the Australian waterfront. And at no stage have I ever
admitted, at no stage have I ever advocated, that people should
be sacked because they belong to a trade union because that would
be against the law that we brought in in 1996.
Okay, can we just go back to the suggestion of conspiratorial action.
You did mention it yesterday, let me just remind you of what you
We certainly didn't conspire to break the law. We certainly
didn't conspire in the sense that that is understood in the
When you say you didn't conspire in the sense that it's
understood in the law, do we read into that that you did conspire
in some way?
No, no, it's just my way of answering the question. Look,
there hasn't been any conspiracy.
None at all?
No, no, of course not.
Are you concerned that the Consumer and Competition Commission
is also looking at the possibility that the Government and Patricks
did break the law?
I don't mind who looks at anything. I mean we are an open
book on this.
If they were to take, I thought you were.
I mean, John, you have known me for a long time and I think you
would agree that one thing I have always believed in is changing
the industrial relations system in Australia.
I know that. You and I have discussed it.
And I don't think anybody should say I kidded the Australian
public before the last election that I would do it if I became Prime
No, nobody could say that.
And I had never disguised the fact that we would firstly change
the law and secondly anybody who tried to take advantage of those
changes in the law to achieve our reform objectives on the Australian
waterfront, would have our understanding and our support and encouragement,
provided, now I said this in Parliament on several occasions over
the month, provided they acted in accordance with the law.
But did you hold talks with the shipping companies? For example,
I know, as you say, I've know you a long time and we've
talked about waterfront reform for years and years and years. When
you talked about it before, when you intended doing it before, did
you talk to shipping companies then?
Oh look John, I'd have to go back over all of my records,
but over the years I would have talked to everybody.
Including stevedoring companies?
Including stevedoring companies at some stage. I don't think
I've had more than one or two or three discussions at the most
with stevedores since I've become Prime Minister. I can't
remember precisely how many but so what. I am