PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 10729

22 April 1998 TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP RADIO INTERVIEW WITH JOHN LAWS RADIO 2UE

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 22/04/1998

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 10729

E&OE...............................................

LAWS:

Prime Minister, good morning and thank you for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's very good to be on your programme again, John.

LAWS:

Thank you, that's nice of you. You've got your hands

full, really full now, haven't you?

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

How far will the Government go in this dispute? I mean, what avenues

are open, for example, if the court action this afternoon fails?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the Government's not part of that court action this

afternoon.

LAWS:

Well, indirectly.

PRIME MINISTER:

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,

productive waterfront.

LAWS:

Yeah. I think...

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

Okay but with respect Prime Minister, we've heard the rhetoric

about the problems on the waterfront...

PRIME MINISTER:

It's not rhetoric, it's reality.

LAWS:

Well, but it's still rhetoric. I mean, we've had it repeated

time and time again.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, are you suggesting it's just rhetoric that Australia

has an uncompetitive waterfront?

LAWS:

No, no, we've constantly said that as the case.

PRIME MINISTER:

But I think it's important, amidst all of the tooing and froing...

LAWS:

Well, I think Australia knows that 97 per cent of the people...

PRIME MINISTER:

...I think it's very important, even in that you asked me

what does the Government intend to do.

LAWS:

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.

PRIME MINISTER:

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

court decision.

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.

LAWS:

But court decisions can affect government policy.

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

Well, you've certainly supported Patricks.

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

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...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, of course, he's had discussions...

LAWS:

Prior to this taking place.

PRIME MINISTER:

But it is the job of a Workplace Relations Minister.

LAWS:

No, I'm suggesting there's anything untoward about it.

PRIME MINISTER:

And, of course, he had lengthy discussions with the MUA until the

MUA walked out on those discussions.

LAWS:

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.

PRIME MINISTER:

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...

LAWS:

No, I didn't ask you that. I didn't ask you that. I just

said: how will it affect you.

PRIME MINISTER:

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

that decision.

LAWS:

Well, I can assure that's not my intention, to spend 20 minutes

doing anything. All I'm seeking is an answer.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, my answer is that I will respond or my Minister will respond

to the court decision when it's known.

LAWS:

How do you respond to Justice North saying there is an arguable

case that Patricks have engaged in an unlawful conspiracy?

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

Yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

And they have defied that.

PRIME MINISTER:

They have defied that. And they are supported in that defiance

by Kim Beazley and by the Australian Labor Party.

LAWS:

Yes, well, I wonder, could one say, perhaps, that there is a conspiracy

between the Maritime Workers and the Australian Labor Party?

PRIME MINISTER:

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...

LAWS:

They copped it.

PRIME MINISTER:

...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

streets.

LAWS:

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?

PRIME MINISTER:

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...

LAWS:

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?

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

He says you could get them back to work.

PRIME MINISTER:

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...

LAWS:

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."

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I could equally - I mean, you know that the best way to remove

the material on the docks.

LAWS:

Tell me.

PRIME MINISTER:

Not by having a meeting, is by everybody in this country obeying

the law.

LAWS:

And if everybody obeyed the law?

PRIME MINISTER:

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...

LAWS:

What about Justice North's ruling?

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

But he has suggested that there is room to investigate that conduct.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what he said is that there is a case to go to hearing.

LAWS:

That's right, room to investigate.

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

Well we've always understood that the Labor Party is the political

wing of the trade union movement anyway.

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

It's now being shown.

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

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."

PRIME MINISTER:

I never said that.

LAWS:

Well I didn't think you did.

PRIME MINISTER:

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

by P&O.

LAWS:

And they are still working.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, no. I mean, I'm not saying....

LAWS:

But they're working.

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

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

said:

PRIME MINISTER:

We certainly didn't conspire to break the law. We certainly

didn't conspire in the sense that that is understood in the

law.

LAWS:

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?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, it's just my way of answering the question. Look,

there hasn't been any conspiracy.

LAWS:

None at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, no, of course not.

LAWS:

Are you concerned that the Consumer and Competition Commission

is also looking at the possibility that the Government and Patricks

did break the law?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't mind who looks at anything. I mean we are an open

book on this.

LAWS:

If they were to take, I thought you were.

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

I know that. You and I have discussed it.

PRIME MINISTER:

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

Minister.

LAWS:

No, nobody could say that.

PRIME MINISTER:

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.

LAWS:

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?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh look John, I'd have to go back over all of my records,

but over the years I would have talked to everybody.

LAWS:

Including stevedoring companies?

PRIME MINISTER:

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

Transcript 10729