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Issue No. 136 17 May 2002  
E D I T O R I A L

Modern Labour
Unveiling his 'modern Labor' pitch in the Budget in Reply, Opposition leader Simon Crean seemed very 1950s – when 'modern' was good in itself, like spray-cans, zippers and uncomfortable furniture.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Licking the Wounds
Elder statesman Neville Wran expands on his review into Labor's performance at the last federal election.

Industrial: The Accidental Tourist
Standing on a picket line, just metres from the sleaziest part of Kings Cross, was not what Cheshire chemist David Lui had in mind when he was saving for his trip of a lifetime.

Unions: Stars And Stripes
Fly the flag, beat the war drum and screw the old, the sick and the poor – Peter Costello’s budget aims to emulate the worst aspects of American politics argues Noel Hester.

International: The Un-Promised Land
Andrew Casey lifts the lid on a little-known campaign to establish a Jewish homeland in the Kimberleys.

History: Mate Against Mate
Neale Towart trawls the records to recount some of the more acrimonious ALP State Conference debates.

Politics: Reith's Gong
Peter Reith's medal from the HR Nicholls Society overlooks a number of lamentable aspects about his character as Stuart Mackenzie reports.

Poetry: You've Got a Friend
A friend is someone who protects you, but in an interesting twist the Federal budget has redefined the notion of 'protection' by adding the word 'from'.

Review: War on Terror: Now Showing
Arnold Schwarznegger's latest flick Collateral Damage is spooky for many reasons, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Satire: Burmese Regime Makes Genuine Commitment To Pretence Of Change
The government of Myanmar (Burma) released democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi today after a year and a half of house arrest.

N E W S

 Solidarity In The Post To East Timor

 Joy Wins For All Workers

 Workers Call Abbott On Democracy Bluff

 Wran Tells MPs: Talk to Unions

 Family First on Conference Agenda

 Cole Commission Declares Paper War

 Yarra Workers Thank Australia

 Budget Attacks Retirement Incomes

 PSA Challenges Carr’s Secrecy Shield

 Election Talk Aint Cheap

 Hotel Bosses Back Down On Pay

 Welfare Staff Strike Out At Harrassment

 Della Ups DIR Inspectorate

 Fake Notes Expose Government as Tax Cheat

 Labor Faces Acid Test on Asylum Seekers

 New Project Encourages Cultural Exchanges

 Bush’s Western Saharan War And Oil Deal

 Activists Notebook

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Border Solidarity
The Australian Workers Union's Bill Shorten explains why he drew a line in the cement in support of the CSL Yarra crew

The Locker Room
The Dangerous Life Of A Hot Dog Seller
Phil Doyle ruminates on the virtues of processed meats in the world of elite sports.

Bosswatch
The Bottom Line
Peter Costello wasn't the only one flaunting a budget deficit this week, as Rupert Murdoch announced the largest corporate write-down on record.

Postcard
East Timor Appeals For Help
At midnight on Sunday 19 May, the UN mandate in East Timor comes to an end and East Timor becomes a new independent nation.

Week in Review
The Spin Cycle
Budget week brings that much spin you half expect to see Shane Warne wheeled out as a spokesman on health, economics, or whatever else the combatants are blabbing about. Jim Marr lifts the covers.

L E T T E R S
 Gangsta Rap
 More May Day Hate Mail
 What Women Want
 Chucking a Wobbly
 Is Caustic Costello the Despot of Despair?
 East Timor: Independent Or Mendicant?
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Politics

Reith's Gong


Peter Reith's medal from the HR Nicholls Society overlooks a number of lamentable aspects about his character as Stuart Mackenzie reports.
 

Telecards and children overboard were but a dim memory when Peter Reith recently received an award from right-wing think-tank, the HR Nicholls Society.

In the same week that members of his forgotten army of waterfront strike-breakers walked away with just $15,000 compensation each, Reith was hailed as the best industrial relations minister in the last 50 years by Stuart Wood, vice president of the Society and a Melbourne barrister who represented Patrick Corporation in the dispute.

Patrick's Chris Corrigan and almost 200 of the mercenary labour force at the centre of the 1998 waterfront dispute agreed a secret $8 million out-of-court settlement in mid-March.

The settlement came at a convenient time for Corrigan, whose four-year legal battle could have compromised his new public image as a saviour of the airline industry through his partnership with Richard Branson's Virgin Blue.

It also kept Corrigan, Reith and former National Farmers Federation president Donald McGauchie out of the witness box, thus avoiding a potentially damaging re-examination of the alleged conspiracy by Patrick, the NFF and the Federal

Government to replace union labour on the waterfront.

As news of the settlement broke, Reith was presented with the Charles Copeman Medal for distinguished service in the cause of Australian industrial relations, at the 23rd HR Nicholls Society conference.

The award is named after the Right's hero of the infamous mid-1980s industrial dispute at the North-owned Robe River iron-ore operation in the Pilbara region of WA.

All Australians are in debt to Peter Reith, said former Secretary to the Commonwealth Treasury, Queensland National's senator and founding President of the Society, John Stone as he presented the medal.

His performance in the "great waterfront dispute of 1998" marked a watershed in Australian industrial relations similar to Margaret Thatcher's victory in Britain's great coal strike in the 1980s.

In backing Chris Corrigan, Reith displayed the same qualities of judgment, fortitude and coolness under fire which he had through his political career, said Stone.

Reith and Corrigan had forced the Maritime Union of Australia to sue for peace in the teeth of opposition from a bitterly hostile media, led as usual by the ABC, the trade union movement, Federal Court judges who persistently took it upon themselves to thwart the national interest; and a Victorian police force which largely failed to maintain law and order.

Accepting the award in his first speech in Australia since leaving federal politics, Reith said he would hang the Copeman medal on his wall with pride.

He gave the media a spray, saying he was surprised that the Murdoch press had not been more on side after going through the Wapping dispute in the UK. (Incidentally, the night coincided with the Melbourne Press Club's Quill Awards

just down the road where dozens of journalist received their own medals, including a couple for exposing discredited political liars such as Peter Reith.)

Although he liked the work of some journalists - Andrew Bolt was a later speaker at the conference - he accused many of them of making up "facts" or putting a slant on a story.

"The press expects politicians to apologise or own up to mistakes, but securing an apology from an editor is harder than winning Tatts," he said.

"There is nothing anybody can or should do about it, but it is the reason that many people hold journalists in lower esteem than politicians."

Reith claimed that the central objective behind the government's policy - higher productivity - had been achieved. Based on Patrick figures released in September 1998, the moves per man per shift in Melbourne had increased from 9.3 to 20.5.

He was now playing a bit of golf and the waterfront dispute was a closed chapter.

"It is all history and life has moved on for all the participants," he said.

However, Patrick's current employees and the ex-members of Reith's army don't appear to share that view.

The reforms introduced to achieve the performance figures quoted by Reith are now the subject of criminal proceedings against Patrick's by the MUA.

The company is accused of five counts of criminal disregard of workers' safety because it knowingly made workers drive towering mobile cranes for dangerous lengths of time.

Confidential documents show that Patrick expects workers to drive the cranes for their entire 7½-hour shift, save for one 45-minute break, against expert health and safety advice.

In January 1998, three months before the waterfront dispute, health and safety consultants ReStart Consulting told Patrick that the maximum period employees should be required to drive without a break was 2½ hours. Driving for longer periods could pose serious health risks due to the design of the cranes and the positioning of equipment in their cabins.

In July 1999, ten months after the new work practices were introduced, Patrick received another risk assessment from consultants Noel Arnold and Associates that confirmed ReStart's findings.

Altogether, ten different reports were available to Patrick's warning about the dangers of driving the cranes for extended periods. During the waterfront dispute the MUA had claimed that comparisons of lifting rates with overseas terminals were invalid because of the inefficient design of the equipment on Australian wharfs.

That case is now adjourned until at least September. The ex-members of Reith's army who took Patrick's to court recently told The Sunday Age that they had been betrayed and abandoned when the union-busting exercise went wrong.

Many had given up careers in the armed forces to be trained to operate giant waterfront cranes in Dubai. After international unions forced the Dubai operation's closure, they received further training in Australia.

When Corrigan sacked the Patrick workforce en-masse, their replacements endured constant verbal and physical abuse as they crossed MUA picket lines and were the subject of death-threats to themselves and their families.

Many lost friends when it became known they worked for Patrick's and have been unable to find other employment.

"I'd like to have a few minutes alone with Corrigan," former soldier Ken Caldow told The Sunday Age. "I knew the government had something to do with it because when we first came on board they said it was Peter Reith's baby.

"The government has used us as much as Corrigan. They've got no morals as far as I'm concerned."

In his closing speech to the HR Nicholls Society conference, Stuart Wood invited the faithful to imagine what Reith could have done had the Coalition had control of the Senate.

Some might consider that he's done quite enough, despite the Senate.

This piece was first published in Crikey!


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