|Issue No 8||09 April 1999|
John Coombs - The Mouse Who Roared
Speaks to Peter Lewis
We talk to the man who stood firm in the face of the federal government's all out assault on the waterfront 12 months ago.
A lot has a lot has been written this week about who were the winners and the losers of the waterfront dispute. What have you thought when you have been reading those reports that Patrick won because their share prices have gone up?
Well if you only took into account the share price and the attempts by Corrigin and Reith to reinvent themselves and justify their involvement, then I suppose people may think they somehow came out of this without any damage to their reputation. But if you go back to the actual dispute and have a look at what occurred no amount of reinventing themselves, no amount of share prices will justify what they did. They misled their workers, they misled the Australian people, Reith misled the Parliament and they actually encouraged and approved serving defence force personal to go overseas to be trained to take Australian jobs. Corrigan committed perjury; his manager and his director committed perjury in the federal court , as did Corrigan in the industrial relations commission. And people still taking about whether there are winners or losers!
I mean, I'm not interested in the winners and losers. I know that from any objective analysis: we're still there; we've still got all the coverage; we've still got everyone who wants to work on the waterfront and we've been able to negotiate to the extent of concluding in Melbourne today an agreement with P&O which will ultimately flow onto the Patrick's workers. All and all, looking at it from today's date and back, I think that there can only be one winner and that was the union movement.
Tell me about where the conspiracy proceedings are up to?
What I understand is that Lindsay Tanner filed an application before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal way back in April of last year for all the documentation to be released for the benefit of the people of Australia. My further understanding is that they have actually legislated to ensure that the documentation not be released and the head of Reith's department has put a whole range of reasons why it shouldn't be released because it will upset the reform process. That is now a matter that's going to the Federal Court and it will be fought out there and in my opinion it will see that information released. That will become a matter of incredible concern for Howard and, in particular, Peter Reith because if the information that I have seen is proven to be a correct record of the events, there can be absolutely no doubt that Peter Reith either had a memory lapse or deliberately mislead the Parliament in December of 1997 when he said he had not knowledge of the affair.
Did you ever meet your Deep Throat who was sending you all the material in the lead-up to the dispute?
Not in terms of the first person who actually alerted me to the whole scam and talk to me every night for around seven days. I have still never met him.
What is your most enduring memory of the events of 12 months ago?
I suppose you mean the one that pleased me the most because I have lots of memories and most of them are pretty unpleasant. It would have to be the day we walked back through that gate. You can get some personal satisfaction, I suppose, about being able to get decisions in various courts -- although they were all followed by another poison pill. Even the High Court decision took us several days to actually get back through the gate. But in terms of what it was all about and the fact, that Reith and company were prepared to treat the workers, the best night of all was the night we walk back through the gate. Absolutely not doubt
Lets talk about future challenges for the MUA, what are you expecting from the Government next?
I think they're in a bit of trouble with the majority of their amendments to the Navigation Act, particularly the issue of access of foreign crews to domestic routes. People are clearly aware that it has nothing to do with having a more efficient ship in the sea or about modernisation, because we've agreed with the modernisation aspects of the Act. It is just another attempt to put the union out of business by destroying the protection the Navigation Act provides for Australian seafarers and destroying the protection the Navigation Act presents for our coast line, our environment and for the safety of ships operating in Australian territorial water.
This is not just an important thing for the dock workers. In removing the protection that act provides for Australian dock workers to discharging cargoes in Australian ports, they are taking a dangerous step for all workers. If you take that a step further and allow foreign seafarers to move cargo in Australian ports, we will have problems with aviation workers discharging cargo at our airports and have foreign truck drivers driving Lindsay Fox trucks up and down the highway. Where does it end? The railways, the airports, or could any Australian job be doled out to the lowest bidder. This will be a battle every bit as important as the waterfront dispute.
Interview: John Coombs - The Mouse Who Roared
We talk to the man who stood firm in the face of the federal government’s all out assault on the waterfront 12 months ago.
Unions: The Waterfront One Year On
One year after what was arguably the biggest Australian industrial dispute in living memory and the Maritime Union of Australia is STILL Here to Stay.
History: Walsh Bay Wharves : Space and Place
For historians looking at a historic structure or site like the Walsh Bay wharves, there is a big difference between 'space' and 'place'.
International: Compo Search for UK Coal Miners
An international search is on for former coal miners who worked mines in England and Wales from 1954 and have since suffered from chest disease.
Review: War on the Wharves
Some of the most honest reporting of the waterfront dispute came from the pens of the nation's cartoonists.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005