Waterfront dispute

3 August 1998

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is not responsible for any delay there may have been so far in resolving the waterfront dispute, ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said today.

'The parties approached the ACCC around June 19, about six weeks ago, to ask about a settlement. The ACCC indicated its interest in a settlement and following discussions with the Maritime Union of Australia and its lawyers outlined the relevant parameters and set these out confidentially in a letter to the MUA, copied to Patricks. The proposals included some modifications in light of the discussions. Subsequently, some selective details of this letter appeared in the Press. Essentially we've not heard from the parties since then.

There have been a few inconclusive discussions at lawyer level. There have been around 30 public statements to the media by the MUA about the matter. The parties have repeatedly told us that they will come back to us with a proposal and that there has been no need to settle the matter with them up till now. 'The ACCC has been available at all times, and remains so, to discuss the issues.

The parties have effectively not been in touch with us and so it has not been possible to advance discussions. 'Suggestions last week that the ACCC was causing a delay on the settlement are wrong. 'The ACCC has advice from the parties that there has been no need for the ACCC matter to be resolved until after the creditors' meeting and that there has been no urgency to this stage.

'Maritime Union of Australia lawyers have also advised that they will come back to the ACCC with something. 'The parties to the waterfront dispute, which is essentially a private dispute, have reached or nearly reached a private settlement of their dispute. 'They have apparently made it a condition of the settlement that the ACCC withdraws its case. 'The ACCC has never taken sides on the rights and wrongs of the dispute. 'Its role has been to try to see that there is compliance with the Trade Practice Act 1974, including recent laws passed by Parliament relating to boycotts affecting 'the movement of goods into or out of Australia'.

'In the course of the private dispute, some actions were taken which the ACCC believes breached the laws and which caused some damage to some small businesses and exporters. It is up to the parties to come forward and address those issues if they want the case to be dropped. 'One matter of concern to the ACCC is that: in the course of a private dispute economic damage has been done to small business and exporters. We have details. The damage in our view was done by unlawful boycotts, in breach of the Trade Practices Act. Something needs to be done about this.

'The ACCC has not sought a penalty in regard to the boycotts but everyone else in Australia who breaks the Trade Practices Act in any substantial way has to give some kind of commitments undertakings about not repeating unlawful behaviour in future. 'Some people are suggesting that there are only two alternatives: That the ACCC backs off totally or that the settlement collapses as a result of the self-imposed condition of the parties to that settlement. These are false alternatives.

What is required is that some steps be taken by the parties to meet the ACCC concerns. Once this is done it will be possible to move forward. 'Let me emphasise, the ACCC has not taken sides in the dispute. It has been investigating behaviour on both sides of the waterfront.

Its duty is to seek compliance with the law. Following private and then public warnings, boycott action affecting Australian exports and small business that we considered unlawful continued. We had no choice but to go to Court. To turn a blind eye to substantial, very public breaches of the law would have been to override the clear intent of Parliament and would damage the credibility of the Trade Practices Act.'

Release number: 
MR 146/98
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