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How the waterfront dispute changed industrial relations in Australia

Power, politics, the press and how they have affected today's labour market

Labour expert Professor Shae McCrystal, and Walkley Award-winning journalists Pamela Williams and Quentin Dempster, reflect on the shifting and precarious nature of work in Australia since the watershed waterfront dispute in 1998.

John Howard, described the 1998 waterfront dispute as 'the most bitterly fought domestic issue of my whole time as prime minister'. The dispute was a major industrial battle that saw logistics company Patrick Corporation restructure its operations to dismiss its heavily unionised workforce.

The immediate impact improved productivity on the wharves; longer term, it was the battle that forged a generation of trade unionists. Today, Australia’s industrial landscape looks more dispersed. The economic outlook is increasingly precarious and gig economy is thriving. What then is place and power for unions today?

Pamela Williams won the 1998 Gold Walkley for her investigation into the federal government’s strategy to break the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) amid the waterfront dispute. She highlighted the financial, industrial and political connections surrounding the battle and revealed documents showing the government’s key role in attempts to reform the waterfront by tackling union power.

In this conversation, Pamela unpacks the nexus between unions and politics with Professor Shae McCrystal, Deputy Head of School and Deputy Dean of University of Sydney Law School and an expert on labour, industrial and workplace laws. Walkley Award-winning journalist and author Quentin Dempster will moderate the conversation.

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This event was held on Monday 28 October, 2019 at the University of Sydney. It was co-presented with the Walkley Foundation

You may also be interested in our other collaboration, Public interest and toxic chemicals.

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