The mainstream media has not exactly been covering itself in glory over its reporting of the wharf dispute between the Maritime Union of Australia and shipping line Patrick.
And, sadly, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is in the thick of it, giving all the signs that like the rest of the media, big industrial disputes have become so rare in Australia of recent decades that Aunty has forgotten that it takes two to tango and feet do get trodden on by both partners in executing some old-fashioned industrial dance moves.
Or to put it more plainly, if you take Prime Minister Morrison’s view, the boss is always right and the worker is always wrong. You save a lot of time that way and Aunty appears sympathetic to that approach.
Let’s start with the ABC’s 7pm Sydney report on Monday night on the dispute at Port Botany. Here’s Juanita Phillips’ intro: “Waterfront workers in Sydney have been accused of holding the country to ransom over a long-running pay dispute with shipping giant Patrick. The federal government says the union action is threatening crucial supplies being imported as well as international exports.”
The Glass House won’t be as churlish to point out to Juanita that most exports from Australia are international. Oops, sorry.
So, let’s move on to Lydia Feng’s report. “One of the nation’s biggest ports is now a national flashpoint. The Maritime Union and shipping giant Patrick are in a bitter dispute over pay and conditions, a wage dispute that the company says is putting millions of dollars of Australian goods at risk.”
Michael Jovicic, Patrick CEO, then talks to camera of delays of up to three weeks for goods to be processed at its terminal in Botany.
Feng: “But the union says working conditions are under threat and the company has rejected a six per cent pay increase over four years. Today. Patrick took its fight to the Fair Work Commission seeking to cease industrial action across its terminals in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle.”
Back to the Patrick CEO: “I’ve had importers and exporters screaming at me in the past week to take some action and that’s what we’ve done today.”
The report then cuts to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack who attacks “this unnecessary hold-up on our farmers who have worked bloody hard, I have to say, to finally get some money in their pockets and, you know, they have been thwarted by a dispute on the wharf.”
Feng over a shot of a container ship at sea: “Patrick says 40 container ships are stranded off the coast, a claim rejected by the union.”
There are then two short to-camera grabs from an unnamed MUA official – maybe his surname was too tricky for Ms Feng to get right – basically saying the same thing each time : “We’ve identified with Patrick over a month ago that all medical supplies, equipment, medication, are exempt from this industrial action.”
Between those two grabs, Feng once more: “There are concerns this ongoing dispute could impact the supply of medicines. The Therapeutic Goods Administration says pharmaceutical companies might rely more on air freight.”
Cue George Tambassis, national president of the Pharmacy Guild: “Right now, we are not aware of any medical shortages that this dispute has caused but it won’t take long before there are issues and flow-on effects.”
Viewers at this stage could be forgiven for suspecting the reason there have been no medical shortages to date was the agreement between Patrick and the union to let them through.
Feng finishes with a flourish: “The union had planned to hold a 24-hour strike here at Port Botany on Friday but due to mounting pressure from Patrick they’ve now decided to call it off.”
Actually, Ms Feng, calling off action once a tribunal gets involved is pretty common practice but heck, the idea of a boss with the country’s best interests at heart using pressure to force the union thugs – sorry, members- to call off their strike would surely have many Australians nodding in agreement in front of their TV sets as they patted their rottweilers.
So there we have it.
In a report from Feng lasting seven seconds short of two minutes, 15 seconds from an unnamed MUA union chap and not a single quote from anybody about “the union holding the country to ransom” or any federal government source saying the dispute threatened crucial (read medical) supplies, as stated clearly in the introduction by Phillips.
The Glass House therefore calls out poor, unprofessional, unbalanced reporting of a dispute in which a union is taking legal, protected action with demands that do not in any way, shape or form looks like the old kitchen-sink log of claims of the bitter past.
And as for the original six per cent claim over four years that the union has since modified under Patrick rejection? You greedy, selfish, unpatriotic bastards! How dare you try to keep pace with inflation seeing you’re not puffed-up pollies getting regular hefty pay rises!
In our second installment of this issue tomorrow, Glass House will look at how the story went to hell in a handbasket after the PM called the MUA action “extortion” and our national leader personally spotted all 40 of those container ships languishing offshore as he took an early-morning run along Wanda Beach.
But to finish off. A big cheerio to Channel 9’s Chris O’Keefe who told us on Wednesday night’s 6pm bulletin out of Sydney that “the Maritime Union has offered to take a two-an-a-half per cent pay increase instead of the six per cent they wanted every year…”
Six per cent every year, Chris? 24 percent over four years! Those greedy, selfish, unpatriotic bastards!
And back to journalism school for you, Chris. Some refresher lessons in basic fact-gathering skills wouldn’t go astray.