Canberra: Australia's High Court in Canberra has been told it has the power to stop a conspiracy which is in the last stages of execution instead of watching as Patrick Stevedores "counts the dead and bayonets the wounded".
The Maritime Union of Australia's (MUA's) counsel, Julian Burnside QC, has told the full bench of the High Court it has the power to intervene and should do so to stop the damage.
An appeal hearing, brought on by Patrick, is in its final stages this afternoon after submissions were heard against the reinstatement of 1,400 union members sacked three weeks ago.Today's legal argument against their reinstatement centred on the perceived conflict between industrial and corporations law, and details about Patrick's financial status.
Mr Julian Burnside, QC, for the MUA, said the administrator was an innocent party brought in by Patrick to fulfil the last stage of its conspiracy to sack its unionised workforce.
He said, in the circumstances, the administrator would have no choice but to sack the 1400 wharfies and wind up the companies and the courts should intervene to stop this being carried out. Answering questions on why the MUA believed the labour-hire companies were not insolvent, Mr Burnside said at least $16 million was owed to them by Patrick parent companies.
He said there was evidence a fax sent by CitiSecurities confirming a claim by the bank on that $16 million was sent to the Patrick parent companies 15 minutes before the company went into administration. Justice Mary Gaudron asked why the High Court was hearing the matter when the $16 million had not been repaid, and demanded to know what what was stopping repayment.
Lawyers for the Maritime Union of Australia have given their consent to a further hold being placed on last week's Federal Court orders, which were meant to reinstate 1,400 workers at Patrick Stevedores. The High Court has said it will reconvene on Thursday to continue hearing an appeal against the orders.
On Monday Australia's highest court warned the union-busting stevedoring firm that it could face an enormous bill for damages if it failed to win legal backing for its sacking of 1,400 workers.
Chief Justice Gerard Brennan told the court such a ruling could result in the company having to pay damages to the sacked workers until retirement age. ``If the damages consist of the lost earnings of the entire workforce for the rest of their working lives, one must wonder about the sufficiency of the defendants' assets,'' Brennan said.
Justice Michael McHugh said this could include punitive damages. ``Arguably here the damages in this case could be enormous and they could include punitive damages and that is something that's got to be kept in mind,'' McHugh said.
Meanwhile unionists have rallied in Sydney today in support of the MUA.
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Jennie George told
a packed Town Hall the dispute is far from over, and opposition to the
Government and Patrick is growing. She says the dispute is not about productivity,
but about the politics of union bashing.
Injunction cannot cover the world at large
In Melbourne, politicians and civil libertarians have won their appeal against an injunction banning all members of the public from picketing on the waterfront. In the Supreme Court in Melbourne last week, Justice Beach granted an injunction, sought by Patrick Stevedores, banning all members of the public, not just MUA members, from picketing on Melbourne's waterfront.
Today, the Court of Appeal ruled an injunction could not be made to cover the world at large and agreed with the parties appealing against the order that it was unclear, uncertain and ambiguous.
The president of the Court of Appeal, Justice John Winneke, commenting on the Supreme Court order by Justice Barry Beach, said the court could not rule "against the world at large". "Injunctions . . . must be directed at an identified person or class of persons," Justice Winneke said.
Outside the court, former Premier of Victoria, Joan Kirner, said the
decision was an important victory for the public and civil liberties and
enhanced the right to peaceful protest.
Farmers support at Camp Solidarity
In Brisbane farmers have defied their own leaders to bring eggs, bananas and sympathy to Camp Solidarity on the picket line at Brisbane's Fisherman Islands docks.
``I am here because it's about a fair go,'' said the farmer, who did not want to be identified for fear of his neighbours. ``What they (the employers) did is not right.''
The small farmers remember the MUA helping them out when they were struck with drought. The maritime union made a A$64,000 (US$42,000) donation to struggling farmers last year.
Marcia Castillon,a wife of sacked docker agreed. ``There was a petition
with 5,000 farmers signing in support of us and our rights,'' she said.
``The small farmers have always supported us. It's the big farmers who
are against us.
Related: Full transcript of day's proceedings in High Court