By Frank Enright
and Max Watts
The Gibraltar-registered grain carrier Gopali, bound for Papua New Guinea with a load of Australian grain, was delayed from sailing from the Grain Handling Terminal in Wollongong on February 1 by trade unionists.
In solidarity with Bougainville, the dockside workers refused to work overtime on repairing part of the ship's broken loading equipment, thereby slowing the loading of the 30,000 tonne ship.
"The Bougainville Interim Government and the Bougainville Freedom Movement support the ban on wheat shipment to Papua New Guinea and share the same concern as the Port Kembla workers, as a protest against the continuing atrocities being committed by the Papua New Guinea government and its military against the people of Bougainville", commented Moses Havini, the Bougainville Interim Government representative in Australia.
Havini rejected claims by John Paska from the PNG Trade Union Congress that ordinary people would suffer because of the bans, saying that wheat is not a part of the staple diet of Papua New Guineans.
The ACTU is opposed to the South Coast Labour Council's action in banning shipments of wheat to PNG and has been lobbying unions in Port Kembla not to support it. Martin Ferguson, the ACTU president, wanted bans lifted because they involved foodstuffs.
In 1938, Havini reminds the ACTU, Port Kembla workers banned the shipment of pig iron to Japan, "to stop Australia's own resources being used against them in the form of bombs". Similar bans on foodstuffs have been imposed by the government in the past without any opposition from the ACTU, Havini noted.
The Port Kembla workers, it is alleged, also came under intense pressure from the Grain Corporation operations manager, Joe Dileo. Nevertheless, they voted by a majority of five to one to maintain overtime bans on the ship, an action that cost each worker hundreds of dollars in lost wages.
Some waterfront unions have not supported the bans, fearing action might be taken against them through the courts and not wanting to be involved in an ongoing dispute.
Ferguson suggested that if the bans on wheat shipment were lifted, a delegation, including one person from the South Coast Labour Council, would meet on February 10 with Gordon Bilney (minister responsible for Asia-Pacific affairs) and Gareth Evans (foreign minister) in Canberra. This meeting would be reported, on March 7, to the ACTU international committee, which would determine policy towards the PNG bans.