By Dick Nichols
Incomplete counting in the Maritime Union of Australia elections indicates incumbent officials will be returned in a majority of contested positions, both at the national and branch level. However, opposition forces tickets have picked up at least three, and maybe four, positions in the branches where counting has been completed — South Queensland, Central New South Wales (Sydney and Port Botany) and Victoria.
Counting for the West Australian branch, where the fight between the incumbent officials and the WA MUA Rank-and-File has been most intense, will take place on Monday, June 21. The final result for the three assistant national secretaries positions should be known by Tuesday, June 22.
The successful opposition candidates to date are Trevor Munday (South Queensland deputy secretary), Barry Robson (Central NSW assistant secretary) and Keiran Coyle (Victorian assistant secretary).
At the branch level incumbent officials have been returned with a greatly reduced vote, in some cases less than 50%. They have survived because there were two or more opposition candidates (MUA elections are first-past-the-post).
For example, in Victoria Mick Cotrell of the incumbent "Unity Ticket" has been returned with around 43% of the vote, closely pressed by Dave Cushion of the Rank-and-File on 38% and independent Bobby Patchett on 19%.
In South Queensland branch, Dave Perry, the incumbent candidate for assistant secretary, scrambled home by 16 votes over wharfie Les Rayward.
In Central NSW the four branch full-time positions have been divided among the previous full-time officials. These stood on opposing tickets when the number of full-time positions in the branch was reduced from six as part of the rationalisation implemented in late 1998. One ticket, based on an alliance between the Maritime Unionists Socialist Activities Association and the Communist Party of Australia, has won two positions, Robert Coombs (MUSAA) comfortably holding on to the secretary's position over John Bolton and Sean Chaffer (MUSAA) defeating Mick Barber for assistant secretary.
However, wharfie Warren Smith (CPA) has lost out in the fight for the second assistant secretary's position to former assistant secretary Barry Robson. The vote for the position of deputy secretary, which is being contested between former organiser Glen Woods and former assistant secretary John Garret, was locked at 690 votes each, with another 90-odd votes being contested by scrutineers.
At the national level, incumbent assistant secretaries Mick Doleman, Mick O'Leary and Jim Tannock were enjoying a more comfortable majority. They had the benefit of facing a divided opposition, made up of the National MUA Rank-and-File ticket of Grant Holden (P&O Melbourne) and Ian Bray (Kwinana tugs), and a CPA-MUSAA-aligned ticket of Jake Haub (Patrick, Darling Harbour) and Dave Hauser (CTAL, Port Botany).
It is not certain, however, that the incumbents' lowest scoring candidate, Jim Tannock, will survive a last-minute swing against him once the West Australian vote is counted. In such a case, former national assistant secretary Ken McLeod will be the beneficiary. The highest scoring of the existing officials is Doleman (MUSAA), who has been helped considerably by being placed first on the Haub-Hauser ticket as well the official one.
The incumbents were winning about 56% of the vote, with Bray, Holden and McLeod at 29% and Haub and Hauser at 15%.
On the vote to date, there is strong evidence of tactical voting by MUA members, with higher votes for rank-and-file candidates at branch level, as well as variations in the vote for individual candidates running on the same ticket.
The ballot is taking place amidst accusations on the part of the WA MUA Rank-and-File of serious irregularities in the running of the ballot. The truth of a number of these concerns has already been confirmed by the union's national returning officer, John King, in comments in the June 5 Australian.
A special National MUA Rank-and-File Bulletin on the issue listed the concerns:
"On the roll which candidates received were a number of great errors:
"1. Members who were dead were sent ballot papers!
"2. Members who were retired and out of the industry were sent ballot papers!
"3. There were 432 members who were financial but somehow were never put on the original roll sent to candidates!
"4. Some 200 members who were unfinancial as of the opening of the ballot received a ballot paper, making themselves financial and up to three-quarters of the way through the ballot. An absolute rort, with some members receiving two ballot papers.
"5. 120 so far (May 27) joining the union. Totally amazing when you consider:
"1. major redundancies at Patricks;
"2. major redundancies at P&O; and
"3. major redundancies in the shipping industry."
The Bulletin is particularly critical of the union's Rule 45, which allows members who have become financial after ballot papers have been sent out to vote up to two weeks before the close of the poll.
The MUA is one of the few unions that conducts its own elections, and election procedures have themselves become an issue in the vote, with the WA MUA Rank-and-File proposing procedures that would have guaranteed a free and fair ballot in their eyes.
These proposals were rejected by the MUA leadership in the name of national secretary John Coombs.
[Dick Nichols is the national industrial convener of the Democratic Socialist Party.]