Deputy National Secretary Mick Doleman to Ship Out Next Year

MUA Deputy National Secretary, White Ribbon Ambassador of the year, longest serving Victorian Trades Hall Council President, shipwreck survivor, stalwart and mentor to many, Mick Doleman announced at the recent National Council that he will not contest the MUA elections next year.

Mick, 59, has been a member of the Maritime Union of Australia for 43 years after he went to work at sea at the tender age of 16, although his first time aboard a ship was years earlier when he joined his seafaring father as a stowaway, or ringbolt as it’s known in the industry.

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Mick at the recent National Council where he announced his retirement

He started his career aboard a Shell Tanker called the Solen as a relieving deckboy.

“It was the first time I had a single cabin on my own, with my own shower and not have to share everything with my three brothers,” Mick recalled.

“It was industry employment in those days and you applied at a Shipping Master’s office and put a form in. And then you have an interview at some stage down the track. I had an interview with the ship owner’s [representative], the Shipping Master [a government body] and the union.

"Roger Wilson was the Assistant Branch Secretary of the Seamen’s Union and I got selected.

“It’s the only interview I have ever done in my life for a job.”

Early on in his seafaring career Mick became an Australian celebrity having survived the Blythe Star disaster after the ship sank off the coast of Tasmania when he was only 18. Mick rarely speaks about this moment in his history and requested the details of the time were left omitted.

Following this he spent years on dozens of ships that traded along Australia’s coast and internationally, making his way up from deckboy to bucko (ordinary seaman), to able seaman. Eventually he became bosun on the Seaway Melbourne before leaving the seafaring lifestyle to take up office at the Seamen’s Union of Australia Victorian Branch.

Mick paid his respects to some of the staunch comrades that had taken him under their wing, helping shape the leader he is now.

“When I went to sea there was a very, very strong delegate structure. Very disciplined crews, delegates and bosuns,” he said.

“I followed the delegates around and I’ve always had an interest in politics, unionism and solidarity.

He used to watch some of the union’s greatest men aboard the ships with awe.

“Great men, who were just seafarers but worldly in their approach to life,” Mick said.

“They were well educated by any standard and I thought to myself if there is anyone I want to be like when I grow up, I want to be like these people. People who were tough, knowledgeable and respected.”

In 1984 Mick was elected as Assistant Victorian Branch Secretary of the Seamen’s Union of Australia.

“There was a vacant position and I had done a hell of a lot of voluntary work for the union, when Bert Nolan, a man who I held in the highest regard, was the Secretary,” Mick said.

“I was encouraged by Pat Geraghty, who was the then General Secretary of the Seamen’s Union, on the basis he believed I had a contribution to make.

“I was never really interested in becoming a union official, I loved going to sea too much, but Pat and Bert’s encouragement made the difference.”

Three years later he headed up the branch and became the longest serving Victorian Trades Hall President. In 1993 Mick became an integral part of the amalgamation, sitting down to nut out the new union rules with current National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, and other former National Officials John Coombs and Jimmy Tannock, Pat Geraghty and John Ryan from Ryan Carlisle Thomas Lawyers.

“The amalgamation was a big thing, there’s no doubt about that. It was important we got the rules right and it wasn’t easy to do for either of the parties,” Mick said. 

“We were both moving away from strong traditional practices and rules, that needed to change and I take my hat off to all of those, including myself, who had to be open minded about what the new union would look like.”

“The amalgamation was a big thing, there’s no doubt about that. It was important we got the rules right and it wasn’t easy to do for either of the parties,” Mick said.

Other achievements Mick notched up in his time in Melbourne included uniting the splits that were taking place in the Victorian Branch. He also paved the way for the current Tasmanian branch, which had not existed previously.

The 1997 National Council agreed to have Mick move into National Office, first as National Organiser. The following year he was elected as Assistant National Secretary alongside John Coombs as National Secretary, Paddy Crumlin as Deputy National Secretary, Jimmy Tannock as Assistant.

“I was reluctant to come to Sydney because my wife wanted to buy a new house,” Mick said.

“But I was spoken to by John Coombs who convinced me I was needed and that I could be of some use to the National Office.”

He said it was a difficult decision to make with his daughter in the middle of finishing high school studies and his son wishing to remain in Victoria.

“We sort of paid a bit of a price for that because a lot of our friends and close family are still in Melbourne,” he said. “And what we miss the most is not being able to just pick up the phone and say come over for tea.

“That’s one of the real downsides. The other big downside is that I don’t get to see Collingwood play all that often.”

Not long into his National Office tenure, he was faced with the infamous 1998 Patrick’s waterfront dispute. He still maintains a leadership position in negotiating the Patrick’s terminal EBA for the union.

Another campaign Mick will be long remembered for, inside and outside the union movement, was his dedication to eradicating violence against women.

In the 1990s, Mick, spurred on by the HMAS Swan scandal - whereby widespread harassment was uncovered on a Royal Navy ship – decided to investigate whether similar incidents were occurring in the Merchant Navy.

He enlisted the help of Victorian Trades Hall Council’s then women’s officer, Martina Nightingale, to secure some funding to get a study undertaken to investigate whether women were being harassed at work. The findings of the study were used to develop the first industry policy.

“When we went in and started to look at some of the problems that were there we realised it wasn’t on the surface. Women suffered in silence and the men behaved badly with no accountability for their actions,” Mick said.

“We had a number of seminars, we had training for contact officers, we drew up procedure manuals and companies rallied around it.

“It was a big shift in position for us. I almost reconcile it now with our approach to harassment and bullying.”

Later on Mick became engaged with White Ribbon through former Women’s Liaison Officer, Sue Virago and current Women’s Liaison Officer Mich-Elle Myers.

“I really liked their message, I liked that it was a men-led campaign. It recognised that men were the problem, not women and there were some interesting people who were prepared to articulate that argument.”

To date, Mick has spread the word of White Ribbon throughout the MUA and beyond, to other unions, domestically and internationally. Now every male employee and every male official is a White Ribbon Ambassador.

Below is a video of all male ITF Congress delegates taking the White Ribbon Pledge in Sofia this year:

In 2012 Mick was recognised for his stellar effort and was crowned White Ribbon Ambassador of the Year. He joked that he must’ve been unbeatable as the organisation has not handed that accolade to anyone else subsequently.

In reality the organisation has changed format but the fact remains Mick Doleman has officially been White Ribbon Ambassador of the year for at least two years running. Upon winning the award, he said, it was a bit like Miss America.

When asked what his answer to a pageant-type question about what thing he desired most in the world would be, he responded saying: “What I want in the world, is socialism.”

“I want the wealth of the world redistributed.”

“I can’t believe the wealth that exists in such few hands, while people starve, while the environment is being destroyed, while kids are uneducated, while there are illnesses and diseases that could be cured.

“The world is becoming less tolerant, less prepared to share, less prepared to help.”

One way Mick believes the MUA can help stem the tide of shifting to the right is through internationalism.

“We’re one of the wealthiest countries in our region, putting aside China, and we can play a significant role, particularly in the Pacific, where they’ve got massive unemployment,” he said.

“They’ve cut down all the trees they can cut down, they’ve sold off their fishing rights to China and Taiwan.

"Tourism is on the wane because they don’t have the capital to refurbish a tiring and ageing tourist industry.”

Australia could use its position to become more open with its neighbours, he said, which would be mutually beneficial. From here Mick started to talk about the Maritime International Federation (formerly known as the Regional Maritime Federation).

“Our union and MUNZ (Maritime Union of New Zealand), in comparison to our brother and sister unions in the region, are very well heeled,” he said.

“But when you go to Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and to a lesser degree Indonesia, they aren’t.

“They’re a different society and have different practices on how things work and we think we can bring a whole raft of resources, not just financial resources, but ideas, knowledge and camaraderie and to stand together.”

Mick intends to become the co-ordinator of the new Maritime International Federation, which will begin July next year and he will remain on the board as chair of the Maritime Mining & Power Credit Union.

At National Council MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin paid tribute to Mick’s tenure, describing him as a giant of the trade union movement.

Members of National Council all described Mick as a great friend, comrade and mentor. Accordingly, he was given a standing ovation.

“I’m very humbled and do appreciate the comments and accolades - they mean a lot to me,” Mick said.

“I’m leaving but the Union will go on – it’s up to you that it does. "But I’m not going until July and I’ll always be around."

“The veterans’ motto is: Retired from the job but not the struggle – and that seems appropriate. "It’s not over yet but I do appreciate those very, very kind words."

ACTU President Ged Kearney described Mick as always helpful and kind. "There’s no-one I’ve ever heard say a bad thing about you,” she said.

“The entire trade union movement thanks you."

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Mick with Ged Kearney in Canberra delivering a petition to the Mexican Embassy