Kennett 'Soft' On Wharfies - Howard Claims

Howard memoirs raise ghost of '98 - ex PM admits to being conspiring with Reith and Corrigan to break union.

Jeff Kennett was soft on the Maritime Union during the 1998 lock out, ex-PM John Howard, the man who backed the nationwide sackings, claims. Apparently Howard wanted all Victorian police to join the dogs on the docks and wharfie bash - and be damned with catching killers, rapists and burglars, not to mention white collar corporate criminals.

Jeff Kennett, former Victoria state premier, hit back on ABC Radio yesterday.

He says Howard's criticisms about the wharf dispute are baseless. "I certainly wasn't going to provide all of our police force to the detriment of the community around Victoria," he said. "I don't think that is going soft at all. I think it is meeting our responsibilities to the reform agenda and also to our local community."

Ian Higgins writing for The Australian reports "Mr Howard writes how he, Mr Reith and Patrick boss Chris Corrigan early on plotted an elaborate strategy to break the power of the MUA.

"It was clear reform could not be achieved without 'a potentially explosive face-off with the MUA', and "an alternative workforce should be trained'.

"'Peter Reith and I met Chris Corrigan in my office in Canberra during the latter half of 1997,'" Mr Howard writes.

"'Corrigan outlined the action which he believed would be necessary . . . I told him that the government would support what he had in mind, provided that at all times it was within the law.'"

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Kennett rejects Howard's charge that he was soft