Strength in Diversity, Strong in Unity: 2015 NT Branch Conference

It was a full house with more than 110 officials, delegates, traditional owners and international guests from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and New Zealand, in attendance at the MUA NT 2015 conference last week.

Other guests included Aboriginal community members from the Tiwi Islands, Borroloola and Groote Eylandt in addition to the Traditional Owners, the Larrakia, who, lead by MUA elder Eric Fejo, offered a moving Welcome to Country.

Fejo highlighted the long-standing relationship between the MUA and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and warmly invited all of the guests to his country as MUA family.

Chair and Honorary Deputy Branch Secretary Andy Burford introduced NT Branch Secretary Thomas Mayor who after formally recognising all of the special guests and sponsors in the room spoke about the significance of the conference.

Mayor set the scene of the conference talking about the theme “Strength in Diversity, Strong in Unity”, the importance of recognising the union’s role in the struggle for social justice, understanding the common foe in capitalist elites, and the strategic value in embracing the diversity in our society and in our union, especially in a place like the Northern Territory.

Following Mayor was Will Tracey, MUA National Deputy Secretary. Tracey outlined the national position of the MUA and the challenges we face across all industries.

Throughout the rest of the day a number of delegates from different parts of the union movement and the industry took their time to speak. NT delegate of the year Jason Murphy delivered the stevedoring report and introduced a special guest speaker, Robert O’Rourke who had made the trek up from the community assembly at Port Botany to tell his story. He was a gifted some traditional artwork from Fejo.

O’Rourke gave an impassioned report back from the dispute, which at the time was on day 43.

He told his own story about the human impact of being sacked by text message at midnight and the absolutely disgraceful behaviour by Hutchison management which is yet to be resolved.

The final panel of the day was the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander panel, chaired by Nathan (Shrek) Barnett and comprising Kara Keys, ACTU Indigenous Officer and MUA NT Youth members Myra Leong and Andrew Sutton. Thomas Mayor introduced the panel and highlighted the significance of the relationship between Indigenous Communities and the MUA and our shared struggle and solidarity.

Kara Keys gave an excellent presentation on the history of exploitation and abuse of Aboriginal people from first white settlement and in particular the exploitation of Indigenous labour.

Myra Leong and Andrew Sutton both told their own stories of becoming an MUA member and the opportunities and support provided by the union transforming both their ideas of what it was to be union and a qualified seafarer. Both proud, young, Indigenous union activists, their stories brought clarity to the importance of aligning our work and our struggle with all indigenous people including providing dedicated opportunities for young people to get an industry start.

The panel concluded with Thomas Mayor delivering a moving presentation about the work of the MUA NT branch and the ongoing dedication to supporting and actively participating in Indigenous rights’ campaigns.

 It’s what we have always done” he said.

“It is the right thing to do. And by advancing and uniting with traditional owners and disadvantaged people we advance ourselves”.

This session concluded with a presentation about Social Compacts with Traditional Owners in various parts of the country, and how they can work in practice. Young Larrakia leader and MUA member Wayne Kurnorth announced that the Larrakia Nation Board representing the Traditional Owners of the Darwin region had endorsed a social compact with the union that would go to their Annual General Meeting in November for final approval.

At the end of the day’s events, the conference moved down to Parliament house and rallied against the privatisation of the Darwin Port. This was followed by a march down to the Mitchell Centre outside the INPEX Head Office.

Mayor said he was concerned that INPEX would not deliver on its promises and was demanding solid commitments in terms of training and jobs for Larrakia and local people.

“The Larrakia are rightfully suspicious after ConocoPhillips had promised the world in terms of training and jobs for local Aboriginal people and they don’t want to see INPEX do the same,” Mr Mayor said.

Mr Mayor said he hoped that community action would make INPEX pay attention but said it was also up to both the Territory and Federal Governments to make sure INPEX adhered to its commitments.

One of those commitments, he said, was INPEX should be held responsible for the contractors it engages too.

“Let me be clear on this, it is not just the people INPEX is directly employing, it’s every job from offshore supply vessels, to construction contractors, to the gas ships that carry the gas to Japan” Mr Mayor said.

 “Larrakia people and Darwin locals are capable of training in to jobs in operations on the gas plant and on the ships servicing the plant in 2017. That training should be carefully planned and started now.

“The people of Darwin cannot rely on non-binding fluffy promises, we need an unambiguous legally binding Agreement, and we need action.”

Day two began with Sue Gibbs, newly elected NT Representative on the National MUA Women’s Committee providing the NT Women’s report followed up by a brief overview by National Women’s Liaison Officer Mich-Elle Myers.

Will Tracey then gave the Federal Offshore Report and detailed all of the shocking behaviour by the Federal LNP Government to try to remove Australian Workers entirely from the offshore industry and the valiant campaign comprising Political, Industrial, Legal and International strategies to fight protect the right for Australian workers to not be replaced by cheaper foreign labour.

WA Organiser and former NT Branch Delegate Kyle McGinn spoke on workplace safety and two tragic member fatalities that he has experienced first-hand during his time with the MUA. His impassioned call for workers to take control of safety was echoed by Queensland's Steve Cumberlidge who spoke briefly of another tragedy in the port of Brisbane where his own brother was killed through poor health and safety practices and the shocking attitude of management to workers who had been affected.

Special thanks were offered to all of the international guests and comrades and the rest of the conference continued in house with NT Branch members and rank-and-file members undertaking strategic planning. This was followed in the evening by a ‘Darwin Formal’ Conference Dinner which will also now be a quadrennial event. 

All photos and a handful of videos available to view here.