Gladstone Ports Worker Finds Out The Hard Way You Don’t Rock The Boat



Yesterday, news broke that a local ports worker who asked Bill Shorten a question about tax relief during a campaign visit was subsequently suspended, then re-instated. John Mikkelsen was a journalist and editor in Gladstone for many years. He’s not all that surprised.

Labor’s election campaign has encountered some stormy waters after media reports that a Gladstone Ports worker had been suspended after asking Bill Shorten an innocent question during his recent campaign visit.

The encounter made headlines when the sub-contractor said some of his ports colleagues were earning $250,000 a year, and asked Shorten what Labor could do about tax relief.

Rather than admitting their tax bill would rise, he replied, “We’re going to look at that…”

According to reports in The Courier Mail, The Australian, and repeated in other media, when the worker arrived at the port the next day, his pass failed to work, his desk was cleared out and its contents returned to him.

The waters have become more murky since then, with the Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC) weighing in.

“The individual, a subcontractor not a Gladstone Ports Corporation employee, was not in a position to speak with any knowledge or authority on behalf of the organisation.”

Well, all he did was ask a reasonable question which should have received an honest answer.

The Ports Corporation issued another statement later on Monday saying it did not suspend the man.

“The port worker, a sub-contractor, is still employed by the contractor and carrying out work for their employer,” it said.

The Gladstone resident told media he was suspended, but he was unwilling to comment over fears about finding full-time work.

The Courier-Mail said it began asking questions about the issue last Friday, and it understood the man was contacted by electrical contracting firm Welcon Technol­ogies informing him his suspension had been lifted.

“However, he had already taken on a short-term job elsewhere. Welcon failed to ­return calls yesterday.”

Mr Shorten told reporters on Monday he was not aware of the issue until the story appeared in the media.

“People are allowed to express their opinions and they should be able to do so without fear or favour, full stop,” he said.

Fair enough, there is no suggestion Shorten, a former union boss, was behind the man’s suspension. But the waters in Gladstone Harbour run deep and the GPC’s links with Labor run even deeper.

Its current CEO, Peter O’Sullivan is a former failed Labor candidate who stood against former influential independent Liz Cunningham in 2009. He was appointed to his present position in 2016.

When the LNP’s Campbell Newman was elected premier he removed then CEO Leo Zussino, a long-term Labor supporter, who was then installed as chairman when Mr Newman lost in 2015.

Zussino stood for Labor in the 1998 Queensland election when he was also defeated by Ms Cunningham. He stood down from the GPC post last year and has been replaced by former Gladstone Mayor and prominent businessman, Peter Corones.

Gladstone is the main centre in the marginal seat of Flynn, which is being defended by LNP incumbent Ken O’Dowd who has held the seat since 2010. His main opponent is Labor’s Zac Beers, who was with Shorten when the worker raised the tax policy question without realising the consequences.

GPC is a corporation fully owned by the Queensland Labor Government. Paradoxically, while this government continues to obfuscate over approval of the controversial Adani mine, it continues to receive coal export royalties estimated at $3.7 billion in 2018-19, with 68 million tonnes shipped out of Gladstone.

The powerful GPC has control over thousands of hectares of land set aside for industrial development extending west to the inland township of Mt Larcom.

It has prepared two Land Use Plans (LUPs) for all strategic port lands under its management in the Port of Gladstone, Port of Bundaberg and Port of Rockhampton (Port Alma Shipping Terminal), which also come under its control.

From its website: “We govern the location and types of new development and operations at its ports in accordance with the LUPs. All new development on strategic port land must comply with the requirements of the LUP and associated development codes for code assessable development….”

I have seen first-hand the influence GPC exerts in the community. It has funded many major infrastructure works in the port city but one thing is well known. If you want to do big business in Gladstone or work for a company with links to the harbour, don’t rock the boat.

That’s a lesson the suspended worker may have learnt the hard way when he innocently tipped the boat over.


John Mikkelsen is a former journalist and served 15 years as the editor of the Gladstone Observer. He now lives on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.