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Scott Morrison fires up over Sydney Port pay dispute

Scott Morrison has savaged a union at the centre of a pay dispute for Sydney wharfies, accusing it of preventing vital medical supplies making their way to Australians.The Maritime Union of Australia has denied its industrial action tactics with Patrick Terminal are causing medical shortages.But the Prime Minister lashed out at the union during a…

Scott Morrison has savaged a union at the centre of a pay dispute for Sydney wharfies, accusing it of preventing vital medical supplies making their way to Australians.

The Maritime Union of Australia has denied its industrial action tactics with Patrick Terminal are causing medical shortages.

But the Prime Minister lashed out at the union during a press conference on Tuesday saying “it’s not on”.

“There are 40 ships and I’m told there’s some 90,000 containers out there that includes medical supplies,” Mr Morrison said.

“This is just extraordinary, appalling behaviour. And they as much as admitted it on morning television this morning … that is just straight-out extortion. That is reprehensible.

“We cannot have the militant end of the union movement effectively engaging in a campaign of extortion against the Australian people in the middle of a COVID-19 recession.”

Mr Morrison was also asked if he would take the extreme step of sending in the military to break the strike, given the nation was in the midst of a pandemic.

Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley took similar action after WWII in 1949 to end a coal mines labour dispute.

“I‘m not going to pre-empt any of those sorts of things,” Mr Morrison said.

“We’re still at a stage where I think that sort of thing would hopefully be unnecessary and that it would never come to something like that.”

But he did say the government would take “what steps are necessary” to ensure a swift conclusion.

“Whatever differences people have on the waterfront about this, I would ask them to put it aside,” he said.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said if he was the prime minister, he would be trying to bring the parties together and not engaging in “rhetoric for political purposes”.

When asked if he supported the union and their right to the industrial action, Mr Albanese said: “Of course”.

Meanwhile in Canberra, Mr Morrison said home quarantine could play a key role in Australia reopening its international borders.

He said the Chinese Australian community followed home quarantine requirements strictly and helped Australia control its first wave.

“Home quarantine can play a role in the future and it’s something that is being considered by (expert medical panel) the AHPPC,” he said.

“Our borders open up at some point to safe locations, whether it be New Zealand or parts of the Pacific or places like South Korea or Japan … then there are opportunities to look at those alternative methods.

“When it comes in that will obviously be determined principally by the health advice that can provide a green light to those sorts of options once again but I’m hopeful it’s something we can move to.”

When asked if he took responsibility for the consequences of developing a hotel quarantine system so quickly, Mr Morrison said: “It was actually the states and territories that were most urgent in moving forward”.

“I welcomed the fact that they were so keen to move so quickly and get those quarantine arrangements in place,” he said.

“In all other states and territories I think the experience has been quite different to Victoria.”

Mr Morrison said Australia would not win the fight against coronavirus until Victoria wins.

“I believe Victoria is now beginning to win and that is good news for all Australians,” he said.

“Today also we pass a milestone that no-one would want to have ever seen passed and that is a million lives lost to COVID-19 around the world,” he said.

At least 882 Australians have died as a result of COVID-19 with 670 of those in aged care.

RELATED: JobMaker Digital Business Plan unveiled

Mr Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Tuesday unveiled an almost $800m digital business plan, which includes access to Centrelink and Medicare via facial recognition technology and $30m to fast-track the 5G network.

Mr Frydenberg said the measures included in the Budget would support businesses to thrive in the digital world.

Mr Morrison said next week’s Budget would be one of the most important since the Second World War.

“The Budget will confirm once again the strong plan we have for economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession,” he said.

“It is about cushioning the blow, it is about recovering what was lost, and it is about building for the future.”

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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus.