From the Archives, 1978: Emergency plan as Melbourne’s fuel dwindles

First published in The Age on November 11, 1978

Emergency plan as fuel dwindles

An emergency fuel supply system for essential services began yesterday after talks aimed at settling the petrol strike broke down.

There was no petrol for sale at this service station in Hawthorn.Credit:Les O’Rourke

It now seems certain that striking tanker drivers will vote on Monday to stay out.

The Transport Workers’ Union may ask other State branches to go out in support of the Victorian men.

A national strike would ground all international and domestic airline services.

In Sydney, tanker drivers at the big Caltex Banksmeadow terminal have walked out already in support of the Victorian strikers.

About 2000 service station workers in Victoria may be stood down if the strike continues next week.

More than half of Melbourne’s service stations had been drained by last night.

Most of those still open were rationing petrol or restricting sales to regular customers.

Most of the stations still with petrol were closing down over the weekend to preserve supplies for next week.


The TWU yesterday allowed 16 metropolitan service stations to supply fuel for essential services such as medical services, police, fire, ambulance and funeral vehicles.

Police will be called in to guard the stations and supervise the emergency fillings.

Panic buyers have drained about 17 million litres of fuel from service stations since the dispute began on Wednesday afternoon — normally enough petrol for a fortnight.

The TWU says its tanker drivers and aircraft refuellers will not go back to work unless writs for damages taken out against three union men are withdrawn.

A Seymour petrol distributor has sued two union delegates and a union organiser under the trade practices legislation.

The distributor, Nyandi Nominees Pty. Ltd., is claiming damages from the union for not being allowed to make its own pick-up of petrol from Esso’s Spotswood terminal.

Nyandi and its manager, Mr. Leo Gorman, claim it is losing money because of TWU bans on its tanker picking up petrol directly.

The union insists that its members employed by the oil companies must deliver petrol to storage points operated by country distributors.


Talks between the TWU Federal secretary, Mr. Ivan Hodgson, and Mr. Gorman broke down yesterday.

Mr. Hodgson said the union had urged Mr. Gorman to drop the prosecutions so negotiations could start on a settlement.

“But he wanted his tankers to be allowed to pick up petrol before legal action was dropped,” Mr. Hodgson said.

Mr. Gorman said after the meeting: “We are back to square one.”

He said he had suggested the bans be lifted before the writs were withdrawn.

If he had accepted the union’s suggestion, he could “be left high and dry”.

A Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce spokesman, Mr. Peter Gibbs, said rationing by service stations could stretch supplies as far as next weekend.

He warned motorists not to drive unnecessarily or to buy more fuel than they needed.

Doctors and others seeking to buy petrol from the emergency outlets should be able to identify themselves, he said.

A Watsonia proprietor said demand for petrol over the past two days was `“the unreallest thing I have seen in 18 years in the business”.

He said he had been “abused up hill and down dale” by motorists “turned into absolute animals” by the need for petrol.

“They nearly punch your head in when you tell them there’s nothing left,” he said.

A Shell company spokesman said the “fortunate few” who could buy emergency petrol would include doctors, police, fire and ambulance services, essential health services, emergency vehicles of the SEC, the Gas and Fuel Corporation, and the Board of Works, blood bank vehicles and funeral and crematorium services.

The director of the Victorian Employers Federation, Mr Ian Spicer, said stand downs would not be necessary in industry until the end of next week.

Most employers had stored enough petrol to allow them to continue operating for about a week, he said.

But stand downs might be needed if the fuel shortage continued into the following week, he said.

The Victorian director of the Metal Trades Association, Mr Graham Willis, said the consequences of the dispute were “not immediate, but potentially extremely serious”.

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