DISPUTE MAY SPREAD TO OTHER PORTS IN AUSTRALIA, OFFICIAL SAYS

DISPUTE MAY SPREAD TO OTHER PORTS IN AUSTRALIA, OFFICIAL SAYS

The head of a stevedoring company that has triggered a major industrial dispute by leasing facilities to a farm group trying to set up a nonunion stevedore operation warned Thursday that the battle could spread to the rest of Australia's ports.

Asked whether Patricks Ltd. is prepared for a national port strike, Chris Corrigan, chief executive, said, ''I think one would be a fool'' not to be prepared.His comments came shortly after Donald McGauchie, president of the National Farmers Federation, said a NFF-backed company had leased part of Melbourne's Webb dock from Patricks and moved some staff members and equipment onto the dock Wednesday night.

The Maritime Union of Australia is picketing at the port, and union officials say they will remain there as long as necessary. An MUA national organizer said he would brief the International Transport Workers Federation about the dispute.