Monday, 25 July 2011

Union joins business to savage ALP

One of the nation's biggest trade unions has turned on the Gillard government, savaging Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans as incompetent and unworthy of his office.

Days after strident criticism of the government by business leaders, Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon yesterday likened Senator Evans to a corpse, accusing him of failing to implement Labor policy and endangering the lives of truck drivers.

The condemnation, rejected by Senator Evans, came as a trio of senior ministers dismissed a claim by Suncorp chairman-elect Ziggy Switkowski that there was " a whiff of illegitimacy" about the government.

Wayne Swan, Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet accused business critics of acting out of self interest, vowing the government would stick to its guns on the carbon tax and govern in the national interest.

Mr Sheldon, whose 90,000- member union represents truck drivers, wants the government to prevent trucking companies from passing the cost impact to drivers and owner-drivers. The TWU argues that passing on the costs to drivers will lift stress and drive up accident and fatality rates on roads, not just for truck drivers, but also for all motorists.

Speaking on the Sky News Australian Agenda program yesterday, Mr Sheldon said Labor had contested the past two elections promising to act on driver safety, but that Senator Evans had failed to act. "I have no confidence in Chris Evans's capacity to deal with the fundamental industrial relations issues in this country and the undertakings it will make working life in the trucking industry better and safer for all road users," Mr Sheldon said.

"If he cannot carry out his duties he should not be in the portfolio. There's a broad feeling that the minister has real deficiencies in carrying out his responsibilities as minister. He has not been able to implement government policy."

Mr Sheldon likened the minister to a corpse in the movie Weekend at Bernie's -- "the dead guy that stands in the middle", unable to act or perform his duties.

Senator Evans said the government had investigated the TWU's Safe Rates campaign, released a discussion paper, sought public submissions and was finalising a response."There's never any shortage of robust advice for industrial relations ministers, but it's unfortunate that Mr Sheldon has chosen to express his frustrations in the form of a personal attack," Senator Evans said.

The Prime Minister backed Senator Evans. "Minister Evans is doing an outstanding job in an important portfolio," Ms Gillard said.

The exchange came as the government counterattacked in the face of business criticism fanned by the carbon tax. On Friday, Dr Switkowski, former Telstra chief and Suncorp chairman-elect, told a conference in Melbourne there was " a whiff of illegitimacy" surrounding the government while Westpac Bank chairman-elect Lindsay Maxsted said it was focused on short-term political gain ahead of the national interest.

Mr Shorten said it was not surprising some business people would criticise a government that was making decisions which did not promote their own interests.

"People are entitled to promote their sectional interests, but our Prime Minister and our government govern for all Australians and some of these business leaders won't be there in their positions in 10 years," Mr Shorten told the Sky News Australian Agenda program.

"This country is doing better than some of the news reportage of it would indicate and some of the comments from some of these business leaders." Mr Shorten said Australia had rates of unemployment and debt that "the Yanks and the Europeans would give their eye teeth for".

And, while he noted Mr Maxsted had criticisms, he said Westpac was supportive of another government reform -- lifting compulsory superannuation contributions from 9 to 12 per cent. He said Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford, who on Friday was critical of industrial relations laws, had "quite a background in industrial relations".

"These guys have also got other agendas -- legitimate business agendas . . . but you sort of expect them to do that," he said.

Mr Combet said the carbon tax had been well-received by business as he rejected an ad campaign funded by an alliance of business groups as "Liberal Party ads".

It was important, Mr Combet said, not to assume that "one or two business people" critical of the government spoke for the entire business community. He told the Ten Network's Meet the Press program that since the carbon tax details were revealed a fortnight ago many business leaders had described it as workable.

"They are concerned about international conditions and the high value of the Australian dollar, for example, but generally I think the carbon pricing package has been pretty well received in the business community," he said.

Mr Swan also said businesses were continuing to invest in mining and that industrial cities like Gladstone were "powering ahead".

"Despite the reality on the ground, the well-funded vested interests are still out there trying to talk down the future of our economy, of our great industries like coal and LNG and of great towns like Gladstone," the Treasurer wrote in his weekly Economic Note.

Author | Source | MaMatthew Franklin, Chief political correspondent | The Australian | Additional reporting: Sue Dunlevy | July 25th.

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