Wednesday 31 August 2011

Unions, industry, say they left PM meeting believing she'd consider manufacturing inquiry

Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard meets union and industry heavyweights in Canberra
over the crisis in manufacturing. Picture: Ray Strange Source: The Australian

Unions and industry figures are shocked at Julia Gillard's rejection of a manufacturing inquiry, saying the Prime Minister gave the impression during crisis talks yesterday that she would consider the proposal.

Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union secretary Dave Oliver, and Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout all left yesterday's talks with the Prime Minister believing she would consider the inquiry.

But within hours, Industry Minister Kim Carr had declared the idea a non-starter.

Government insiders also said Ms Gillard had during the meeting rejected calls for a “short, sharp” inquiry into the sector.

And today the Prime Minister denied indicating she would consider an inquiry, saying: “People can get different impressions from a conversation, that's human, that's natural.”

Ms Gillard was speaking after meeting steel workers facing redundancy at Port Kembla in NSW.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary Dave Oliver told The Australian Online after the meeting yesterday he was in no doubt Ms Gillard was considering the proposal.“We raised the idea of an inquiry,” Mr Oliver said at the time. “She's going to talk to her colleagues and come back to us.”

Mr Oliver said yesterday he was satisfied with the good hearing the delegation had been given. But while the union and industry figures left Canberra believing an inquiry was possible, Mr Carr's office soon ruled it out.

“We don't believe an inquiry is the right approach to ensuring the continuing prosperity to Australian manufacturing,” he told The Australian Online at about 3pm yesterday.“The approach is to look at the policy framework and examine ways in which it can be reviewed.”The Prime Minister said today she did not want to wait for an inquiry before acting on the issue.

“It's possible for people to take some different takes out of a conversation. My focus is on what we need to do,” she said in Port Kembla. “My focus is on action - I don't want to be held back from acting by an inquiry which would inevitably take some time. That doesn't mean we won't take the best of expert advice along the way.”

Pressed on the reactions to yesterday's meeting, she said: “What I said yesterday was that I wasn't looking at a free-ranging, free-wheeling inquiry into manufacturing, that my focus was on the actions that we needed to take.” BlueScope Steel at Port Kembla has announced 1400 job losses over the past fortnight, blaming the effects of the high Australian dollar for its decision to close export operations.

Labor Left convenor Doug Cameron said he was also surprised and annoyed at the move, describing it as “dumb” and “economically irresponsible”. “I just think it's premature to be saying there should be no inquiry,” he said. “It's economically irresponsible not to take a close look at the manufacturing industry.”

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he could not understand why the government did not want to hear the facts about manufacturing. Mr Abbott said he had commissioned an industry policy review. “It's very important that we listen to the concerns of the struggling industries of this country,” he said.

“It's very important that government policies are informed by the facts and I can't understand why the Prime Minister doesn't want to listen.

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