Labor still has cliff to climb

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Herald Sun Editorial: Labor still has cliff to climb. 19 August 2014

Union intimidation and corruption during the construction of the multi-billion dollar Wonthaggi desalination plant is quickly developing as an election issue.

The CFMEU has been a constant drag on the popularity of Mr Andrews and that is unlikely to change unless the Labor leader puts some distance between them.

According to the Herald Sun/Galaxy poll released yesterday, Premier Denis Napthine is the clear winner when it comes to the better choice to keep the state’s most militant union in check.

By contrast, Mr Andrews has had little to say about the union, which can be put down to the massive contributions it makes towards Labor funds and the presence of CFMEU delegates from Mr Andrews’ Socialist Left faction at policy making ALP conferences.

There are deeply rooted problems for Labor in its relationship with the union. The CFMEU has a history of shutting down construction on some of Victoria’s major construction sites, the worst example being repeated clashes with police on picket lines on the Melbourne Emporium site.

CFMEU hard man and state secretary John Setka has been at the forefront of these violent demonstrations where a court last week heard he abused a Grocon manager with the words: “I hope you die of your cancer.’’

These words, which went unchallenged, may be an indication of Mr Setka’s character and an appalling lack insensitivity towards a sick man.

Now, it has been reported, an industrial troubleshooter hired by construction giant Thiess has offered to give evidence to the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption about union intimidation and rorts at the Wongthaggi desalination plant.

Consultant Bruce Townsend is believed to have details of standover tactics and the use of outlaw bikies in maintaining control over workers.

The desalination plant will cost Victorian taxpayers a massive $23 billion over the next 28 years, yet water from the plant has never flowed to households. The plant itself was a panic project by Labor to “drought proof’’ the state but has never been needed.

In spite of the billions of dollars wasted on the desalination plant and the unused north-south pipeline and its cosy relationship with the CFMEU, Labor leads the Coalition 52 to 48 in the Herald Sun/Galaxy poll.

This would put Mr Andrews into power with a 3.6 per cent swing and a 12-seat majority in the Legislative Assembly if this lead is maintained until polling day.

Much of this can be put down to Mr Andrews’ agility in announcing that a Labor government would sell off the Port of Melbourne and using the money to get rid of 50 of the state’s worst level crossings.

Selling off the Port of Melbourne was a move more likely to have come from the Coalition, which has a strong tradition of privatising state-owned enterprises.

This time it was Labor under Mr Andrews that was quicker off the mark, sensing public concern over a spate of level-crossing deaths. Labor and Mr Andrews were also quick to realise that improvements to public transport services were more likely to resonate with large sections of the public than the multi-billion East West Link of tollways and tunnels proposed by the Coalition.

Mr Andrews needs to toughen his stance on the CFMEU and condemn the cost of union delays and wage blowouts on major projects.

Victorians will wonder whether his weakness with outlaw unions might continue in government.

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