East-west link showdown looms, Josh Gordon, State Political Editor for The Age. August 1st
The Napthine government has foreshadowed tough new laws to prevent industrial strife hampering construction of the east-west link, setting the scene for a showdown with unions ahead of the 2014 state election.
With the state opposition opposed to the $6 billion to $8 billion tunnel, Treasurer Michael O’Brien warned there was no turning back, vowing that contracts to build the road would be locked in just weeks before the state election.
Although Victoria transferred its industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth during the Kennett years, it is believed the Napthine government will considering introducing major-projects legislation designed to limit the scope for industrial or legal action.
It follows revelations by Fairfax Media that, under the terms of the public private partnership, Victoria – ultimately the taxpayers – will bear the cost of any industrial action linked to government policy.
The state government has also stipulated in tender documents that the construction company and subcontractors must comply with its controversial construction code, which is designed to break union power on building sites.
The code, which among other things requires construction companies to allow non-unionised workers on government projects, is being resisted by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.
Mr O’Brien said that although Victoria had handed over its industrial relations powers to Canberra, it would consider new laws to protect major projects.
”We would potentially look at major-project legislation if there was need for it, to seek to ensure that this project could proceed if we thought there were likely to be any difficult hurdles that could get in the way,” Mr O’Brien.
The Age online revealed on Tuesday that Labor will oppose the road. Mr Andrews, who has urged the government to consider delaying the road until after the 2014 election, accused the Coalition of playing politics with public money.
”This is such a dog that they’ve had to sweeten the pot with the private sector to the point where it’s not a partnership [with the private sector] any more at all,” he said. ”This is one of the most arrogant propositions I have ever seen and I’ve been around politics for a little while.”
Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has pledged $1.5 billion to the project if he wins power, while the federal Labor government has promised $3 billion to build the metro rail tunnel from South Kensington to South Yarra. Federal Labor has not ruled out funding for the road but says there will be no contribution announced before the federal election.
Shadow finance minister Andrew Robb said Mr Andrews was all criticism and no alternatives. “Negative talk and dithering from Daniel Andrews over the project further saps confidence and undermines efforts to improve Melbourne’s road transport network.”
Mr O’Brien said he believed unions would support the project, referring to comments by former Australian Workers Union state secretary Cesar Melhem – who is now a Labor MP in the state upper house – that it would be ”just crazy” not to build the link.
It is believed that legislation to curb the potential for union or legal action against major projects could be constitutionally problematic, as section 109 states that ”when a law of a state is inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail”.