Union rejects Rudd’s protectionist claim


The Age (Australia)
July 27, 2009

A key union pushing for a buy Australian procurement policy at the Labor conference has hit back at the Rudd government for suggesting their proposal amounts to 1930s-style protectionism.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says the push by the left wing Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the right wing Australian Workers Union (AWU) were the kind of policy that was used during the Depression, adding it would hurt access to export markets.

AWMU national secretary Dave Oliver hit back, saying his call for federal public service tenders to favour local producers was not protectionist.

"This isn’t about protectionism. There’s not a tariff in sight," he told ABC Television on Monday.

"What we’re after is a fair go for manufacturers."

Federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner also rejected the union campaign but Mr Oliver said unions would continue talks with key Labor figures.

The unions want the government to adopt a NSW government policy of giving local firms a 20 per cent price advantage over international rivals when tendering for infrastructure projects.

Meanwhile, Employment Participation Minister Mark Arbib has warned that young unemployment is likely to keep rising.

When asked if he thought the youth jobless rate would climb above its current level of 12.3 per cent, he told Fairfax Radio Network on Monday: "Unfortunately, … I do. Unemployment is going up globally".

The rate of youth unemployment is more than double the general jobless rate of 5.8 per cent, which the government expects will peak at 8.5 per cent.

Senator Arbib reiterated his call for job seekers to take whatever job they could get.

"A lot of these young people haven’t seen a tight labour market before," he said.

"This is for all job seekers, not just young people: really, you’ve got to be as flexible as possible and adapt to a new labour market."

Asked if he was upset about a newspaper headline, "Beggars can’t be choosers", Senator Arbib said it was not the message he was trying to convey to young job seekers.

"It is in their interests to be at work, not looking for the perfect job or their dream job. You’ve got to work up to that," he said, adding that young people needed to train for jobs that were available.

Meanwhile, opposition frontbencher Andrew Robb said Mr Rudd was right to reject blue-collar trade union demands that the government favour Australian-made goods in infrastructure projects.

Asked about the federal government’s stance against the unions, Mr Robb said he agreed.

"They should listen to them, but not necessarily accept them," Mr Robb told ABC Television on Monday.

"If we put ourselves in a position where we are stopping the opportunity for a lot of countries overseas to sell to us we may invite retaliatory action from other countries buying our products."

Senator Arbib said the union push was populist but not in Australia’s interests.

"What the unions are saying, while it sounds good and is popular… there is a downside because it’s another form of protectionism," he told Fairfax Radio Network.

"If we adopt protectionist measures here, that will lead countries overseas adopting more protectionist measures putting up their tariffs and that will make things much more difficult.

"We’re an exporting country and we need to ensure we are reducing protectionism… that is going to help our manufacturers, that is going to help our country."


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