The Guardian 25 May, 2005

Water shortage used for political ends

The federal government is prepared to squeeze states and individual farmers dry to sign them up for its bash a building worker campaign. In a shock announcement, this week, the Commonwealth told states that havenít signed off on its construction industry code they would be denied their share of the national $2 billion water fund.

The water contract, drawn up by National Water Commission chief executive Ken Matthews, requires states to agree to a union-busting construction industry agenda that will:

  • promote non-union AWAs (Australian Workplace Agreements);

  • make it illegal for building workers to participate in industrial or political action;

  • severely restrict union access to building sites;

    CFMEU Construction Division national secretary, John Sutton, said the Howard government was prepared to see farmers become "collateral damage" in its war against building workers and their families.

    "Anyone who has spent any time on the land knows that water is too precious a commodity to play politics with", Mr Sutton said.

    "At a time when governmentís budget coffers are full, it has made a woefully inadequate commitment to our national water crisis. Now they are loading infrastructure commitments they have made with irrelevant industrial relations baggage.

    "What the Government is saying is, if you do not attack the rights of workers, you will not get any water."

    Queensland Natural Resources Minister, Stephen Robertson, said his government had been misled.

    "We signed up to the national water initiative thinking it was a true partnership", Mr Robertson said. "There was no mention of conditions at the time, but now the Commonwealth is imposing draconian conditions."

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