A cosy arrangement between the Labor Government and the union movement in Tasmania has hit a discordant note in the prelude to the March 18 state election. Unions Tasmania boss Simon Cocker and Labor State President David O’Byrne, who is also Miscellaneous Workers Union secretary, have been rolled by a number of branch secretaries of unions affiliated with Unions Tasmania, who objected to their proposed Unions Tas endorsement of the Lennon Government.

Several unions lambasted Labor’s workers’ compensation laws at the weekend, among them the Australian Nurses Federation and the Electrical Trades Union.

The Unions Tas plan was to endorse the Lennon Government because of the Premier’s vociferous stand against the Howard Government’s IR legislation. But as Crikey pointed out last Thursday (Feb 16), if the rumour was true that Lennon used timber giant Gunns’ Ltd construction arm, Hinman, Wright and Manser for renovations of his house, it would undermine Unions Tas support . Lennon’s attack dog Matt Rogers was highly dismissive when Crikey’ put the question.

Yesterday, when asked by an ABC reporter if the Gunns company had done the work, the Premier looked as if he was taken by surprise and blustered: “I have had some renovations done at my house and some commercial work done and some of the work has been done by Hinmans, yes.” Which is not quite the same as saying it was done at commercial rates – which of course, it may well have been.

This morning he told ABC Radio that the story was part of the Liberal and Greens campaign to discredit him and his family.

Nonsense, says Opposition Leader Rene Hidding, who told Crikey: “I don’t know anything about it and I am trying not to do what the Premier is blaming me for, attacking his family. I intend to keep to our strong message of his inappropriate behaviour as premier when in (State) business dealings.”

Greens Leader Peg Putt told Crikey that the question of “mates rates” is an issue, but the primary issue is the Premier’s choice of Hinman, Wright and Manser. Putt said: “He has employed a company that is the Patricks of the building industry in Tasmania. The premier took a stand on the Federal Government’s IR laws, on workers’ rights, but this company is renowned for its anti union stance. “

Peter Fray

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