Truckloads of dissent has Gillard going for brakes

Release date: 7/07/2011

The Gillard government is trying to quell internal dissent over the impact of the carbon price on the heavy transport industry, hinting there may be exemptions for some truckies and urging outspoken MPs and union officials to reserve judgment until Sunday’s policy announcement.

Phillip Coorey, The Sydney Morning Herald

The Western Australian Senator Glenn Sterle, allied with the Transport Workers Union, has been among several of his colleagues to speak out on behalf of drivers who, already unhappy with the conditions under which they operate, fear the effects of a carbon price may break them.

Yesterday, Senator Sterle was summoned to a meeting with the Treasurer, Wayne Swan.

Senator Sterle’s colleague, the South Australian Alex Gallacher, who only entered the Senate on Monday, went public yesterday, saying self-employed drivers would suffer under the extra fuel costs imposed on them by the price on carbon.

He said he would be lobbying for compensation.

The government announced at the weekend that fuel for motorists, tradespeople and other small business vehicles would be exempt from the carbon tax. But heavy vehicle operators have been given no such assurance they will escape.

While the carbon tax will not apply to their fuel, they could be hit by paring back the excise reductions to which they are presently entitled.

There is also speculation there may be exemptions for some sections of the industry, and Ms Gillard said yesterday that she understood the concerns of owner drivers.

The TWU national secretary, Tony Sheldon, has been angry at the government for failing to address over recent years what he says are sweatshop conditions for many drivers, especially the self-employed.

He has taken to campaigning against the carbon tax and will take his case to the NSW state Labor conference this weekend.

It is understood TWU members are scouring Sydney for cow costumes to underline their claim that the government is more concerned about cattle than truckies.

"This is a government that has a responsibility to make sure that they have people that are on the edge not pushed over the edge by a carbon tax that doesn’t take into account the sort of arrangements that should occur for the trucking industry," Mr Sheldon said.

If concerns are not addressed on Sunday, Mr Sheldon is threatening a campaign against the tax.

The government is bracing for a savage campaign from the opposition and sections of industry against its carbon price and cannot afford internal dissent.

Already, the government has faced dissent from the Australian Workers Union, which expressed fears for the impact on the steel industry and from the mining union worried about the impact on coal.

While a special steel package has assuaged AWU concerns, the coal industry will not get the $1.5 billion in compensation that union boss Tony Maher demanded.

It will receive $1.25 billion.

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