Friday, May 25, 2007
Protesters in the Central Western New South Wales city of Bathurst gave Australian Prime Minister John Howard a cold reception as he arrived for a Liberal Party luncheon in the city.
Around 200 unionists and university students gathered to protest the Howard government’s new industrial relations regime called Workchoices, the lack of funding for higher education and the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism.
Protesters claimed that the Howard government had ignored rural and regional Australia. Daniel Walton, the community campaign co-ordinator for Macquarie Your Rights at Work told Wikinews that Mr Howard was only interested in Bathurst after it had been moved to a marginal seat.
“In the 11 years Howard has been Prime Minister not once has he visited Bathurst”, he said.
“Now Bathurst is in the seat of Macquarie, which is seen as a marginal electorate, Mr Howard is suddenly interested in the city”.
The strongly blue-collar cities of Bathurst and Lithgow were relocated to the Macquarie electorate, previously considered a safe Liberal seat after an electorate redistribution.
Mr Howard was in Bathurst campaigning for the re-election of Kerry Bartlett and was a special guest at an invite-only Liberal Party fundraiser costing AUD$95 per person. The luncheon was attended by 400 members of Bathurst’s business community.
Unionists responded by offering a $0.95 “worker’s lunch” across the street.
Before the luncheon, Mr Howard held a community morning tea at the Mount Panorama motor racing circuit, promising funding of $10 million to investigate planning, engineering and environmental issues surrounding the construction of an expressway over the Blue Mountains following the Bells Line of Road route. Mr Howard said this funding was contingent upon the NSW government matching the federal government’s contribution and would be available under Auslink II from 2009.
Prior to the Prime Minister’s arrival at the luncheon, protesters called those attending the luncheon “Chumps”, booing at and calling MP Kerry Bartlett a “loser” when he walked outside. Unionists also chanted slogans such as “Workers united, we’ll never be defeated” and “Johnie Howard is a twerp, he wants to take our rights at work”.
As Howard arrived at the luncheon, protesters held up their placards and turned their backs on Mr Howard, claiming to be doing the same as his government had done to ordinary workers.
Michael Foggarty from the Public Service Association said while big business could afford luxuries such as a $95 lunch, workers were struggling.
“They might be able to afford $95 for lunch, but when you have workers on as low as $13 an hour that is a lot of money, ordinary workers are struggling under Workchoices”, he told Wikinews.
Mr Foggarty added that rising interest rates and petrol prices were having an impact on working families.
Giving a speech at the luncheon, Mr Howard said those wishing to dismantle the government’s industrial relations reforms were rolling back a “major economic reform”. Mr Howard said both Workchoices and the removal of unfair dismissal laws had reduced unemployment and generated prosperity.