Bloomberg News

Australia’s Trade Unions Back Labor Leader Gillard, Howes Says

June 20, 2013

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Photographer: Lisa Maree Williams/Bloomberg

The Australian trade union movement is unanimous in its support of the Labor government and Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s bid for re-election, the nation’s senior workers’ representative Paul Howes said.

“The labor movement’s best chance is to unite behind the Gillard government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Gillard, and fight this election on the issues that actually matter,” Howes, national secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, said in a Sky Television interview today. All unions are “united, as we are, behind the Gillard government.”

The comments by Howes, a power broker in the ruling Labor party and the youngest person to become a national union secretary when elected in 2007 at the age of 26, will boost Gillard as media speculation mounts she may be challenged by predecessor Kevin Rudd. Opinion polls indicate her government faces a hefty defeat in elections to be held Sept. 14.

Parliament goes on hiatus later today and reconvenes June 24 for the final sitting week before the election, a danger zone for the prime minister as her Labor colleagues will all be in Canberra, enabling a snap challenge.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten has been in talks with senior union officials aligned with Gillard in signs her key support base could be readying to abandon her, the Daily Telegraph said today, citing senior Labor sources it didn’t identify. Howes denied that in his interview with Sky and said he hadn’t spoken with any lawmakers about a potential challenge of Gillard.

Poll Pressure

Replacing Gillard with Rudd would boost Labor’s chances at the ballot box, polls show. His return would lift Labor by 11 percentage points in the primary vote to 40 percent, compared with the Liberal-National opposition coalition’s 42 percent, according to a Nielsen survey published in Fairfax newspapers June 17.

The AWU, which represents 500,000 Australian workers and their families, doesn’t direct members of parliament on how to vote in Labor leadership ballots, Howes said. Even so, improvements to the country’s retirement pension scheme and stronger workers’ rights under the Fair Work Act were reasons to support Gillard, he said.

“Labor will win the election under Julia Gillard” if it is united, Howes said. “When you look at the record of achievement of the Gillard government, when you look at the amazing legislative wins for the rights of working people and the improvements in their standards of living, this government is second to none.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Scott in Canberra at jscott14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net


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