04 November, 2006

THE AGE: Vic election debate fires up loggers

The Age, November 4, 2006

Premier Steve Bracks' election campaign performance has fired up both the logging industry and a forestry union. Mr Bracks and Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu came head to head on Friday night in what commentators described as a dull and unsurprising debate over issues such as water, road tolls, industrial relations and health.
Neither side was prepared to claim a win, with Mr Bracks rejecting Mr Baillieu's suggestion of a repeat performance.

But Scott Gentle from Timber Communities Australia (TCA) warned the ALP would face a major backlash in regional areas because Mr Bracks had not ruled out further cuts in the industry. "I think on this issue he had a real chance to stand up and make a firm stand - and he didn't," Mr Gentle said. "The premier recognised that he had made the tough decision to cut the industry by 31 per cent to ensure it was sustainable, yet he couldn't promise there wouldn't be more cuts to our already sustainable industry, which is weak." Mr Gentle said Mr Baillieu did "an excellent job" in the debate and made a firm commitment to protect forestry jobs.

The ALP's performance also came under attack from the forestry division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). CFMEU National Secretary for forestry, Michael O'Connor, said his union would defend its members' interests. "Any political party, or employers or greens who attempt to implement policies that will harm our members' job prospects will suffer the consequences," Mr O'Connor said.

State Liberal president Julian Sheezel repeated the call for another debate, saying a second round would give voters a chance to properly scrutinise the policies of both parties. "The Liberal Party challenges Steve Bracks to a debate (to) be held after the release of the government's pre-election budget update when the state's finances are open to proper scrutiny," Mr Sheezel said. He said the second debate should be held in country Victoria.

But Mr Bracks said there would be no second debate.

Monash University's senior politics lecturer Nic Economou declared the debate a "dull, nil-all draw". He said voters were probably more interested in the soccer than the debate. "Such a bad night to have it on TV - the Melbourne Victory (soccer team) are playing," he told ABC radio. "You can imagine that the people who did watch it were turning off as the thing went on, but I think it's important for the leaders to go through this ritual."

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