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The Queensland Labor government will not tear up a contract to build trains in India — rather than jobs-starved regional Queensland — because taxpayers would have to pay a “huge” compensation bill.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her Cabinet have begun their charm offensive in Labor’s must-win marginal seat of Maryborough today, kicking off a photo-opportunity-studded week of “governing” from the battleground Wide Bay region, 250km north of Brisbane.
Ms Palaszczuk and her deputy, Transport Minister Jackie Trad, this morning announced $70m in taxpayers’ cash would be spent in Maryborough at local employer Downer EDI, for train maintenance.
The business — which has had a workshop in the southeast Queensland town for more than 100 years — said it could hire 20 extra staff on the back of the announcement.
But Ms Trad said it would cost too much for taxpayers in compensation if the government scrapped a contract — signed by the former LNP government — to build new trains in India.
“We have had a look at that, it’s commercial in confidence, the compensation,” Ms Trad said. “But as with (all) contracts, if you break them, you are up for a huge amount of money, a huge amount of compensation.”
“…that would see an incredible amount of Queensland taxpayer dollars going towards compensating (train manufacturer) Bombardier, for the ripping up of the contract. Quite frankly, we’ve got an obligation to make sure Queensland taxpayer dollars are spent in the best way possible.”
Queensland has taken delivery of some of the Indian-made trains under the contract, but significant design flaws have been discovered.
Ms Trad said LNP leader Tim Nicholls — the Treasurer in the Newman government — should come to the Downer workshop and explained why he “off-shored” some of their jobs.
Making the $70m announcement this morning, Ms Trad thanked her union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, for “their advocacy” for local manufacturing.
“I just want to end by congratulating you as a workforce, congratulating Downer, but also acknowledging the work of the AMWU …(for) ensuring we keep manufacturing jobs in this state.”
AMWU Brisbane-based executive officer Ann-Marie Allan praised the government’s $70m announcement and it was a coup for the Downer workforce, which she said was 99 per cent unionised.
“It’s about giving the workers a voice and this gives them the confidence of permanent jobs,” Ms Allan told The Australian.
First-term Labor MP Bruce Saunders holds Maryborough by just 1.1 per cent, making it one of the minority government’s most marginal seats in the state. Neighbouring Bundaberg, held by fellow first-term Labor MP Leanne Donaldson, is on an even narrower margin of 0.5 per cent.
Both seats are vulnerable to Pauline Hanson’s resurgent One Nation.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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