Senator confronts past: 'Privatising QR National was a mistake'
SENATOR Murray Watt was immediately confronted with the elephant in the room when he arrived at Rockhampton's Aurizon workshop yesterday.
In 2008, one year before then Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, announced plans to privatise the commercial aspects of Queensland Rail, Senator Watt was her chief-of-staff.
QR National (later renamed Aurizon) was floated on the Australian Securities Exchange in November the following year with a 99-year lease over Queensland's 2300km coal network.
Senator Watt says he was a State Member of Parliament by the time the announcement was made and wasn't personally involved in the plans to privatise QR.
"Not that I can recall,” he said.
"I've said, others have said that it was the wrong decision to make.”
He didn't specifically come with an apology to Aurizon employees yesterday, but when pressed said he had previously apologised for the privatisation and was happy to do so again.
The Rockhampton workforce has since dwindled from over 1000 people to none by mid-next year.
Yesterday Senator Watt was in town to offer support to those workers and to insist that Federal labour laws need to change.
"State Labor has made it very clear we made a mistake in privatising what was then QR,” he said.
"We learnt our lesson from that.
"Many people lost their seats and we lost government partly over that issue.
"State Labor at the last election took a very strong stand against asset sales.”
But he insists that what is happening at Aurizon isn't an isolated case and is happening over and over in Central Queensland.
He says the policy in mining companies through Central Queensland to lay off permanent staff and bring others back on in labour hire and contracts is an issue that needs to be tackled for the region as a whole.
"What we are seeing over and over again is large businesses doing the wrong thing by their workforces.
"They are laying people off and bringing people back on as labour hire or contractors, or as casuals on much worse terms and conditions.
"What we've got to do now is get Federal workplace laws changed...they are too loose.
"It's a real tragedy what's happening here...the effects are going to be felt right throughout the town.
"We've got to have a very close look at our workplace laws to see why it is that companies continue to get away with sacking permanent workers and at the very same time bring on labour hire and casuals instead.
"It's wrong and it's got to stop.”
It's an issue Federal Member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry has also pursued.
Ms Landry says she's been working with a number of ministers to address issues of job security, casualisation of the workforce, and contract payment terms.
"The respective ministers are working on a number of policies and programs aimed at finding real and tangible solutions to these important issues,” she said yesterday.
"A review of contract payment terms is underway, which I have and will continue to support.
"The aim is to change the 90-day payment terms and a few options are being discussed at the next sitting of parliament.”