Tuesday, January 31, 2012

McGowan marks WA Labor shift to the right

Mark McGowan stepped into the leadership of the Western Australia Labor Party on January 23 promising to support uranium mining in WA and deregulation of shopping hours. Together, these decisions signal a significant shift to the right by WA Labor.

Previous leader Eric Ripper had promised that an incoming ALP government would close down any uranium mining in the state, even if the current Liberal government has granted full approvals.

That position was at odds with national Labor’s pro-uranium policy, but is popular in WA.

McGowan has promised to refuse new applications for uranium mining permits but to support existing uranium projects, including those that have final state approvals but are not yet in production.

WA Labor’s previous anti-uranium policy was discussed at its state conference in June last year and received overwhelming support from delegates.

On assuming leadership, McGowan did not even move a formal policy change motion in the Labor caucus, let alone bother to consult ALP members. Instead, he simply declared that he would accept the leadership only on the basis of changing the party’s policy on uranium and trading hours.

“There is no good reason to support uranium mining or any other part of the nuclear cycle,” Socialist Alliance WA co-convenor and Fremantle City Councillor Sam Wainwright told Green Left Weekly.

“Uranium mining represents a safety risk for mine workers and is inseparably linked to radioactive waste and nuclear weapons.

“When a transition to 100% renewable energy is possible, as it is, then the dangerous nuclear option should be shunned by all civilised people.”

The Greens criticised McGowan’s announcement, saying it was a betrayal of Labor voters and environmental principles.

“McGowan has spoken of providing certainty to the industry,” federal Greens senator Scott Ludlam said on January 23. “It is far better to let the nuclear industry know it is certain they have no future in Western Australia.”

The big retail corporations and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry have pushed strongly for the deregulation of shopping hours, the very same outfits that keep clamouring for the abolition of weekend and evening shift rates in the sector.

McGowan has made his support for deregulation contingent on retail workers having the right to refuse to work weekends. Such a condition would be very difficult to enforce. Clearly the best way to defend the rights of retail workers is through maintaining penalty rates and minimum shift durations.

In WA, a referendum to deregulate shopping hours was defeated in 2005. Unless a government can show community attitudes have changed, the previous referendum result should stand.

[This article by Alex Bainbridge was first published in Green Left Weekly #908.]