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Union vows Labor will pay for trade deal

The Age, Melbourne

8 August 2004

Union vows Labor will pay for trade deal

By Phillip Hudson

Political Correspondent


Labor’s support for the American free trade agreement will cost the party about $100,000 in union donations - a blow on the eve of the federal election campaign.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union’s executive council will meet this week to consider a recommendation from its national secretary Doug Cameron not to give the money to the ALP’s head office.

Mr Cameron led the campaign against Labor signing up to the FTA, warning that it would cost jobs in the manufacturing industry. He said the union should not offer financial support to Labor MPs who voted for the trade deal.

"I don’t think that we should be rewarding stupidity and cowardice," he told the The Sunday Age. The union does not want to penalise Labor MPs (mostly from the Left faction) who voted against the agreement and is expected to make individual donations to them and to the Greens.

But it believes a lump sum donation to the ALP - as it has done in the past - will flow on to support the re-election campaign of those who supported the deal.

"I wouldn’t be taking any recommendations to the national council that would result in donations being provided to those who had not supported the union’s campaign in opposition to the free trade agreement," Mr Cameron said. "I can’t pre-empt any decision of the national council."

Mr Cameron would not say how much money was involved but sources said it was "hundreds of thousands of dollars". Electoral Commission documents show the union gave $110,000 to Labor for the 1998 election and $100,000 for the 2001 election.

The union was the sixth largest donor to the ALP at the last poll and the loss will put pressure on its campaign strategy. Labor and the Coalition have been desperately trying to raise funds in recent months for the election campaign.

Labor’s lawyers are spending the weekend drafting amendments to be presented to the Senate tomorrow to protect Australia’s ability to have generic pharmaceuticals. It will include penalties for drug companies that try to delay generic medicines coming on to the market. The Government has paved the way to accept a compromise to secure the FTA.

After losing the political battle with Labor over the matter last week it is hoping to claw back some ground by finding problems with Labor’s solution.

Opposition health spokeswoman Julia Gillard yesterday visited an Adelaide public hospital to say that any delay in the availability of generic drugs would not only hurt consumers but would harm public hospitals that use them to keep costs down. "It will put an additional stress and strain on our already overstretched public hospitals," she said.