Hundreds of truckers circled Australia’s parliament yesterday in a campaign aimed at forcing the government to withdraw a proposed carbon tax law and call new elections, the second anti-government protest in the nation’s capital this month.
The truckers sought to draw on public dissatisfaction with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s minority government and perceptions of economic incompetence, despite a robust economy.
“Everyone is on the edge because the country is basically in a state of disarray. We’ve all been surprised at just how tough everyone is doing it,” said transport company owner Peter Whytcross as the “Convoy of No Confidence” trucks blasted horns from roads around parliament and Gillard’s nearby home.
Outside the booming mining sector, many Australians are fighting to keep pace with inflation and high house prices combining to make the nation’s biggest city, Sydney, one of the world’s most expensive places to live.
Despite avoiding recession after the 2008 global downturn, the high Australian dollar and weak domestic demand are hurting areas other than the resources sector which is booming on the back of strong demand from in Asia.
Yesterday, the country’s biggest steelmaker, BlueScope Steel, announced 1,000 job cuts and closure of half of its steel-making capacity, while Qantas Airways last week said it would cut costs and slash up to 1,000 jobs, shifting much of its international operations into Asia.
Political opponents dismissed the truck protesters as a “convoy of no consequence,” saying only a few hundred vehicles circled the hill-top parliament instead of the thousands that the organizers had promised.
“But it has got the moaners’ brigade in town to moan about everything in general and nothing in particular,” said Greens leader Bob Brown, whose party holds the balance of power in the upper house and is accused by truckers of holding Gillard’s Labor to ransom.
The prospect of losing blue-collar steel jobs from Labor heartland areas south of Sydney, prompted assurances of support for the manufacturing sector from Gillard and Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan.
“There is no higher priority for us as a Labor government than -supporting jobs,” Gillard told reporters, while Swan promised a “market-based solution” to help manufacturing companies in the face of overseas competition.
The conservative opposition, riding high in opinion polls, has called for a national vote on the controversial carbon tax, which truckers and miners say would drive up business costs and further erode consumer confidence.
Meanwhile, parliament yesterday endorsed the world’s first national scheme to regulate the creation and trade of carbon credits from farming and forestry to complement government plans to put a price on carbon emissions from the middle of next year.
The laws, the first major bills passed by the government with Greens support in the Senate since the Greens took the balance of power on July 1, are a precursor to the carbon price laws scheduled to be put to parliament later this year.
Known as the Carbon Farming Initiative, the laws allow farmers and investors to generate tradable carbon offsets from farmland and forestry projects that polluters can buy and use to meet mandatory emissions reductions.
The laws passed with a range of government amendments, and will now return to the lower house to be rubber-stamped.