By Bill Mason
BRISBANE — Power workers at Queensland's four major electricity stations have threatened to sue Liberal deputy premier Joan Sheldon over remarks she made blaming possible union "sabotage" for the power breakdowns which caused widespread blackouts across the state in February.
Speaking at the federal Liberal Party convention in Brisbane on March 14, Sheldon said she found it "a bit astonishing that four major power generators had gone down at once".
Electrical Trades Union assistant secretary Dick Williams immediately threatened legal action. "It's absolutely outrageous and has no basis in truth", he said.
Williams said the comments were a "slap in the face for our members who worked around the clock to minimise the inconvenience and the blackouts ... The power station managers at Tarong, Stanwell, Gladstone and Swanbank are all on the public record saying the breakdowns were all mechanical failures.
"It would have been physically impossible for sabotage to be cause because the faults occurred at places inaccessible to people."
Under pressure, Sheldon was forced to make a highly qualified "apology" in state parliament on March 17. A motion by the Labor opposition censuring Sheldon was lost after independent Liz Cunningham voted with the Coalition.
"This slanderous assault on workers just doing their job under an incompetent and reactionary regime really takes the cake", Graham Matthews, Democratic Socialist candidate for Brisbane Central in the coming Queensland elections, told Green Left Weekly.
"This government has ripped $850 million out of the power industry to prop up its own budget, sacked maintenance workers, and now blames its own employees for the crisis.
"Now Sheldon wants to go further than the current corporatisation of the industry to full privatisation — flying in the face of the evidence provided by the power disaster in Auckland.
The Democratic Socialists are calling for a public inquiry into the power industry, including a study of renewable energy options and measures to conserve power and preserve the interests of workers in electricity production and distribution. For further information about the Democratic Socialist campaign, telephone 3254 0565.