Where Safety is First
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There is growing division between the Prime Minister and the New South Wales Premier over industrial relations, with the Commonwealth threatening to withhold up to $144 million in funding from the state.

In a letter to the Premier Kristina Keneally, Prime Minister Julia Gillard criticises New South Wales’ decision to last week withdraw from an agreement to nationalise workplace safety laws.

Ms Gillard says the Premier should put the national interest ahead of her own and she has warned Ms Keneally that pulling out of the deal could cost the state $144 million in incentive payments.

“I will continue to pursue delivery of the agreement that was made,” she said.

“I do note that Premier Keneally has made some comments about working in good faith. Well good faith requires a deal to be honoured.”

Ms Keneally says she is disappointed by the threat and that she is standing up for the rights of workers.

“This sort of threat is quite frankly a bit over-handed and a bit illogical,” she said.

The Premier argues the current agreement will erode long-held union rights such as the right to prosecute employers for safety breaches.

“I would hope that the Commonwealth and the Prime Minister isn’t seriously suggesting that I have to make some sort of Sophie’s choice between worker’s safety and $140million,” she said.

Ms Keneally says she is disappointed that the Prime Minister’s threats came through the media and not directly from her.

The Federal Opposition’s Workplace Relations spokesman, Eric Abetz, says the spat will ultimately hurt workers.

“It throws Labor’s boast about cooperative federalism right out the window,” he said.

“It throws Julia Gillard’s boast that Occupational Health and Safety was her crowning achievement as Workplace Relations Minister – that’s also out the window.”

The Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell says Ms Keneally should honour the agreement.

Julia Gillard is right, she is right in (saying) business and workplace safety requires these national reforms to be implemented,” he said.

But the head of Unions New South Wales Mark Lennon has criticised the Prime Minister.

Mr Lennon says there is scope for the package to be re-arranged – and the Prime Minister should take the state’s concerns on board.

“I think the Prime Minister’s reaction to this whole issue has been over the top,” he said.

“I think what she should do is recognise that the Premier is standing up for workers’ rights and that she should get in touch with the Premier, sit down with her and see if they can come to an agreed outcome.”

New South Wales agreed to introduce uniform workplace safety laws late last year, along with all other states except Western Australia.

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