Andrew Clennell, Andrew West and Brian Robins
February 27, 2008, smh
FIFTEEN Labor MPs openly defied Morris Iemma yesterday and stood side-by-side with 4000 unionists protesting against the Premier's electricity privatisation plans.
As the MPs from the Left and Right factions revolted outside Parliament, Mr Iemma's Government came under sustained pressure in the Legislative Assembly over the Wollongong sex-and-development scandal.
Then, at a caucus meeting, the Government whip, Gerard Martin, and others spoke out against the Treasurer, Michael Costa, and the electricity reforms he is driving with Mr Iemma.
Later Mr Iemma said he would take no action against the 15 MPs in the protest organised by Unions NSW. One of the MPs, Blacktown MP Paul Gibson, wore a protest T-shirt into Labor's caucus meeting. Another, Ian West, took the red flag of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union into the meeting.
"There are bigger issues here to focus on, [such as] securing the state's future energy needs, not who participated in a march," said Mr Iemma's spokesman.
In question time, Mr Iemma accused Liberal MPs of having consorted with the corporate criminals Rodney Adler, Ray Williams and Steve Vizard as he attempted to defend his embattled Minister for Ports, Joe Tripodi, over his association with Joe Scimone, the former Wollongong planning official embroiled in the development scandal.
The Government is awaiting an Independent Commission Against Corruption report on Mr Scimone's appointment to NSW Maritime to see whether the minister should be stood down.
"He is entitled to a presumption of innocence," Mr Iemma told Parliament when asked if Mr Tripodi should be removed immediately. "You might tell us all of those Liberal Party ministers and members, branch members, all of those who have ever met, over the years … met Adler, Vizard, Williams - would you make a negative imputation on their character simply because they knew someone who at a later time might have been guilty of something wrong? … You want to come in here and hang the Minister for Ports without any evidence, without any basis of moving against him, simply because you want to smear him."
The MPs in the protest with Mr Gibson were Grant McBride, Alan Ashton, David Borger, Robert Coombs, Sonya Hornery, Kerry Hickey, Paul Pearce, Matthew Morris, Mick Veitch, Ian West, Helen Westwood, Penny Sharpe, Peter Primrose and Linda Voltz.
In caucus Mr Martin criticised the way party officials, such as Labor's state president, Bernie Riordan, had been targeted by Mr Costa and how the Treasurer had said he "didn't care" whether he was expelled from the ALP should its state conference reject the power sale, sources said. The implication by Mr Martin and others was that the Treasurer's attitude was not helping MPs promoting the $15 billion sale.
A Legislative Council member, Christine Robertson, who belongs to Mr Iemma's right-wing faction, said upper house MPs would face a dilemma if a bill endorsing the electricity sale proceeded despite a vote against it at Labor's state conference in May.
Two caucus sources said that Ms Roberston argued that Legislative Council members were selected by the state conference and owed loyalty to it. She declined to comment but did not deny she had warned colleagues of a possible upper house revolt.
At least four other MPs - Mr McBride, Mr West, Mr Pearce and Tony Catanzariti - spoke against the sale.
The secretary of Unions NSW, John Robertson, warned the Government it faced the same fate as the Howard government did over Work Choices, referring to yesterday's Herald/Nielsen poll showing 64 per cent of voters opposed the sell-off.