Penalty rates campaign begins to rattle MP

For an hour or so on Thursday, Nowra sounded like a big city, with a cacophony of car horns bellowing outside the office of Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis. The cause was not a traffic snarl but yet another protest against cuts to weekend penalties.

Of course, Mrs Sudmalis was not there to hear the racket – she was in Canberra for the parliamentary sitting. However, her staff couldn’t have failed to notice the horns, prompted by a small knot of protesters bearing placards urging motorists to show support. 

Far from a statistically valid measure of public sentiment, the protest did reflect the growing noise around the Fair Work Commission’s ruling on penalty rates and the government’s endorsement of it. If the chicken was Mrs Sudmalis’s awkward description of the cuts as a “gift” to young people, it has well and truly come home to roost.

In the space of a week, she has been at the sharp end of a vigorous campaign to associate her with the unpopular decision. Last Friday, she was confronted in the street by South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris, the whole thing caught on camera. 

Mrs Sudmalis echoed the point made continually by the government, that this was the decision of an independent arbiter and she respected it.

Then her argument wandered off the reservation as things became heated and she proclaimed support for Bill Shorten because he had supported the establishment of the Fair Work Commission.  

It made for great theatre but will doubtless turn up, out of context, in political attack ads come the next election.

Mr Rorris was taken aback by the declaration of support for Shorten. He asked her what her parliamentary colleagues would make of it. Even people in her own party who saw the exchange on the Register website were perplexed.  

Mrs Sudmalis is already being targeted by union ads on television calling on her to fight for penalty rates. With a federal election now tipped earlier rather than later, we can expect the campaign to intensify.

This will require Mrs Sudmalis to keep her cool under fire, particularly if she’s facing off against someone with the verbal acumen of Arthur Rorris. 

Perception is everything in politics and with her paper thin hold on the seat, Mrs Sudmalis would do well to stay calm.  

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