Anti-government truckers besiege Australian parliament

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 21, 2011 8:48 PM

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Hundreds of trucks circled Australian parliament on Monday in a protest against government plans for a carbon tax, but the truckers fell far short of their ambition to gridlock the capital in support of their call for fresh elections.

The truckers, the second anti-government protest in Canberra in a week, sought to draw on mounting public dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Julia Gillard's 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 sounded horns as they reached the capital, Canberra.

Outside the booming mining sector, many Australians struggle to keep pace with inflation which has made the nation's biggest city, Sydney, one of the world's most expensive places to live.

Despite Australia avoiding recession after the 2008 global downturn, a high Australian dollar and weak domestic demand have combined to hurt the non-mining sectors. On Monday, Australia's biggest steelmaker, BlueScope Steel, announced 1,000 job losses and the closure of half of its steel-making capacity.

Trade union officials partly blamed the Gillard government for not protecting local manufacturing. They demanded that Australian steel be used in the mining sector.

"The AWU calls on all politicians to take a bipartisan approach to the future of manufacturing, in order to secure one million manufacturing jobs," said the Australian Workers Union Victorian state secretary, Cesar Melhem.

The job losses will add to Gillard's woes as she struggles in opinion polls which predict her government would be swept from office if elections were held. Elections are due in 2013.

(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Michael Perry and Mark Bendeich)