The Liberal Party was in damage control yesterday after its Gilmore candidate, Ann Sudmalis, raised the spectre of a return to WorkChoices if the Coalition wins the election.
Despite repeated statements by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that WorkChoices was "dead and buried", Mrs Sudmalis told a meet-the-candidates forum in Bomaderry on Wednesday that changes to workplace relations legislation would be reviewed.
Mrs Sudmalis made the comment while reacting to a question about the future of penalty rates from the Shoalhaven secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, Annette Aldrick.
"Any workplace relations legislation is on the table after the election not before ..." Mrs Sudmalis said.
"It is exactly as it is right now right through to the election and it will be reviewed after the election and that has been perfectly clear to everybody."
Yesterday, Mrs Sudmalis backtracked on her comment in a statement issued to the media.
"At last night's [the forum was actually held in the morning] candidates' forum, I incorrectly answered a question relating to workplace policy.
"The Coalition released our policy to improve the Fair Work laws in May this year: this is the only policy that would be implemented if a Coalition government was elected."
Federal Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said Mrs Sudmalis's comments at the forum signalled the Coalition's intention to abolish penalty rates.
"Mr Abbott's candidate for Gilmore has let the cat out of the bag and told Australians the truth about the Liberals' plans for penalty rates after September 7," Mr Shorten said.
"Ann Sudmalis has made it clear that far from being dead and buried, the Liberals are raring to go with WorkChoices Mark II.
"This makes a mockery of Tony Abbott's so-called policy on workplace relations. This is further proof the Liberals cannot be trusted on workplace relations."
Secretary of the South Coast Labour Council Arthur Rorris said Mrs Sudmalis's statement sounded a clear warning on industrial relations.
"I, and I think every worker in the Shoalhaven and beyond, should take good notice of this statement from the Liberal Party's candidate for this seat.
"She says that the agenda is very clear.
"Now we know that penalty rates, that conditions, that every aspect of your working life, every right you currently enjoy at work is up for grabs after the election."