Saturday, December 05, 2009


Phillip Coorey and Peter Hartcher

3 December 2009, SMH

TONY ABBOTT has defiantly flagged the reintroduction of individual workplace agreements and given notice the Coalition will oppose the Rudd Government's next big reform - the federal takeover of public hospitals.

Mr Abbott also said Federal Parliament should have the same power to override state parliaments as it has to override the territories, and the states should be able to raise taxes to cover spending requirements.

In an exclusive interview with the Herald, Mr Abbott indicated he would not be cowed by Government attempts to link him with a return to Work Choices.

‘‘Our policy will be to have freer, more flexible and fair labour markets without going near that dreaded policy that must not speak its name.’’ ... Tony Abbott yesterday. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

The Rudd Government banned individual Australian Workplace Agreements when it abolished Work Choices but made interim arrangements that allowed existing agreements to continue for up to five years. Mr Abbott said these agreements should be made permanent.

''If it's good enough for the Labor Government on an interim basis, I don't see why they can't continue,'' he said.

''Whatever they are called, if it's good enough for the Labor Government to have an individual, non-union statutory contract, I don't see why it can't continue.''

Labor was wrong to ''re-regulate the labor market'' but he rejected he would re-embrace Work Choices.

''Our policy will be to have freer, more flexible and fair labour markets without going anywhere near that dreaded policy that must not speak its name.''

As Mr Abbott spoke to the Herald, the Senate defeated the emissions trading scheme, handing the Government a double dissolution election trigger.

Next week, Kevin Rudd will put to the premiers his draft proposals for greater federal control of the public hospital system, including a financial takeover. If the states do not accept his plan by March, he will seek an election mandate.

But Mr Abbott, who supported a federal takeover of hospitals when he was health minister, said the policy would be ''another fudge'' and it was highly unlikely the Opposition would support it.

''The Rudd Government will never do it,'' he said.

''There are too many state Labor governments, there are too many public sector unions that rely on the current arrangement, too many local politicians are dependent on those unions.

''I think it is hugely improbable he is going to come up with a policy we are going to support.''

Mr Abbott defended his combative style. ''Our job is not to make the Government's life easy, our job is to make the Government's life hard,'' he said.

He said the policy about-face that killed the emissions trading scheme was necessary to rally the party's base. ''What we were previously asked to do was to go against every instinct of politics and that was agree with your opponents on a really contentious piece of legislation where your heartland supporters were extremely anxious or angry. That's always a problem.''

He was disappointed the Liberal senators Sue Boyce and Judith Troeth defied his leadership and crossed the floor but was prepared to forgive.

''I'm a little disappointed that we didn't stick to the last man and the last woman, but nevertheless I understand how they felt and I respect their position.''

Mr Abbott promised that now he was leader, he would respect the party's processes and not unilaterally set policy.

He said the many policy ideas proposed in his book Battlelines, published this year, were OK to advance as a frontbencher but not as leader.

However, Mr Abbott maintained the system of federation was dysfunctional and he was keen to explore two ideas in his book. One was to give Federal Parliament the power to override the states like it can the territories and another was ''giving the states taxing powers commensurate with their spending responsibilities''.