Sunday, June 05, 2011


A policy Liberals love but dare not speak its name

Paul Howes From: The Sunday Telegraph June 05, 2011

AS the saying goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same. And last week, when it came to conservatives and industrial relations, that saying couldn't be more relevant.

First we had NSW's Barry O'Farrell introduce legislation that John Robertson rightly called "worse than WorkChoices" that goes further than even John Howard dared to - and there was not one whisper of it before the election.

Then we had the Liberal's federal workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz announce he would look at reviewing the Fair Work Act in 2012 - despite his own pre-election promise to the contrary.

And, finally, we had the usual suspects from the employer lobby make baseless claims about union "boogy men" and how Labor's IR system was the end of the world as they knew it.

Abetz was responding to yet another policy paper from the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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The chamber, like many other employer lobby groups, blabbed on about how hard it is for employers to be fair and reasonable under Labor's Fair Work legislation and tried to paint a picture of massive industrial unrest because of Labor's laws.

A day after they released their report, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released their own quarterly update of industrial disputes, which showed workplace unrests had fallen to new record lows.

The ABS figures destroy the credibility of employer groups who claim the Fair Work system has given rise to some kind of industrial "anarchy".

Abetz, a man who never lets the facts get in the way of his own twisted ideology, still seized on the chamber's report to announce he will push for a full review of Fair Work in 2012.

That is strange considering the federal election isn't until 2013, but maybe it signals that for the first time the Coalition will be open and honest about its plans for industrial relations before an election.

Despite Tony Abbott's "dead, buried, cremated" promise on WorkChoices during the last election, the reality is the Coalition still wants to return to its beloved policy so the bosses hold all the cards.

And despite there being no mention of changing NSW's industrial relations system during this year's state election, Barry O'Farrell is still trying to ram his own personal version of WorkChoices through the state parliament.

We shouldn't be surprised about O'Farrell not mentioning his plans during the election campaign - after all, John Howard never mentioned WorkChoices during the 2004 federal election, yet he still claimed he had a mandate to introduce the hated legislation less than 12 months later.

Some people may say that such tactics are no different to those used by Julia Gillard over the carbon pollution scheme. But of course, these people are wrong.

There's a big difference between re-negotiating pre-election policy positions in a minority government, as the prime minister has done, to whacking stuff through just because you have a record majority, as O'Farrell has done.

It's the same folly that brought Howard unstuck when he used his Senate majority to push through WorkChoices after the disastrous "Latham election".

I'll give them one thing - these Liberals are as brave as they are silly. Nobody could accuse them of learning from their past mistakes.

Towards the end of last week, Labor and the Greens launched a valiant effort to defeat NSW WorkChoices. MPs warned of the Bill's dangers and how it will rip away the hard-won rights of the state's frontline public servants.

The new laws will deny workers rights "guaranteed" under international law, such as the right to freely bargain and collectively organise. It attacks police officers, nurses, and teachers. O'Farrell thinks they're all overpaid.

But, as we have seen this week, you just can't trust the Liberals when it comes to protecting industrial rights.

Whether they are in Canberra or Macquarie St, WorkChoices is ingrained deep in the DNA and psyche of every Liberal MP.

It's the love that dare not speak its name. It's their very reason for being.

There's a real sense of dejavu in politics at the moment. It feels like 2004 and the "Your Rights At Work" campaign all over again.

But then, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Paul Howes is national secretary of the Australian Workers' Union