Monday, August 12, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

WorkChoices 2.0
The Liberals’ class warriors are back

Senator Amanda Stoker. Source: Facebook

Like moths to a flame, the Liberal Party is drawn to picking fights over industrial relations. According to The Australian Financial Review’s Phillip Coorey, a group of backbenchers is champing [$] at the bit after a briefing last week from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and a rev-up at the weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference by Queensland LNP senator Amanda Stoker, who attacked unfair dismissal laws and blamed the complexity of awards for wage theft. Going by past form, if the Liberals do take up their favourite cause, that of waging war on workers, there is a decent chance that by 2022 the federal government will have alienated those “quiet Australians” who returned them in May. At a press conference in Sydney this afternoon, shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke said the parallels with the 2004 election, after which John Howard went on to introduce WorkChoices, were “extraordinary”.

When he took the reins, the new industrial relations minister, Christian Porter, promised to be consultative and pursue reforms that worked “for everyone”. As he told Chris Kenny, “Australia has now soundly rejected class warfare, divisions being created between employers and employees, between different levels of income-earning on the tax scale, and we’ve soundly rejected an agenda that divides Australia.” Yet there are already signs of an ideologically driven agenda in the union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill, which is being pitched as an answer to the militancy of the CFMMEU and its rogue Victorian secretary, John Setka. The Saturday Paper’s Mike Seccombe suggested recently that, given expert opinion that existing laws could provide a path to deregistration of the CFMMEU, Setka is “not the reason for the proposed legislation, but the excuse”.

On Saturday, the Business Council of Australia called for the abolition of the so-called “better off overall test” (BOOT) in the Fair Work Act, which requires all employees covered by an enterprise bargaining agreement to be better off overall than under the relevant award. In a statement today, the ACTU said the BOOT “is the most basic safeguard possible, but the BCA wants it gone”.

Last week, 17 Coalition MPs attended a private briefing from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, organised by Tim Wilson, Jason Falinski and Andrew Bragg, to inform MPs about what ACCI perceives as flaws in the system. One Liberal backbencher told the AFR that “what isn’t acceptable is inaction” on IR reform. Coorey’s report suggests that the government is mindful of the WorkChoices precedent. At the same time, an attack on workers’ rights or award conditions was no part of the agenda Scott Morrison took to the May election.

Tony Burke was blunt this afternoon: “Since the election the backbench members of the Liberal Party have been effectively waiting at the barrier gates. We knew that they were going to end up unleashing the same sorts of forces that we saw after the election in 2004. The parallels with 2004 are extraordinary. Once again we’ve got a prime minister who, people are saying, has extraordinary authority. We have a Senate that looks like being well and truly compliant. And we have a government back bench that has been itching to get stuck into wages and conditions for Australian workers. When you consider the economy, the economy is in a situation now where people need more job security, and they need better wage growth. When we need more job security, they want to make it easier to fire people. When we need better pay increases, they want to put downward pressure on the chance of any worker to get a decent pay rise.”

Economy-wise, it does seem to be a bad time to have a crack at WorkChoices 2.0.  Politically, however, the Liberals’ class warriors may judge that a weakened union movement – already smarting [$] from the loss of $10 million on a 2018 election campaign that “forgot voters” –  would not be the same formidable opponent that it was in 2007.

“I appeal to Australia to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change. That transition should be just for your own people and just for us here in the Pacific, where we face an existential threat that you don’t face and challenges we expect your governments and people to more fully appreciate. Put simply, the case for coal as an energy source cannot continue to be made if every nation is to meet the net zero emission target by 2050.”

Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji, speaking at a climate change conference in Tuvalu ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum, which Scott Morrison is attending this week.

“[Kristina Keneally] doesn’t know the difference between hate speech and speech that she hates.”

Queensland LNP senator Amanda Stoker has a dig at the shadow home affairs minister at the weekend’s inaugural Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney, where delegates shouted “send her back!” about American-born Keneally.

Murdoch and the far-right
For the first time ever, individual news articles can be linked to far-right recruitment drives. High on the list is reporting from The Australian, in stories about Safe Schools as well as about race.

The amount that advertising magnate John Singleton stands to make from the sale to Nine of his remaining stake in radio broadcaster Macquarie Media.

“The Morrison Government took a policy to the recent election to set new standards for how long it takes people to get their NDIS plan or have their plan reviewed. The Participant Service Guarantee will take effect from 1 July 2020 and will have a particular focus on children as well as participants needing specialist disability accommodation and assistive technology. The life-changing NDIS will be supporting up to 500,000 Australians over the next five years and the Morrison Government wants the NDIS to be the best it can be.”

Stuart Robert, minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, announces a review of the scheme by former finance department secretary David Tune, to inform development of the Morrison government’s promised NDIS Participant Service Guarantee.

The list

“As part of the great Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures earlier this month, two of the most important and revered leaders of Indigenous Australia made it clear that the Uluru Statement from the Heart is not negotiable. Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Noel Pearson told the minister for Indigenous Australians that they would not accept the government’s ill-informed and peremptory vetoing of the call for a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice to parliament.”

“A female principal is wedged between the door and the doorjamb by an out-of-control father. She has tried to leave the room where he’s been shouting abuse at her but he leans his weight on the door and refuses to release her. She ends up with bruises. I have been hearing a growing unease about the abusive behaviour of parents towards school staff and, particularly, school principals for more than a decade now, backed up by a number of recent studies on principal wellbeing.”

“One day, as I opened a barrel of chaff to feed our horses, a large rat with a long, grey slithery tail emerged on the rim. I expected him to flee, but he just looked at me for several seconds, twitching his whiskers and eyeing me with a relaxed, even insouciant, air.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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