Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Come back worse off
Labor will fight the government’s IR laws, from here to the next election

Image of Attorney-General Christian Porter

Attorney-General Christian Porter. Image via Sky News

Hansard may or may not record Anthony Albanese’s repeated interjections, but the record should show that the Opposition Leader’s inner mongrel turned up to Question Time this afternoon. Every other sentence that Prime Minister Scott Morrison started, Albanese finished. Morrison was trying to explain away an apparent inconsistency, arguing the recovery is strong enough that JobKeeper and JobSeeker can be cut while also unveiling industrial-relations reforms that suggest the recovery is so weak that employers must be helped even if it makes workers worse off. A true record of the PM’s explanation would read something like this: “Our policies are designed to put Australians into work [Albanese: “by cutting wages”], and that’s what they’re achieving [“by cutting wages”]. It is regrettable that the Labor Party once again, as they did before the last election, wants to engage in the politics of division … What is occurring in our economy is that we need to continue to implement our plans [“by cutting wages”] to transition our economy [“by cutting wages”], as we see the recovery increase into the future [“by cutting wages”].” You get the picture. On the second last parliamentary sitting day of 2020, we saw signs that Labor is back in the fight.  

At a virtual speech addressed to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry last night, Morrison thanked the Australian people for getting the country through the pandemic, and he is no doubt extremely sensitive to a line of attack that suggests that their reward from his government is a bill that will make ordinary workers worse off. As shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke thundered at the end of Question Time – before he was abruptly gagged – “This bill is a pay cut for frontline workers, in black and white … the heroes of the pandemic!” 

The PM argued it was simply not true that the government’s bill would result in pay cuts for workers, and he accused Albanese of fomenting old-fashioned industrial conflict in a desperate effort to protect his leadership. But it was Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter who gave the better defence of the IR legislation, not the PM or the treasurer. Porter argued that enterprise bargaining was broken – even citing former Labor PM Paul Keating in support of that proposition – and the idea was to fix it. “One thing that members opposite rarely like to acknowledge is that more people on enterprise agreements means higher wages,” he said. “The idea was to move people off awards, onto enterprise agreements, where the wages are higher … More enterprise agreements, higher wages. More jobs, higher wages. It’s a fairly simple calculus.”

Except the Coalition’s track record on wage growth is abysmal – the last time we heard this argument ad nauseam, it was to defend company tax cuts that were supposed to boost wages. Of course, nothing of the sort happened.

The detail of the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 will be the subject of a Senate inquiry, and will be debated well into next year. The key provision at issue today was the proposal to permit the Fair Work Commission, over the next two years, to approve an agreement that does not pass the so-called “better off overall test” (BOOT), “taking into account the views and circumstances of employees, employer/s and employee organisation/s covered by the agreement, the impact of COVID-19 on the enterprise and the extent of employee support for the agreement, and whether approval is in the public interest”. Porter says the provision will only rarely be used but it is not immediately clear why that would be the case.

At a press conference today, ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the bill would erode job security for Australian workers and cause a race to the bottom on wages. “We will fight as hard as we need to stop this,” she said. “We won’t stand by and watch workers lose rights.”

It is remarkable how often we have had to read this year that Labor has abandoned ordinary workers, as though by virtue of its culture warring – e.g. LNP senator Matt Canavan wearing hi-vis and even smearing coal dust on his face for a Twitter selfie – the Coalition has a better claim to represent their interests. What a joke. My prediction? Workers will be more inclined to trust Labor and the union movement on the likely impact of the government’s IR laws on employees. So the shape of the next election is becoming clearer.

“Governments need to hit pause on this half-baked policy proposal and come back after undertaking proper consultation with industry representatives and the community … simply putting a new tax on EVs would be a backwards step.”

Richie Merzian, director of the climate and energy program at the Australia Institute, comments on a leaked report to the Board of Treasurers warning state governments that an electric vehicle tax would discourage uptake.

“There has never been an occasion where the Senate had ordered a senator who was not a minister to appear before a committee.”

Senator Bridget McKenzie declines to appear before the “sports rorts” Senate inquiry in February, saying the request to appear is “unprecedented”.

The plot to undermine the NDIS
After years of careful manoeuvring, the Coalition government is laying the groundwork to make radical changes to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The revised system could make it harder for people to get the support they need. Today, Rick Morton on the Coalition’s bid to reshape the NDIS.


The number of active criminal investigations by the Australian Taxation Office into fraud against the $101 billion JobKeeper scheme.

“The bill amends the Credit Act so that responsible lending obligations apply only to small amount credit contracts and consumer leases … this forms part of the government’s Consumer Credit Reforms aimed at improving the flow of credit by reducing the time that it takes consumers and businesses to access credit so that consumers can continue to spend and business can invest and create jobs. The bill forms a key part of the government’s economic recovery plan in response to the current economic circumstances, as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 crisis.”

An excerpt from the explanatory memorandum to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s National Consumer Credit Protection Amendment (Supporting Economic Recovery) Bill 2020, which excludes the major banks from laws introduced after the baking royal commission to protect consumers from unscrupulous lenders.

The list

“The majority of young pianists I teach are women; the majority of concert pianists are men. The majority of people who teach your children are women; the majority of people running our performing arts organisations and festivals and orchestras and music departments are men. It is easy to imagine the glass ceiling is not there until you feel it graze your head. Where do all my piano students go? Most of them slip into the ecosystem, where they quietly make everything work. They become the home cooks rather than the celebrity chefs, in that larger context of women’s unacknowledged labour, which feminist economist Marilyn Waring identified as ‘counting for nothing’.”

“An intimacy coordinator may sound like a thoroughly American concept, but the idea germinated in many countries at once in the wake of #MeToo, and it was a British practitioner, Ita O’Brien, who was brought to Australia in 2018 by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) to train people locally … It’s not just sex scenes that an IC oversees. There might be scenes of graphic violence, or involving children – having to sit on the lap of an adult, for example – or older people being ill-treated in hospital.”

“Politics is increasingly attracting the wrong sort of people, those more interested in making a difference for themselves and their mates than for their constituents or our nation. Politics has become mostly about short-term point scoring, a negative game, played by people obsessed with personal benefit and gratification, tribes, mates, personalities and marketing. For the most part, any interest in policy substance and delivering good responsible government has fallen away.”

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 Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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