Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Hard Labor
Being in Opposition but not in conflict is a tricky balance to strike

Image of Labor leader Anthony Albanese with Labor’s candidate for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese with Labor’s candidate for Eden-Monaro, Kristy McBain. Via Twitter

“You don’t erase decades of history with a speech at the National Press Club,” said Labor leader Anthony Albanese today. He was out campaigning in Narooma with Eden-Monaro candidate and local mayor Kristy McBain, ahead of the byelection set for July 4, which looms as Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s first electoral test since the Black Summer and the coronavirus pandemic. Albanese, who was speaking alongside shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, has the difficult job of sounding constructive while knowing he will be sidelined over the next four months as employer and employee groups enter good-faith negotiations on much-needed industrial relations reforms. This could make the Opposition’s platform development ahead of Labor’s national conference seem utterly irrelevant. Equally, however, the negotiations led by Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter could deliver very little progress. Given the gap between the Coalition’s rhetoric on policy development over the past seven years, and its actual achievements, that would seem an odds-on bet.   

Albanese marks a year as Opposition leader today, and all along he has talked about conflict fatigue, and how Australians are tired of political argument and looking for solutions. Nevertheless, he and Chalmers made a couple of stinging criticisms of the prime minister’s press club speech from yesterday, which sketched out a JobMaker program, and which proposed the business–union talks that were yesterday widely compared to an Accord 2.0 – although Morrison himself dismissed the comparison with the Hawke-era prices and incomes accord (and there are many differences as Crikey [$] pointed out).

Labor’s first key point, made by Jim Chalmers, was that it is pretty underwhelming for the Coalition – after seven years in power – to suddenly book a room for employer and workers groups to talk things through. “It should be thoroughly unremarkable that businesses, unions and governments work together in the common interest,” said Chalmers. “It’s only become newsworthy because for seven years this government has run down the important relationships between workers, the unions, businesses and the government. It should be unremarkable to hear the words that he said yesterday.”

Albanese made the second point, after the PM had bristled at AM host Sabra Lane this morning for asking whether he could guarantee that no worker would be worse off after this process of reform. The PM refused, and Albanese pounced: “The fact is that there’s a problem in the economy, which is wages,” he said. “Wages have been stagnant. That is a problem for the national economy. And one of the things we know is that every time this Coalition government has engaged in industrial relations – what they call reform – it has been aimed at driving down wages and conditions for working people. Every time.”

ACTU secretary Sally McManus, who has backed the IR reform process, was sounding constructive this morning on RN Breakfast, talking about potential common ground with Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott, while declaring she was “absolutely” focused on ensuring employees were not made worse off. She promised workers that the unions were “always going to have their backs”, and she vowed to fight any resulting industrial legislation through parliament, should the ACTU disagree with it. So, this process has a long way to run before it delivers tangible progress – and it could just as easily collapse into acrimony. 

Labor has plenty else to campaign upon. Albanese highlighted that McBain was Labor’s first choice for the Eden-Monaro byelection (not its third, unlike Liberal candidate Dr Fiona Kotvojs), and he talked about the federal government’s woeful preparation and response to the summer’s horrific bushfires. Chalmers talked about how the JobKeeper program was turning into “Job Shambles”. That sounds like a message that might work on the ground. 

“I’m not quite sure what people are suggesting, rather we have a good relationship with China or we have a bad one, or we send less product to China, rather than more. If that’s the approach people want to take – well, that will cost jobs. It’s very simple.”

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews defends his state’s participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, amid rising trade tensions.

“This latest data also demonstrates the continuing importance of coal and the significant and growing reliance on gas to back our significant renewable capacity.”

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor responds to the release of statistics for electricity generation in Australia over the past year, showing a record 21 per cent came from renewables.

Uber, but for government money
A multimillion-dollar contract for an app that places aged-care workers in nursing homes has triggered concerns about quality and access. The government money favours one private company, which says it has “no duty of care” to its workforce, or liability for the care provided.

The age in years of a sacred site in the Juukan Gorge, in WA’s Pilbara region, that shows continuous human occupation through the ice age, and which was nevertheless blasted by Rio Tinto for an iron ore mine.

“No one will be prosecuted in relation to this unauthorised disclosure. Under our guidelines and our procedures, that evidence [seized by police] has now been destroyed.”

AFP deputy commissioner of investigations Ian McCartney announces that News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst will not be prosecuted after raids on her home last year. Prosecution of ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark has not been ruled out, however.

The list

“One solution to prisons’ inherent vulnerability to COVID-19 is to get people out of them. In March, the parliaments of NSW and the ACT passed emergency legislation giving their respective Corrections commissioners the power to release prisoners – much like the United States has done. Which is great, except that neither commissioner has since ordered a single COVID release under their new powers.”

“If Labor’s NBN was born of a crisis, in many ways that was situation normal in Australia’s telecommunications warzone. As one former adviser to the government puts it, this country has been ‘fucking up telco policy for 40 years’.”

As part of The Monthly’s 15th birthday celebrations, throughout May we present a dedicated selection of great essays from the archives for your reading pleasure.

“State and regional destination organisations have done what they can, via unusual types of hype, to stay top of mind at the height of the restrictions. Australia’s Golden Outback offered five West Australians the chance to win four hours of research on their goldfields ancestry. Since Easter, Destination NSW has dispatched artisanal chocolates, gin, rum and wine to grounded travel writers and editors and run a series of online tasting masterclasses to jump-start the promotion of the state’s products, producers and experiences via the journalists’ social-media channels.”

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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