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CHOKER: Abbott’s compelling case strangled by bad Workplace Relations plan

nogutsnoglory Not long after the 2007 election, Brendan Nelson and Joe Hockey (the last Minister for Workplace Relations in the Howard Government) thought it a stroke of political genius to pronounce that WorkChoices was ‘dead’.

Brendan Nelson, a former trade union leader for the militant Mercedes-driving medial profession, had sat passively in the Cabinet that ticked off on the WorkChoices legislation. As leader of the party that had championed labour market reform, when he became leader he demonstrated a breathtaking ignorance of what the WorkChoices reforms were actually about.

Nelson said that the Howard Government had gone too far with WorkChoices and evidence of this was the removal of ‘legislated minimum conditions’.  In fact the opposite was true, prior to WorkChoices there were no legislated minimum conditions for Australian workers, it was actually the WorkChoices legislation that saw these guaranteed minima introduced for the very first time.

Joe Hockey, who was not in the cabinet that ticked off on the WorkChoices legislation, continues to re-write history by telling journalist Peter Hartcher that he had counselled his cabinet colleagues against approving WorkChoices.

Liberal insiders remember Joe as the ineffective and somnolent Human Services Minister who didn’t progress his legislative agenda, namely the Access Card reforms that would have brought about significant efficiencies in sharing health and social security information.

From the very outset of the Liberals’ move to the opposition benches, the ‘party leadership’ thought it clever to disown WorkChoices faster than a red headed stepchild. [VEXNEWS: An unfortunate expression that have the ranga army up in arms]

Many would say that this made sense, given the electoral poison that it had been for the Howard Government.

However, they made no effort whatsoever to defend the benefits that WorkChoices delivered, in particular the 455,000 full time jobs that were created in the 18 months between its commencement in March 2006 and September 2007. Nor did they defend the considerable benefits of the Reith reforms negotiated with the now defunct Democrats back in the mid-nineties.

Of itself these were not serious errors if you get the narrative right by permitting yourself a role as genuine reformers and conviction politicians.

However, the Liberals have now painted themselves into a corner by trying to completely remove industrial relations as an issue.

After Turnbull became leader and Julie Bishop took on the foreign affairs portfolio, her fellow West Australian Michael Keenan became the Liberals IR spokesman.  Through both design and sheer ineptitude, Keenan made himself invisible and therefore undermined any legitimacy that the Liberals had on IR matters.

There was barely a whimper raised by the Liberals as Julia Gillard rammed through her Fair Work regime, which included reinstating the burden of unfair dismissal on small business, abolishing individual statutory agreements, reinvigorating the moribund award system, gutting the Fair Pay Commission and giving unions unbridled rights of entry into workplaces.

By being so unprincipled, the Liberals lost all credibility on IR and in doing so they laid the ground work for the mess that Tony Abbott, a former Workplace Relations Minister, now finds himself in: a conviction politician that has allowed Labor’s wrong-headed Fair Work laws to reach unamendable sacrosanct status.


Since the campaign began last Saturday, there has been one story after another about the Liberals’ intention to reintroduce WorkChoices and make changes to the Fair Work Act.

It is becoming death by a thousand WorkChoices cuts as every union hack and two-bit lefty academic offers their opinion on what constitutes a change to the Fair Work laws.

Tony Abbott has tried to kill the issue by using Brendan Nelson’s line that WorkChoices is dead and buried.  For reasons that only Tony can give, he also said it had been cremated (after being buried?).

That should have been the end of the matter for the rest of the campaign, but because Tony is so preoccupied with navel gazing and is by nature a very honest man, he got himself tied up in knots by saying that where necessary he would reserve the right to change the Fair Work Act by regulation.

This totally unnecessary statement/admission by Abbott played into the hands of the sheep like press gallery who have spent the whole week repeatedly asking Tony questions about his ‘real’ intentions and chasing down those two-bit lefty academics for their own predictably pro Labor and union insights.

If the Liberals thought they could not get any worse then they were sadly mistaken.  On Tuesday they announced their intention to save $25 million by cutting funding for unions to conduct secret ballots.

Funding that had also been partly provided under the Howard Government.  However, Hockey said they would achieve this by amending the Electoral Act, not the Fair Work Act.

This set off another media frenzy and claims that Tony Abbott’s real agenda had been laid bare for all to see and that he really would change the Fair Work Act by stealth and reintroduce WorkChoices.

The avuncular Joe Hockey only made matters worse by appearing on Red Kerry’s show last night and proclaiming what was all the fuss about because it was ‘only $25 million’ that was being cut.  If that is the case, then why on earth did he and Tony think it was worth enduring untold political opprobrium for such a piddling amount in the first place?  For many in the Liberal Party this simply confirms what a tin ear sloppy Joe has when it comes to even the most basic politics.

Like when he told a Liberal fundraiser that “because he is an Arab” he collects the rent on his investment properties “in cash,” Joe is not as careful as he should be.

The Liberals are now reaping what they have sown, they spent two years running away from an issue that Labor was always going to make front and centre at this election. They put the white flag out of the trench to find it shot to pieces by ACTU and Press Gallery AK-47 machine-gun fire.

Gillard accuses Abbott of secretly intending to bring back the worst aspects of WorkChoices – but no one asks the PM to name those objectionable aspects. We don’t suppose she means provisions for the secret ballots at workplaces or the centralisation of the IR system.

Abbott could have approached this problem by insisting the PM guarantee that there would be no losers from award rationalisation. This would have allowed Abbott to rule in modest amendments to the Fair Work Act to ensure no-one was worse-off.

Instead Tony Abbott has now been left with a political noose around his well-toned neck. The Liberal campaign is struggling to cope with the ambiguity surrounding the issue and even worse the party has turned their back on thousands of small businesses who are hurting from the new unfair dismissal regime and those workers who are worse off through award rationalisation.

The Liberals need to find a way out of this mess and soon, otherwise the next time Tony Abbott utters the words ‘dead’, ‘buried’ and ‘cremated’ in a sentence will be to describe his leadership prospects after the Liberals lose an election that was well within their grasp.


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  1. No amount of spin will disguise their intention to reintroduce WorkChoices.

    Posted by Anonymous | July 22, 2010, 16:59
  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrew Landeryou, Political Fiend and Asia Pacific Brief, vexnews. vexnews said: CHOKER: Abbott’s compelling case strangled by bad Workplace Relations plan: Some Liberal party insiders are convin… http://bit.ly/ah5wcR […]

    Posted by Tweets that mention VEXNEWS 2010© | CHOKER: Abbott’s compelling case strangled by bad Workplace Relations plan -- Topsy.com | July 22, 2010, 17:07
  3. Why do they hate Unions? It is the legislation that mandates the use of the AEC, not the wishes of Unions or there members. Why then should Union members pay for it? Imagine the uproar if company Boards had to have ‘by statute’ secret ballotts run by the AEC everytime they made a decision.Let alone also be required to pay for something they didnt want.The sad remnants of the HR Nichols Society still linger in the Liberal Party.

    Posted by Arther conan doyle | July 22, 2010, 17:18
  4. There is DEFINITELY NO PLAN for the Libs to re-introduce Work Choices. Everyone knows it and so using this to scare the public is just silly.
    I am getting tried of the ALP scare tactics, but even more wary of their incompetence, that’s what scares me.
    Now I read that the UN plans to completely shatter its credibility and reinforce the impression of being a gravy train with jobs for mates by specially creating a position for Rudd as a climate change expert.
    Why dont you do a story about the lack of education revolution in Australia, and the number of plum public positions largely going to seriously underqualified people.
    The biggest problem in the labour market is in fact misallocation of resources and appointments without merit.

    Posted by No Liberal Plan to re-introduce Work Choices -- Work Choices not the issue | July 22, 2010, 17:23
  5. isn’t jason gould barbara streisand’s son?

    Posted by babs | July 22, 2010, 17:36
  6. Pauline Fegan used Workchoices to sack me!

    Posted by Irene Webber | July 22, 2010, 17:40
  7. WorkChoices gave us record low unemployment!! What a social calamity for Centrelink!!

    Posted by 3.9 per cent | July 22, 2010, 17:56
  8. When you think about it with advisors such as Cardinal Pell and
    Andrew Bolt just who would want
    the mad Monk and the Dumb Blond running the country especially after her performance last Monday
    on Q & A

    Posted by Argus Tuft | July 23, 2010, 0:06
  9. Argus, your logic is profound!

    Catherine Deveny and Kenneth Davidson make for such better advisors for the ALP.

    Go Joooooleeeeaaa.

    Posted by Anonski | July 23, 2010, 0:55
  10. I notice John Roskam has a similiar piece in the Fin today. Once again Andy Vexnews leads the way and the major media outlets can only but follow in your wake…

    Posted by Anonski | July 23, 2010, 11:02
  11. why is the alp so slow in attacking Hockey as the Libs’ Achilles’ heel? He make Wayne Swan look dynamic!

    Posted by hockey must go | July 23, 2010, 14:08
  12. When you think about it with advisors
    likle his Eminence George the Cardinal Pell a very clever man, we most certainly do want Tony Abbott to run the country well its obvious that Gillard the try hard dullard believes in nothing except her own personal ambition!
    Gillard has no policies except when they are ALL her dictating own choice like her UNJUSTIFIED self belief that Krudd needed the boot!
    Gillard wait till you get the chop
    then you may stop being as hard as nails!

    Posted by EMINENTBELIEVER | July 23, 2010, 19:55
  13. Be careful EMINENTBELIEVER around Cardinal Pell won’t you, he has some very unsavoury pastimes with boys.

    Posted by Little Blonde Choir Boy | July 23, 2010, 20:23
  14. Well its pretty obvious that the bloke that wrote has never actually worked for a living,and I dont mean sitting in an office shining the seat of his pants.
    Work choices was a disaster for most people and no amount of spin can hide it,you tell us what actual work anyone in the IPA has done as well they had there sinecures paid for by the Howard Govt.
    Work choices did not give us low unemployment it was the huge boom led by China that did that.

    Posted by John Ryan | July 24, 2010, 0:40
  15. You miss the point of the article John Ryan. WorkChoices was indeed a disaster fot the Liberals. However, the Liberals made a fatal mistake by totally removing themselves from the IR debate by rushing to disown it. The Fair Work Act is a stinker and small business is copping it in the neck as a result. The Libs should be there prosecuting the case but they vacated the field long ago.

    Posted by Missing the point | July 25, 2010, 9:28


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