Coalition MPs should learn to bite their tongue
Running for Governor of Arkansas in 1982, Bill Clinton had some folksy words to reassure voters he had learned from the mistakes of his disastrous first term which had seen him booted out after only two years.
“When I was a boy growing up,’’ Clinton said, ”my daddy never had to whip me twice for the same thing.’‘
If only one could be sure the same were true of some of the current crop federal Liberal MPs. But alas when it comes to industrial relations - their party’s Achilles’ heel - some of them want to make Captain & Tennille’s “Do That To Me One More Time’’ this year’s campaign song.
A song which older readers will remember advises that “once is never enough’‘.
On Wednesday The Australian reported that Tony Abbott “is being urged by his allies to commit to major workplace reform and encourage the use of individual agreements’‘.
On first reading I assumed this must be a typo and the sentence was meant to be Abbott “is being urged by his enemies’’ to encourage the use of individual agreements.
Because it is safe to say nothing would lift the spirits of Labor folk across the nation more than the news that Abbott has a plan to revive WorkChoices.
ALP strategists have been looking to find a way to get industrial relations into the forefront of voters’ minds because their focus groups show it is one of the few issues they have going for them in suburban marginal seats.
Indeed one Labor official said to me this week he thinks it is the only thing going for them at the moment and that making it an election issue will be the difference between winning and losing several seats in Western Sydney and McEwen in Victoria.
Liberal strategists say the issue comes up - unprompted - as a negative in their focus groups too.
The only urger named in the Oz was Kooyong’s “rising” MP Josh Frydenberg who had written a piece for that newspaper outlining his thoughts on IR policy.
Frydenberg is a keen op-ed writer, recently praised by Tony Abbott in front of his fellow MPs for his success-rate getting pieces into newspapers…
Outings lately have included an attack on Australia’s abstention in the UN vote to admit Palestine, an attack on the Asian Century White Paper, a call for closer relations with India and a paean to the shale gas industry. All harmless and wholesome subjects for a backbencher.
And then out of nowhere on Wednesday, came this: “Now is the opportunity for the Coalition to go on the front foot and put forward proposals that make unfair dismissal laws less of a burden on small business, lead to individual flexibility arrangements in the Fair Work Act becoming more attractive to employers and employees, and put the brakes on coercive union power beyond reinstating the ABCC and making unions more accountable through reforms to their governance arrangements.”
Plenty of stuff for the Labor Party to get its teeth into there I’d have thought. It would be very easy to argue for instance that Frydenberg is urging Abbott to make it easier to sack the 47 per cent of the workplace that works in a small business; encouraging bosses to put workers on contracts; curtailing workers’ right to strike and interfering in the internal workings of unions.
On Thursday I rang him to ask what the response had been to his piece. It had been overwhelming positive he said. On the subject of IR, it seems the Liberals are like the Bourbons, of whom it was said “they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing”.
One would have thought that the searing experience of losing government in the middle of a boom would be enough to convince all of them to cool it with the union-bashing staff.
Especially as the public is on the verge of giving the ALP its biggest belting since 1975.
But apparently not. There is no doubt however Abbott has got the message. In my opinion his decision during the last election to endorse Labor’s new IR regime was one of the reasons why he came so close to winning.
Two years later this no doubt that there are problems with that regime - not least the incentives it provides for employers to resort to lockouts.
But despite their complaints about the new IR regime employers are not lining up to attack Abbott for his seemingly lack of interest in reforming it.
Those of them that are desperate to see the back of Julia Gillard and her Government have apparently made the judgment that getting rid of her is more important than securing a series of promises from Tony Abbott on IR that he won’t be able to honour if he loses - especially as the chances of the Government controlling the Senate after the next election are not high.
It’s a pity that some of Abbott’s own MPs can’t see the logic of biting their tongues. Unlike Bill Clinton they don’t seem to have learned how not to get whipped for the same thing twice.
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