Your local country show is under threat
One of the great benefits of representing a regional electorate is the opportunity to attend many local shows.
Whether it is Mount Barker, Mount Pleasant, Strathalbyn or Kangaroo Island – shows represent what is great about regional Australia – although you can take or leave the Dagwood Dogs.
But there is a danger lurking for these regional celebrations in the form of yet another bungled Rudd Government “reform”, a danger that threatens the very survival of the small regional shows.
Julia Gillard is proposing to re-regulate Australia’s workplaces under the so-called ‘award modernisation’ process. This process is designed to reduce the thousands of over lapping awards removing complexity and varying conditions. The goals are lofty and the concept sound however like with many policies being pursued by the Rudd Government, the implementation has not been well thought through.
The problem with the process is that the Government is attempting to group occupations and industries together that just don’t fit. This will raise costs for employers and inevitably cost jobs.
The effect of the award modernisation on regional shows will be disastrous according to the Country Shows Association in South Australia. They say the proposed changes to their award will mean that some small shows will see additional costs of around $10,000 making their viability very questionable.
This kind of money is often more than the shows make in total profit and even with all the community goodwill in the world, common sense tells you it’s near impossible to run a show if you’re making consistent financial losses.
What makes this worse is that this not the only industry facing the same problem. The new award structure will decimate the agricultural sector. The Chair of the McLaren Vale wine Association has said that ‘for the sake of the wine industry and thousands of jobs, I plead with you to fight hard for grape growers and have the flexibility of working hours without penalty restored’.
The Baking Industry has estimated that the cost of baked goods in South Australian alone will increase by 10 to 30%, costing jobs and consumers.
The newsagents similarly will be forced to reduce the opportunities for young people to get their first crack at the workforce. This will have the additional negative effect of forcing hard working mum and dad businesses to work harder and longer.
And pharmacists have said that they will lose four thousand jobs from their small businesses around Australia because of the badly thought through changes.
Julia Gillard’s response to this criticism is to glibly say that the Government is ensuring that the process will not reduce wages nor will it increase costs. An impossible goal even for the darling of Australian politics who has a track record of policy disaster (see all references to Medicare Gold).
You would think with this sort of consistent evidence across the economy and particularly in the small business sector the Deputy Prime Minister would sit up and listen. She could fix it but instead she arrogantly dismisses the argument.
It is not like the Deputy Prime Minister wasn’t warned that this could happen. A report that was completed for her Department in 2006 by a Senior Deputy President of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission that said ‘inappropriate groupings of awards will make this task effectively impossible or result in rationalised awards which are either too vague to perform their fundamental function or that import arrangements simply not suited to a particular segment of industry.’
In other words, the report tells the Deputy Prime Minister not to do exactly what she has proceeded to do.
No one is suggesting that modernising Australia’s out of date award system is easy. However implementing a policy that will have the perverse outcome of smashing the egg you are trying to hatch.
The new awards are planned to begin on 1 January 2010, so there is little time to get this right for our country shows, small businesses and for young Australians looking for a job.
The Australian newspaper columnist Ross Fitzgerald has categorised Julia Gillard as ‘all style and very little substance. Long rhetoric, but short on delivery. All foam no beer.’
The handling of the award modernisation would suggest this categorisation is right. The question is will she listen before the tidal wave of damage hits.
The clock is ticking.
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