Tony Abbott’s affectionate cross referencing with the “golden age” of John Howard’s prime ministership is starting to be more of an embarrassment than an advantage.
So much so that the Opposition Leader, who has boasted he and 15 current colleagues were members of Howard ministries, now seems to want those days regarded simply as history.
Ancient history at that.
“But let’s face it: John Howard is two prime ministers ago. John Howard is three Liberal leaders ago. That was then, this is now. There is no going back to the past,” Mr Abbott told reporters on Monday.
Compare that to his pledge, just 10 days before, to reproduce that ancient regime: “The Howard government now looks like it created a golden age of prosperity which is lost. Our task, to which we are wholly and solely dedicated, is to recreate those great days for our country and we will.”
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John Howard’s reported calls to bring back individual contracts has brought cries that the conservatives have a sneaky agenda to bring back WorkChoices. This holds about as much credit as Mr Abbott’s Carbon Tax “wrecking ball” analogy.
Individual agreements have been common place before the 1996 Workplace Relations Act, a full decade before Workchoices. So anyone that calls individual contracts a product of Workchoices, is either being tricky with the facts or is grossly ill informed.
Individual agreements are contentious because they undermine collective bargaining, which is a principle at the core of union values. The Fair Work laws,as they sit today make it near impossible for “individual flexibility” to work in a practical sense. This leaves collective agreements, negotiated with the union and the employer as the only real path to tailor working conditions with the specific needs of the workplace.
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Badminton is not the only game where the putative contestants might indulge in a spot of tanking - throwing a match - in pursuit of a longer-term goal.
Sports fans are reeling after eight Olympic badminton players were disqualified for trying to lose early-round matches in London. Apparently, they wanted to avoid coming up against certain opponents later in the draw.
On the same day as the “bad-blood in badminton’’ story surfaced, we were reminded of our own version of the dark art of tanking: the Coalition’s pseudo-opposition or soft-shoe shuffle on industrial relations reform.
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I sometimes think there are two kinds of politics in Australia. The stuff that gets reported, and the stuff that actually affects people’s lives.
The 24-hour news cycle has created constant demand for new content, no matter how trivial. Much of the demand has been fuelled by punditry, pontificating and poll-analysis, rather than actual news.
While the political journos are obsessed with the state of Craig Thomson’s stomach, Peter Costello’s Future Fund dummy spit, and Wayne Swan’s Three Stooges jokes, you could be forgiven for thinking that is all Parliament ever does. Conflict, not matter how confected, is the fuel that drives media coverage.
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Is your job less secure than the one you had five or 10 years ago? Are you a casual worker, or on a fixed-term contract or getting temporary work through a labour hire company? But, at the same time, are you working harder and longer hours than you were?
If so, it’s not just you, it’s the Australian workforce as a whole.
Today, the reality is that 40 per cent of Australians are in some kind of insecure work. That’s the combination of people who are casual (which is a quarter of the workforce alone), on contracts, and in labour hire, as opposed to the normal definition of standard, permanent jobs.
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Let’s add some truth to the debate on the Fair Work Act: Here are the facts on labour market productivity, lost time from industrial disputes, real wage growth and profits from Australian corporations.
This year will be a big year for the Government and for Australia. One of our challenges will be the review of our Fair Work Act. This will be an examination of whether the Act is operating as intended and whether the legislation could be improved in order to achieve its objective.
The Opposition will no doubt be using this opportunity to soften the ground for a return to WorkChoices. The Liberal backbench are falling over each other to force Tony Abbott to move closer to the policy of the Howard government. The sensible question that people should be asking in this debate is – what makes an effective modern workplace relations system?
I hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas yesterday, whatever you ended up doing. I spent the day, as I do every year, with my large family, which seems to grow every year.
Like many Australians, I’m looking forward to spending the next few weeks, relaxing, doing some reading, hanging out at the beach, catching up with family and friends – and doing a few chores around the house that I’ve been putting off for far too long.
But, of course, many others worked yesterday, and will be working during the summer break. When I was a nurse, I often worked on public holidays, including Christmas, which gave me a real appreciation of the penalty rates unions have won as compensation for those rostered on at those times.
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Contempt ran deep for the old IR club with its protected unions and compulsory arbitration, spawning the short-lived “new right”, animating the HR Nicholls Society, and stiffening the resolve of a new wave of Liberals intent on dismantling a century of state-controlled employment relations and labour market rigidity.
The anti-club’s high water mark was, however, its ultimate undoing: John Howard’s WorkChoices and the removal of the no-disadvantage test from individual work contracts.
This over-reach led to the 2007 defeat by Kevin Rudd and to the current Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott declaring at the 2010 poll that WorkChoices was: “dead, buried, cremated” - in that order! It wasn’t the end of the Liberal recant.
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“Dead, buried, cremated,” Tony Abbott decreed theatrically of WorkChoices amid a shaky start to his 2010 election campaign.
It turned out it was a mere hiccup compared to the spectacular Cabinet leaks on the Government side which scuttled Julia Gillard’s credibility. She has never really recovered.
But the mere fact that a resurgent IR debate scared him witless says much about the history of this issue and the scars the 2007 defeat left.
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Our national political conversation is littered with words that have lost their meaning: ‘fighting for peace’, ‘protecting our borders’, ‘truth in sentencing’, the list goes on.
When it comes to the economy – ‘productivity and flexibility’ are two more benign, if somewhat bland, words that have been abused so horribly it is now tough to remember what they originally meant.
Often I read the commentary pieces in newspapers about these issues that make grand claims about the virtues of productivity and flexibility, a panacea to every business problem, a self-evident good.
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Note: Labor MP Richard Marles and Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella are among our favourite contributors to The Punch, and we have asked them to write a piece every Friday during this five-week election campaign giving their take on events.
On Tony Abbott’s ascension to the Liberal Party leadership, conservatives across the country breathed a sigh of relief that their Party had been returned having been on loan for two years to two leaders who’d grown up wanting to be Labor politicians.
Tony Abbott has always wanted to be seen as a conviction politician.
And he’s delighted in putting his beliefs on show. He has told us that workplace reform was one of the greatest achievements of the Howard Government and only the phrase workchoices is dead not its intent. He has reassured us that a bad boss is a bit like a bad husband – he tends to do more good than harm. And he has emphatically declared that climate change is crap.
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On the basis of his first two days, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Tony Abbott is up against himself in this election.
If he had faltered under pressure, that would be one thing, but his early stumbles on industrial relations have come before the real pressure is even on.
Late on Friday when it became clear that an election would be called the next day, he moved to close off an inevitable attack angle on him. An Abbott government would not touch Labor’s Fair Work IR laws during its whole first term and then, only after an explicit mandate from voters obtained at the subsequent election.
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If today’s Newspoll is an accurate reflection of voter intentions across the board, Julia Gillard won’t just win the election, she’ll deliver Labor candidates into almost 100 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.
The Newspoll bump for the ALP, putting it at 55 per cent on the 2PP, compared to 45 for the Coalition, has been attributed to a boost in the Green primary vote, from 10 per cent to 12 per cent. Both those points have been automatically awarded to Labor on the preference assumptions.
This looked a little presumptuous until Bob Brown confirmed this morning the Greens had done a deal to send Labor preferences in 50 key Lower House seats, in exchange for some love the other way in the Senate.
When I read Jamie Briggs’ most recent contribution to The Punch on industrial relations I wasn’t in the least bit surprised.
It was a predictable salvo in the hundred year war on industrial relations in this country. This war is the battle line between the two major political parties, driving the partisanship and iron discipline of our respective parties.
Labor has always believed that a fair go should apply, that workers need protection and that everybody deserves dignity at work. This belief is not driven by theories or politics but by more practical issues – of making sure a worker can live off their wages, that they have job security if they do a good job and that there’s an umpire to ensure fairness.
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Kevin Rudd has a big political problem. Tony Abbott has thrown him off balance with a couple of short jabs and he is struggling to regain its composure.
Tony Abbott has achieved this by punching at the key failures of the Rudd Government. It has changed the dynamic on the ground all of a sudden.
Labor’s marginal seat holders who just months ago were dreaming of an easy victory in the campaign this year are now talking darkly about the PM’s performance and wondering whether Julia just might be better. They are demanding some action to turn this around. They want something done to stop Tony Abbott and his momentum.
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While you are dining out or at the shops over the summer holidays, spare a few minutes to think about the young person serving you and how their rights at work have changed over the past two years.
Two years ago, that person was working under WorkChoices. Chances are they had no protection from unfair dismissal and little or no job security. It was possible they were employed on an Australian Workplace Agreement, which had stripped their minimum conditions to the bare basics.
Their employer could simply ignore them if they and their workmates wanted to join together to collectively bargain for better pay and conditions. And if they chose to join a union or even ask a union into their workplace, they ran the risk of harassment and discrimination from their boss.
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