Essential Report

Just like a roach, IR plan hard to kill

Jul 22, 2010

Article by James Chessell published in the Australian  July 21st 2010

IT seems Work Choices is the political equivalent of a cockroach.

When all other issues lie dead under a pile of post-apocalyptic rubble, Work Choices will still be scurrying around, nibbling on the corpses of conservative politicians. It is impossible to kill.

Tony Abbott’s failure to make industrial relations a non-issue has a broader context. Like the cockroach, Work Choices is the result of years of evolution. The policy finished off John Howard but its ancestors have been damaging Coalition campaigns for the best part of 20 years.

Its antecedents can be traced back to Jeff Kennett’s decision to abolish penalty rates and leave loadings for Victorian public servants after his 1992 victory. Kennett promised to keep these conditions during the campaign and reneged a week after the opposition leader John Hewson and then industrial relations spokesman Howard launched Jobsback during the federal campaign.

Hewson’s failure to sell the GST is widely credited for his drop in popularity in November 1992. But he argues it was industrial relations panic that brought him undone. “Kennett’s unilateral decision immediately called into question the credibility of our commitment of ‘what you’ve got you’ll keep’,” he wrote in 1998.

The former Victorian Liberal premier’s influence goes further. During his final term, consultancy Essential Media Communications came up with a campaign for the Australian Education Union to combat his plans to close schools. The campaign was a success and in 2005 EMC crafted Your Rights at Work.

The only other Coalition leader to genuinely embrace industrial relations reform during the 1990s was West Australian premier Richard Court, who lost the 2001 election after reinvigorating the WA union movement. Comments »


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