The Liberals’ WorkChoices dilemma

This generation of Liberal MPs have only themselves to blame for their WorkChoices dilemma. Most of them voted, only last Parliament, for a radical realignment of industrial power to employers from employees – change that involved removing protections against unfair dismissal and a devastating reduction in workers’ rights. On behalf of the business lobby they still represent, they went further than Australia was prepared to go and were thrashed for it in the polls.


It’ll take more than three years to forget.

And how did the surviving Liberal MPs respond to this? By blandly declaring that this policy that they had waited a decade in power to introduce, this policy that really represented the fundamental core of their party, was “dead”. The same people were still their candidates, and they never gave any explanation as to why they didn’t believe in it any more – it was clearly just that it was unpopular, and they realised they had to retreat on it. For the moment.

But no Australian with an ounce of sense really believes that Abbott (and all the other Liberal MPs on his front bench who are taking cover under his promise) doesn’t really want to again slam workers on behalf of the conservative business lobby that is his party’s base. He hasn’t given a soul-searching exploration of why his old policy was wrong, and why he’s seriously changed his mind. He just recognises that it’s too hard to sell such a policy in Opposition – and that the best chance of getting it through is to get into government, get his hands on the treasury for a massive taxpayer-funded advertising campaign (you’ll note that in all the furore about the ALP’s much, much cheaper RSPT campaign, the Liberals never actually promised not to do likewise in government) and then do it.

Only a naive dupe would believe that he won’t. That the Liberals’ supporters (and funders) would let him not try.

If that sounds unfair, well, that’s the consequence of pushing too far too fast. The ALP has worn the terrible fear of being seen as profligate spenders ever since the Whitlam years – hence the economically very conservative Hawke and Keating and (despite the Liberals’ tedious “big spending” campaign) Rudd governments. The Liberals have found that they are now in the same boat (which I’m sure they’d like to stop) on industrial relations policy. It should take many years – and generational change in the party – for them to be able to tinker with IR law again without voters immediately fearing WorkChoices Mark Two.

They made that bed, at great taxpayer expense. They should have to lie in it for a while yet.

PS They can’t exactly whinge about the election being a rehash of 2007, since they’re determined to make it a rehash of 2001.

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20 responses to “The Liberals’ WorkChoices dilemma

  1. baldrickjones

    So now you are muckraking along with the best of them. You get pissed when people make outlandish claims about the greens but seem happy to pontificate about a policy that has been stated to be part of history. Read your piece again and see how many generalisations you have just made.

    The only reason I bring this up is because you seem to think that you can call bullshit when other commentators generalise without stating any facts, when you have just done it yourself. Fair enough, just don’t think that you have a right to call “lazy journalism” or be the “lack of facts” opinion piece police again.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, Jeremy. They have no one to blame but themselves. They are victims of their own sneaky deviousness and clever politricks. The problem for the Liberal party is that they are just basically untrustworthy, and even casual political observers know this instinctively. This was the party of the “never, ever” GST, core and non-core promises, children overboard, etc etc. “Carefully prepared and scripted” Tony even admitted that not everything he says is the “gospel truth”. WorkChoices was a nasty surprise sprung on the electorate at the first moment the Liberals had the chance. Is it really any coincidence that the media is treating Abbott’s claims with skepticism and outright cynicism? Seen in context, they ring false.

    Shaun Carney explained it best in his column today. The money quote is this: “The Coalition’s approach is one of blanket opposition to everything the government has done or wants to do. Economic policy, fiscal policy, climate change, industry policy, broadband, health, education – you name it and the Coalition either wants to stop it or undo it. All of Labor’s policies are bad for the country. Except for its industrial relations regime. Why? We don’t know. ”

    Except we do. Abbott knows WorkChoices is unpopular and he wants to win the election. Simple as that. And afterward, well, roll the dice and find out, and all the denial to the contrary rings hollow, whether a contract is signed in front of Neil Mitchell or not.

  3. Splatterbottom

    There is no reason not to believe Abbott when he says he won’t re-introduce Workchoices, other than the juvenile politicking of shamelessly dishonest partisans. There is a much greater chance that the ALP will revert back to the original RSPT, under the supervision of their new senatorial overlords, the Greens.

    I wonder why the respective leaders of the Greens and the ALP fob off questions about the details of their sleazy preference deal by saying that they were not directly involved in the deal-making process?

  4. jordanrastrick

    Clearly, the Liberals still would like to at some point change Industrial Relations from where it stands under the ALP, if not seeking to go as far as Howard with WorkChoices. But they have committed in an unequivocal fashion to not doing so without seeking a popular mandate at an election first, since they got trounced over the issue at the last election.

    The comparison to the economic mismanagement perception of Labor is apt – its an issue opponents relish to trot out for cheap political point scoring, as a distraction from other issues. The Coalition may have dug themselves into this particular ditch, just like the ALP did originally open themselves up to claims of profligacy in the 1970’s. That doesn’t somehow elevate or justify scaremongering.

    “If that sounds unfair”, its because it is unfair, and the objective political commentator in you knows it. But by the same two wrongs make a right mentality that subverts the standard of all our public discourse, you figure the Coalition deserves to be undermined by illegitimate arguments, because they employ them.

    Fine; but if you want to yourself employ lines like:

    “only a naive dupe would believe that he won’t. That the Liberals’ supporters (and funders) would let him not try.”

    you erode your own legitimacy to cry foul when other partisan commentators make similar claims about the ALP or the Greens.

  5. Blast Tyrant

    baldrick, you’re clearly an idiot.

    How about you actually dispute something specific about Jeremys post rather than make your own lazy generalisations about it.

  6. @BJ /snigger

    the Howard government introduced Workchoices just over 3 years ago. Do you believe the liberal party no longer supports any kind of industrial relations reform? Tony Abbott has promised that if the Liberals win power, they will not make any changes to the policies introduced by Labor. Does that mean that they now believe those Labor policies are the right ones, or are they willing to sacrifice their own policies and beliefs in order to win office, in the hope that the memory of Workchoices will fade? That makes Tony Abbott, one of Workchoices’ most vocal supporters, either a hypocrite, or a liar.

    jeremy’s point is a simple one: have they dropped the policy because it’s no good, and if so, why? OR have they dropped the policy because it’s politically expedient to do so in 2010, in the hope that they’ll be able to slowly re-introduce it in 2013?

  7. baldrickjones

    BT – His post is all opinion flying in the face of what Abbott has declared as his policy. Therefore its opinion going against the facts of the matter – if Abbott renegs, then he is a filthy rotten liar and will no doubt lose the next election if he happens to win this one.

    l2ts – one word – Howard. There was a reason Costello didn’t want to challenge and that was because Howard was seen as a giant in the Liberal party. So what you are saying is that a political party can’t change it’s mind because when they were judged by the electorate, the electorate gave it the arse?

    Clearly this is a website run by a lefty – but one who has long campaigned against hyperbole in the media and contributes to another website where his main postings are about how the greens are smeared by MSM opinion columnists. But it’s okay for him to do it apparently, because his target is on the opposite side of the political spectrun – well done, you are now in the league of Bolt.

  8. baldrickjones

    It seems that for some people, their political persuassions make some types of bullshit ok, but other bullshit perfectly reasonable.

    And BT – you are clearly partisan on this issue.

  9. baldrickjones

    Just to clarify, there is more than enough to smash Abbott on his stated policies, you don’t have to make them up and blindly follow union advertising memes to make an argument against a Liberal government.

  10. ‘if Abbott renegs (sic), then he is a filthy rotten liar and will no doubt lose the next election if he happens to win this one. “

    Yeah, like Howard with his “never ever” GST.

    They get away with this stuff in government, with the taxpayer purse behind them.

    I am NOT in the league of Bolt here. Tell me specifically what unfair “generalisations” I have made in the post.

    And answer these questions:
    1. Do you genuinely think the Liberal candidates no longer believe in changing the IR law in any way?
    2. Do you support them not changing the IR law in any way?
    3. Do you genuinely think they won’t in any way amend the IR law from government?
    4. Would you vote against them if they did amend the IR law from government?

    I suspect the honest answer to the above questions is “no”. I also suspect you will avoid answering them honestly.

  11. jordanrastrick

    I’ll answer the questions.

    1. No, I think they are clearly on record as believing in changes to IR law, but not in the next term of government because they don’t want to have the debate in this election campaign.

    2. Personally I think that, for example, relaxations of unfair dismissal laws for small businesses would not be a terrible idea, but its not a big deal; I’d be quite happy with IR laws to stay as they are, or to change somewhat if one of the parties wanted to campaign on the issue. Neither seems to want to.

    3. I don’t think the Liberals if elected will amend the Fair Work Act until at least after the 2013 election.

    4. I’d almost certainly be voting against them anyway, but I would do much more than vote against them if they reneged so blatantly.

  12. “No, I think they are clearly on record as believing in changes to IR law, but not in the next term of government because they don’t want to have the debate in this election campaign.”

    Yes, well – can you see why that’s not really sufficiently reassuring for those who don’t want them to EVER bring those laws back in?

    And thank you for honestly answering the questions.

    I don’t think I misrepresented the Liberals in my post, but I’m happy to be shown where BJ thinks I did.

  13. baldrickjones

    “Yeah, like Howard with his “never ever” GST.”

    You mean the one he took to the 1998 election as a policy? And won? Bit weak my friend. You can criticise workchoices appearing out of no where but not the GST.

  14. Blast Tyrant

    Therefore its opinion going against the facts of the matter – if Abbott renegs, then he is a filthy rotten liar and will no doubt lose the next election if he happens to win this one.
    um, Libs / ALP – they’re all filthy rotten liars.

    well done, you are now in the league of Bolt.
    Except that Bolt gets paid to print and talk bullshit.
    If only the mainstream media took the boot to both the ALP and the Libs as much as smaller blogs like this do then it would be a fair comparison. And a better society.

    And BT – you are clearly partisan on this issue
    Yeah no shit.

    The Libs introduced Workchoices, the ALP and the union bureaucracy filtered off worker anger over it into getting the ALP elected so we now have WorkChoices Lite, instead of just crushing the legislation when Howard brought it in.

    Fact is, work place deaths for construction workers has doubled since the introduction of WorkChoices and the ABCC.
    And now we also have construction unionists such as Ark Tribe facing jail time for trying to maintain a safe work site.

    You may be happy to give Abbott the benefit of the doubt Baldrick, but I know plenty of people that don’t want to risk their lives or jail time on this lying dickhead.

  15. baldrickjones

    1. Who cares what people believe – its their actions that count. They have pledged not to change them, over and over and over again. If they reneg the population will vote them out of office at the next election (should they win this one) with the same fury that Keating was voted out with.

    2. I would like to see instances of young people being able to work flexible hours after school. After all I did. But the Liberals have declared no changes, so comparisons between the two parties on IR is not possible in the context of this election.

    3. Even the smallest ammendment would result in the biggest media and union campaign you have ever seen (even bigger than previous ones). No, I don’t think they will make any ammendments.

    4. I would have to assess the changes that were made. If they resulted in benefits to people compared to the current laws with no detriment to others, I would consider it an improvement in policy and therefore good.

    Political parties want power more than anything else – no one wants to be in opposition. That’s why I think that the Liberals will not chase workchoice like legislation again – although I can’t be certain about that because I (and everyone else) can’t predict the future.

    My criticism is that you are soothsaying in your post and ignoring the fact that it is not an issue for this election campaign. Even more so if the Greens get the balance of power – do you honestly see the greens doing a Democrats-like deal as they did with the GST. The 2004 election taught Australia a salient lesson – best that no one party controls the senate.

  16. weewillywinkee

    Hey J .. hope you don’t mind I’ve added a link. It summarises my view quite well.

    Follow the link .. its all I have to say.

  17. The other thing I’d point out is that there’s a huge difference between pointing out why the Liberals can’t expect the public to believe their IR promises now and an Andrew Bolt-style misrepresentation of what a party like the Greens actually stand for.

    The Greens aren’t asking us to believe that they’ve suddenly reversed what was always a deep desire of their MPs and their base. If they did, without a single word of explanation as to what changed their mind, I wouldn’t believe them either.

  18. (And this post was of course written before it became apparent that Abbott was already promising to change the Fair Work Act via the Electoral Act.)

  19. It’s fascinating how hard of a time Abbott is having getting people to believe that he will not try to reintroduce WorkChoices, or something like it. But there is just simply no mystery about it, seen in context of the party it’s coming from, of course people are going to be very, very skeptical.

    Like Julie Bishop on qanda the other night. She seemed genuinely shocked and confused that this time around people are actually calling them on their bullshit before the election. And it’s clearly frustrating them, but it’s hard to have too much sympathy.

  20. Problem for the Libs is that there are many of them that genuinely believe in every bit of Workchoices.

    It was their fantasy legislation, cooked up by the HR Nicholls Society which is practically a branch of the Liberal Party.

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