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.
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.