Tuesday, November 20, 2007

SPIN DOCTOR: Howard's ultimate promise - not to govern.

The Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Workplace Relations Minister all yesterday condemned Labor’s plans to rollback WorkChoices while at the same time guaranteeing that they would not extend it.

“There will be no further changes to the industrial relations legislation. There is no second wave. We have nothing in the drawer,” the Prime Minister declared.

Just months after he felt it necessary to do a rollback of his own by removing the name WorkChoices, introducing a fairness test and appointing a telegenic Workplace Ombudsman Mr Howard was saying that he and his successor will neither roll things further back nor further forward again – ever...

“A similar guarantee has been given in the same terms by the man who will replace me as Leader of the Party and as Prime Minister if the Government is reelected, well into the next term, and that is Mr Costello,” the Prime Minister assured us. “We have no options, we have no plans, we have no intention in any shape or form of making any further changes to the industrial relations laws.”

In order to get reelected the Prime Minister is prepared to promise policy paralysis – an industrial relations system on autopilot.

He shouldn’t be. Promising never to touch a new system that it still being run in is an abdication of responsibility.

The Workplace Authority says 26,833 workplace agreements have been failed or sent back for changes since May and that it has a backlog of 142,000 agreements awaiting checking.

Frustrated by the process and deprived of the ability to use workplace agreements to cut wages bills, employers have begun to turn back to enterprise agreements.

This probably isn’t what the government had in mind when it introduced WorkChoices. The system probably does need a further shakeup, or at least fine-tuning, an option the Prime Minister has forsaken.

He said yesterday that the documents being sought by the Seven Network relate “entirely to the discussions in 2005 which led to the laws which are now in force”.

But other documents, reported in the Canberra Times in June this year indicate that well after the government’s partial rollback of WorkChoices in May it was considering rolling it forward once again.

The tender documents from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations sought the services of an economic consultant to report by 13 July on the effect of

. extending the coverage of WorkChoices from 85 per cent to 100 per cent of the workforce,

. cutting award coverage from 19 per cent to 10 per cent of Australian workers, and

. boosting the coverage of AWAs from 5 per cent to 20 per cent of all employees.

The economic consultant has reported, but despite repeated requests the Workplace Relations Minister has refused to release the research ahead of the election claiming that Australians are “all researched out”.