Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Uncle Joe vs Aunt Julia

What with the 7.30 Report's ongoing series of specials and tomorrow's first-ever televised debate between State leaders Morris Iemma Peter Debnam on Stateline, the ABC is fast becoming the venue for Great Debates (though not, by common consensus, on `A Difference of Opinion').

Yesterday's head-to-head between Julia Gillard and Joe Hockey was a must-watch for anyone who's been following the evolution of the industrial relations debate. Finally, in The Avuncular Joe, it appears the Government have found someone who is able to locate the bruises in the ALP's policy and how to exert subtle pressure on them. Meanwhile, the ALP have finally found someone who can convincingly describe the real world impact of the WorkChoices legislation. It's only taken both sides two odd years to find the right people to prosecute what may be the deciding policy in the next Federal election, but there you go.

(Before we go any further, according to my dictionary, `Avuncular' means ` Regarded as characteristic of an uncle, especially in benevolence or tolerance.' Some would argue that this is excessively kind to uncles, but others would say it's excessively kind to Joe. I imagine his nieces and nephews are the only ones who could end this debate).

The style of Kevin Andrews was along the lines of `We're right. They're wrong. You'll realise this eventually. We won't tell you how or why. You just will. Now - stop bothering us about it'. While conceding that the policy would take years to have its full effect, Labor at least has kept matters in the present, pointing to real victims of the legislation as just the start of a longer, more malevolent trend. It's easy to scare people about things that haven't happened yet. It's harder to convince them to stick around for the modest benefit afforded by the current pain, especially when this benefit is so subjective.

Hockey has the sense not only to acknowledge - if not concede - the weak points in the government's policy, but also to pick out the equivalent points in Labor's. Unfair dismissal laws are something many advocates of the broader cause have been muttering about with some worry. The previous regime did, in some cases, lead to small business people sending themselves broke defending against incompetent or malicious employees. It did need fixing, but not removing altogether. We can expect the government to hammer this point at the exclusion of the less popular aspects of WorkChoices.

Hockey remains unable to convince us of any connection between productivity and WorkChoices. In a sense, I wonder if the Howard Government's repuation for good economic management does not hinder its argument. A generation of people now knows nothing more than good economic times. Why should rights be surrendered to make them slightly better? Or, if the argument is that changes are necessary to maintain this prosperity - why now? It's all ticked along quite nicely so far. The Opposition's version of the future is still a more convincing one than the Howard Government's. Perhaps this explains the government's constant insistence that Labor's policy `belongs in the past'.

The terminology has also been subtly massaged. The description of WorkChoices as `deregulated' industrial relations system has, interestingly and oddly, been pushed back into play. The Howard Government may argue that deregulation was their aim in WorkChoices, but anyone who has attempted to lift a bound copy of the complete revised Workplace Relations Act would disagree. This is really the crux of the WorkChoices debate - not what each side can deregulate, but how and what each side will regulate. It's much the same as what I've said before about big government. Even those government that claim to be small are really just selective about which parts to make big.

Uncle Joe was still a bit slippery on some things - his decision to counter Gillard's apt analogy on the negotiating power of Australian netballers with the suggestion that Ricky Ponting has exactly the same job ahead of him in thrashing out a contract as a teenager working for KFC was, in the world of salary cap scandals and corporate sponsorship, about the worst he could have picked. But what was best about this debate was a willingness to engage and chew over the issues. In fact, this is the first time that I can think of that this has actually occurred since the IR debate began. The issue, which felt somewhat stale and stalled towards the end of last year, is finally a going issue once more, and it's on for young and old.

It's slightly troubling to me that, less than a year out from the election, Labor's industrial relations policy is acknowledged by both sides as a work-in-progress. Such things as the continuing pledge to abolish AWAs still leaves open the question of their replacement, and no consistent answer has availed itself. It will be interesting to see what the ALP's upcoming Federal Conference comes up with.

Isn't it intriguing that televised debates are regarded as such special events, whereas the number of people who watch Question Time could be counted on the number of fingers on one finger? Never mind - the more the merrier, I say. At a time when every political communication with the public is painfully stage-managed - bring back the biff and show us what these policies are really made of!


At 10:03 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The previous [unfair dismissal] regime did, in some cases, lead to small business people sending themselves broke defending against incompetent or malicious employees."
I'd be interested to see some figures to support that. I have a feeling it's one of those statements that just gets repeated so often it becomes accepted. But I could be wrong!

At 11:17 pm, Anonymous A nona mouse said...

Wow . . . what bias! Just as much as on a lawn bowl.
If a small business person goes broke it means they have incompetrent and malicious employees.
If any business on the planet has an incompetent and malicious employee, does that not mean the the employer was incompetent in employing such a person and therefore is incompetent in employing him or herself as boss as well as the employee.
A good employer has good employees.
A bad employer has bad employees.
Which one deserves to succeed in business?
Which one deserves to go broke.
And if anyone goes broke it is the employees fault.
Yep maybe the employees should be locked up with David Hicks.

At 6:57 am, Anonymous milltown pete said...

Modia Minotaur,oppressor of the working class, defender of the exploitative capitalists, you will be the first against the wall when the Revolution comes!
That is, if ratbags like A Nona Mouse have their way.
Whilst the great majority of cases are genuine and disturbing, if the potential exists to exploit loopholes and weaknesses in legislation, then someone will do it. As someone who has fought both as employer AND employee to maintain Unfair Dismissal provisions in Industrial legislation, I know full well of many cases where these shortcomings were used extensively and deliberately by self seekers.
In fact, this remains the biggest single hurdle to convincing the voting public that these provisions are necessary and workable. The public just sees the abuses and wants to throw the lot out.
A Nona Mouse, cast off your yoke of oppression, and get out in the real world and see what happens!

At 9:54 am, Blogger Minotaur said...

Boris - I was as sceptical as you but am close to someone who has been in a similar situation. I'd agree that it probabl`y is something that doesn't happen as often as the business lobby claims (I too would be interested in seeing the figures), but in a genuine small business - plenty of which have less than five people - it really can be crippling.

I'd hate to see some people revoke their opposition to WorkChoices because of that single issue, but the government's adept enough at scaremongering for it to happen.

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