Time for a reality check on IR

Monday, 21 May 2007 

Having made such a bad call on the Budget’s impact, commentators are now scratching around for an explanation for the resilience of Rudd’s popularity.

The media now appears to be putting the electorate’s refusal to acknowledge the brilliance of Costello’s Budget down to anger at Workchoices.

Michelle Grattan, only a week ago claiming in The Age that Rudd had been ‘cornered’ by the Budget and was ‘in a bind’ over industrial relations, now comments on the latest Nielsen poll under a headline ‘IR anger keeps Rudd on top’. This is despite the actual poll showing the public evenly split over Labor’s proposals to scrap AWA’s and over 40% with no opinion at all, something Grattan herself says shows ‘the public has a low level of understanding of what has been a fierce debate’.

The IR debate has been a fierce debate only between the two sides of the political class – and now their commentators are picking it up to explain a political situation they are clearly struggling to get to grips with. Labor’s lead is not a result of growing anger on Workchoices but a continuation of more fundamental shifts that Andrew Robb gets closer to near the end of Grattan’s article.

It is unsurprising the public is fairly indifferent to the debate as there is not much policy difference between the two camps. Neither Labor nor the coalition wants a return to collective bargaining. Neither sees any change to the marginal influence of the unions. With that staying the reality, the form of the employment contract is pretty irrelevant. Labor may want to take over some of the roles of the unions in influencing awards (no wonder ACTU bureaucrats are changing careers to Labor) but as will be seen in negotiations with the mining sector and Qantas, they will propose nothing that employers do not want.

The only real difference between the two parties is the degree to which they wish to politicise the decline of the unions. Howard wants to fill an agenda gap and ‘stand for something’ and rally his base, Labor must obviously manage the internal difficulties caused by the decline of the unions it was originally created to represent. For business, Howard’s stirring has been a nuisance in aggravating a situation that was already going its way. Indeed Howard’s attempts to rally the business community over the last two months are in danger of back-firing. The special pleading by the mining sector and Qantas looks less like an organised opposition to Labor than lobbying a future government.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 21 May 2007.

Filed under Media analysis

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