IR: an internal, irrelevant debate

Wednesday, 29 August 2007 

A good example of how the media treats the IR debate was the SBS Insight programme a fortnight ago looking at the coming contest in Bennelong. Referring to a poll taken in the electorate on the impact of Workchoices, presenter Jenny Brockie said

As in the rest of the country, Workchoices is biting here. The Insight poll reveals that twice as many people say they and their family have been adversely affected by the new laws as compared to the number who say it has a positive impact.

But the numbers on the screen she was actually referring to were 6% who thought it would be positive against 12% who thought it would be negative. To this blog an issue that over 80% of people think has no impact sounds like a non-issue. This is not the only survey to indicate that the issue is not ‘biting’ as much as the media presents and certainly not conclusively against the government; past AC Nielsen surveys have indicated the public is split on or indifferent to AWAs (despite how they are interpreted by journalists at the time) and even the government’s own Textor/Crosby polling suggests it is not a ‘burning’ issue and mid-ranking in importance.

There is good reason for people to think that way. Firstly because the actual use of AWAs by business has been modest, being used in well under 10% of employment contracts. Indeed it is business’s lack of enthusiasm for AWAs that is most telling with their initial reluctance to join Howard in defending them and with even small businesses overwhelmingly indifferent to their introduction.

More importantly, as Keating pointed out, there was no real difference between AWAs and Labor’s IR policy other than the exclusion of unions from the workplace, and even this has now been agreed to by Rudd, as flagged by Gillard back in June. Labor and government IR policies are basically similar because they are both driven by the same reality, again spelt out by Keating, the unions have been neutralised as a social force.

Why then are we being bombarded with ads? This has all the hallmarks of internal jostling for influence within the major parties, especially Labor, conducted in the public domain. For business, the late involvement in campaigning by some sections of the business community, especially mining, looks suspiciously like lobbying for an ear of the incoming government in the usual heavy-handed business manner, which appears to have worked. For the unions, no doubt the ads are to try and turn their demise into a voter concern and increase their electoral importance for Labor. However, while it might be more comfortable for union leaders to believe their decline is a result of legislation by the Howard government rather than their role in preceding Labor ones, the drift of union leaders to parliamentary jobs is a more telling sign of where they really think the union movement is heading.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 29 August 2007.

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