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Federal

Dec 4, 2012

Reith's backdoor into WorkChoices could work for Abbott

Calls for an inquiry into trade unions could be an effective vehicle for the Coalition to return to aspects of WorkChoices -- without using that hated name.

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Has the Coalition been presented with a way to revisit WorkChoices without the political opprobrium?

One should always pay attention to the views of Peter Reith, who is happy to offer his thoughts on Coalition policy refreshingly unrestrained by political calculation. Reith doesn’t believe in a small-target philosophy, particularly not these days. His call for an inquiry into trade unions shows he’s out in front of his former colleagues in terms of exploiting the recent prominence in public debate of union scandals.

Reith’s proposal opens up the possibility of converting what for the Coalition so far has primarily been a tactical ploy against the Gillard government and a means of damaging the reputation of the wider labour movement into a vehicle for renewing the campaign against trade unions that formed the heart of WorkChoices.

The tactic was used successfully by the Howard government to directly attack the CFMEU, via a royal commission into the construction industry. The resulting legal framework, enforced by the draconian powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, diminished the role of the CFMEU (and also saw a significant rise in the number of construction industry workers dying at work).

The Coalition has been able to use the revelations of extensive corruption within the Health Services Union and the 20-year old Australian Workers Union saga as the basis for a general attack on union corruption. This has extended to attacking industry superannuation funds, run by “venal” union officials as a “gravy train”, according to Tony Abbott.

Industry super funds, run jointly by union and employer representatives, consistently and strongly outperform retail super funds run by the big banks and AMP, which provide a lucrative source of fees for financial planners. The Howard government unsuccessfully tried to stymie the growth of industry super funds through its 2004 superannuation choice legislation.

It hasn’t all been one-way traffic. A business campaign, run through the national newspapers, to pin Australia’s poor productivity performance on trade unions and the Fair Work Act has come a cropper, partly because of the inconvenient fact that labour productivity has been on the increase since 2011. And even The Australian Financial Review has begun admitting there’s been no wages breakout under the Fair Work framework, despite that being one of the central claims of its opponents (see Greg Jericho’s insightful piece on the lack of a wages breakout).

Nonetheless, as Reith has sensed, a year in which the media has relentlessly scrutinized the HSU and events in the AWU two decades ago (while ignoring far worse instances of business fraud) provides an ideal basis to propose an inquiry that could furnish the basis for more restrictive legislation on the activities of unions.

Abbott’s promise to hold an inquiry into the AWU matter if elected, a commitment likely to be routinely exploited by Labor as part of its campaign to paint him as capable only of negativity, could neatly be transformed into a commitment to a broader inquiry into “union corruption”, with the goal of restricting unions’ activities and capacity to use members’ funds. It could even be used to drive “venal” union officials off industry superannuation boards.

And all with nary a mention of the hated WorkChoices.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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34 comments

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34 thoughts on “Reith’s backdoor into WorkChoices could work for Abbott

  1. how can it be that someone like peter reith who acted outside the law with respect to the waterfront dispute and somebody who did not tell the truth as is probably responsible for many deaths re the children overboard affair and the sinking of the siev x still be able to command a position where they can influence public policy in australia ?

  2. Don’t you worry BK.

    We’ve already have a socialist as the leader of the so called “free world”. During his young years in Indonesia, he was indoctrinated by chairman Mao’s secret agents. And La Reina Ranga? What can I say, our special scientists had hypnotised and and implanted in her brain with special instructions.

    Try as you may Reith and all of the conservatives. Socialism will rule the world. YOU BETTER RECOGNIZE!!

  3. yes by all means encourage Peter Reith to pontificate and demand inquiries and such. Give him more space to attack unions. It just hastens the death of Tony Abbott’s already doomed ambitions to be PM.

  4. Mr Tank, AWB springs immediately to mind. Of course, Pratt got off lightly as colluding on prices isn’t as bad as union corruption (unless you happen to be on the receiving end of years of high prices).

    It’s weird how one corrupt union official is seen as symptomatic of the whole movement, but a stupid or corrupt businessman doesn’t call into question the whole capitalist system.

  5. Mr Tank
    Cast your mind back to when Howard bailed his brother out and to cover his behind introduced policy to cover workers when firms fail in their responsibilities . The most recent seems to be Rosella which looks like not having enough to cover workers entitlements . Who picks up most of the slack ? the government . Its a rort of the worst kind in that they operate until creditors are called in while not contributing to their workers basic entitlements . Isn,t that operating while insolvent ?
    To have a former minister who broke his own industrial laws speak about propriety is beyond the pale . To compound this is the fact that the same man broke government guidelines/laws by passing on his PIN phone information and shamelessly misinformed the media and public regarding children overboard , truth overboard in fact . HIH , OneTel , various developers getting the run with politicians of both stripes ,Packer and his no tender casino .
    Lets have a proper inquiry into the AWB scandal that includes all participants as its terms of reference , no exclusion of relevant ministers such as Downer and Vaille . Lets have an inquiry into the contributors to Abbotts slush fund to sink Hanson and if it was a legal slush fund . Lets have an inquiry into why tax is avoided by religious groups when a lot of their transactions are not non profit or charitable .
    Cebus ? I believe is among the best performers for super and is union based re not big bank type fund . How about an inquiry into the rip off of so called financial advisors who spruik only the funds that pay a commission yet get paid for advice . Just too many to keep up with isn,t there tank ? Where to stop ?

  6. If the voters listen to ANYTHING the likes of Peter Reith and Tony Abbott have to say on unions and industry super funds, then I fear for the future of this country.
    As history shows us, when the conservatives start investingating unions, they usually find “big business” is far more corrupt than any union. “Bottom of the harbour” revelations come to mind!
    The tories would do well to tend their own patch first.

  7. Many people in the work force believe (Peter Reith is honest) that even though he say’s no; Tony Abbott will bring back work choices, like it or not. He will do a Qld can do a c neumann trick and just do it. Yes there will be an outcry and demonstrations a la Qld yesterday but Abbott won’t care just like c nuemann and just laugh it off. Do a Peter Reith in regard to dealing with work place relations, police and dogs… Furthermore it seems that union involvement in superfunds will also be neutered so the rip off financial advisors and their bank backers can go the whole hog. When Abbott gets in we can all have a good laugh at the intellectual make-up of his front bench. No not you Malcolm T.

  8. Peter Reith will be the ideal person to be investigating the AWU…..

    In 1998 he was unashamedly on the side of Patricks in the waterfront strike. In 2000 he was up to his withers in trouble because he had run up a $50,000 account on his government paid phone card, and in the same year he was heavily involved with the lies told about the “children overboard”. One of the most pernicious and brazen lies told by any government anywhere on the planet.

    Just the sort of person to be investigating someone else’s conduct. NOT!

  9. @SB – Just when we thought it was safe, here you are! Thought you’d finally popped off the planet? Alas!

    The likes of Reith, Abbott and Co can’t help themselves. Their goal is for workers to end up like those in Indonesia or China or?? Of course, nobody left to buy the products, but heck, they won’t let that stop them!

    I suggest there be an Inquiry into Reith?

    @klewso – I saw that footage re Forrest’s so called ‘love for aboriginal people’ blah blah a few months ago. I signed the petition at least 2 months ago! Fancy him being outed as a hypocrite! The people he employed for this disgraceful action were just thugs! Truth will out, and it has on this occasion. Why did it take so long?

    I’d be interested in a tally of the profits he’s made and the number of aboriginal people employed, let alone infrastructure etc invested by him. I’d suggest that it wouldn’t be impressive at all if this is his ‘behind the scenes’ behaviour! Grotty little man!

  10. @geomac62 – Hear! Hear! Won’t happen though? Funny how you can commit fraud to the extent of over $300 MILLION dollars, and not a soul is jailed – not even charged with crimes! Fancy that?

  11. In fact I am all for the retired minister for rottweilors and balaclavas being brought before a telecommunications body for the settlement of family telephone bills for comdemnation and abuse of privileges

  12. Work Choices equals low wages.
    Low wages means fewer savings.
    Fewer savings means higher interest rates.
    Higher interest rates, four times higher than the rest of the developed world under Howard’s watch, please the “Idle Rich, who live off the interest.
    Conversely, high wages lead to lower interest rates.
    Which is why Adam Smith argued that “capitalists have an interest to deceive and oppress the public using all means at their disposal to have governments interfere in their favour”.
    Work Choices; it is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of mathematics.
    It’s the “Political Economy” Stupid!

  13. “One should always pay attention to the views of Peter Reith”

    Why? Were it not for journalists (and Their ABC’s the Drum and SBS’ Go Back) giving his name air it doesn’t deserve, he’d have sunk into the swamp of oblivion he so deserves.

  14. I’m not Abbott supporter but I see a difference between the Abbott slush fund and the alleged AWU slush fund.
    There is proven documented evidence that Abbott set the slush fund.
    There is no evidence that the AWU fund was used as a slush fund, only opinion and unsubstantiated comment.

  15. [“I’m not Abbott supporter”]

    No way! What a revealation!

    [“There is no evidence that the AWU fund was used as a slush fund, only opinion and unsubstantiated comment.”]

    Well Gillard called it a Slush Fund when Slater and Gordon management dragged her in for a talking down just before she “resigned”.

    Was she telling fibbie fibs back then or telling fibbie fibs now, your choice.

  16. wizz aka truthless
    Did Abbott fib to the electoral commission , to interviewers about the slush fund to sink Hanson ? Did he tell a mistruth to Tony Jones in relation to meetings with Pell ? Was Abbott misleading the public when on Skye he advocated a carbon tax as the most effective policy to reduce carbon emissions which he now says the opposite ? How about the cast iron promise as health minister not to raise the medicare safety net pre 2004 election ? In 2005 it was raised by 200 and 300 dollars , some cast iron promise . How about the bagging of Slipper well Abbott is true to form ahhh consistent to form , true was the wrong word .
    The big problem for Tony Abbott is that while Tony Abbott was visiting Birdsville, Queensland, in September, 2011, Tony Abbott was asked the following:

    QUESTION: Will you be talking to Peter Slipper and Mal Brough to sort out their situation?

    TONY ABBOTT: In the end, they’re both loyal members of the LNP here in Queensland. Peter is a good, strong member of the Coalition down in Canberra.

    QUESTION: If he resigns, will it give Labor a seat in the parliament?

    TONY ABBOTT: As I said, Peter is a strong, loyal member of the Coalition down in Canberra and I’d expect that to continue.
    Geewizz or gollygee wizz the mans a walking example of saying one thing and meaning or doing the opposite . Its like he orders fish and chips but expects a hamburger then goes troppo when fish and chips arrive . Unstable or just not credible , either way not genuine . A bit like you wizz , making it up as you go or twisting it to suit .

  17. Now, do Abbott’s employers have a workplace contract that requires him to deceive and oppress the public?
    The “political” economy?
    Low wages, high interest rates.
    Is this supposed to be a secret, 236 years after it was first published?
    The deception and oppression seems to be quite successful then? Is the economy political?

  18. How many people believed Abbott when he said WorkChoices was “dead and buried”?
    How many peole believed Abbott when he said there will be no new taxes if elected?
    How many people believed Abbott when he stated that the best way to price carbon was with a tax?
    How many people believed Abbott when he stated “climate change is crap”?
    How many people believed Abbott when he said he wouldn’t support Malaysia Solution because they weren’t signatories to the UN Convention?
    How many people believed Abbott when he said that Nauru just needed a “coat of paint” to be ready to re-open?
    How many people believed Abbott when said Whyalla would be wiped off the map?
    How many people believed Abbott when he stated there are “some things the public have no particular right to know”?
    How many people believed Abbott when he said “Because the role of other ministers is to pick holes in your argument, wherever possible I tried to avoid taking decisions to cabinet.”?

  19. GeeWizz, it doesn’t do your argument any favours placing your trust in Julia Gillard’s opinion about the ‘slush fund’. But since you have made that choice you probably should go back to her earlier and more succinct claim: “I have done nothing wrong”.