The Government is running a strong scare campaign against Labor’s industrial relations policies but it looks like Democrat opposition means they probably wouldn’t make it through the Senate.

Democrats shut out of debate?

Subscriber email
– 26 September

A cry for help reaches Crikey:

Dear Crikey,

As the political junkie I am I regularly surf the major news websites each day to see what coverage the nation’s media are giving to the election campaign.

Understandably the Labor and Coalition parties dominate, but there is still quite a bit of coverage for the minor parties.

What is becoming quite blatantly clear is the bias the ABC is giving the Greens over the Democrats, and all other minor parties for that matter.

Take for example the Dems launch their Higher Education policy. Both get a run on News Limited web sites like The Daily Telegraph, Adelaide Advertiser, The Courier Mail, etc and Fairfax sites like The Age, but not a single reference to either on the so-called national broadcaster’s site. What’s there instead? Two stories on the Greens, one about their organic farming policy and another on the ACT Greens rejection of costings to do with green house gas emissions. For the record, neither of these stories made it to the other major news sites I’ve visited….

I have heard a recent monitoring survey of the ABC’s election coverage threw up the almost unbelievable statistic that the Greens get a mention 8 times more often than the Dems’. Judging by today’s effort alone this would seem eminently believable. When is someone going to expose this bias and demand action against those responsible?”

Interesting point. IR is fast shaping up as a key battle ground – it has been a sleeper since Mark Latham made his comments about winding back some aspects of individual contracts at the Labor Conference at the beginning of the year – but who saw a mention of this Democrats release from Wednesday, “Australian Workplace Agreements here to stay”.

In it, the Dems Workplace Relations spokesperson, Senator Andrew Murray, announced that the party would “resist any move to abolish AWAs”.

“The Australian Democrats are strongly committed to a range of statutory workplace relations instruments to satisfy the varied needs of employers and employees:

Industry-wide awards
Enterprise based collective union agreements
Enterprise based collective non-union agreements
Individual agreements (AWAs)

If elected the Labor Party intend to abolish AWAs and will also attempt to restrict the number of non-union collective agreements.

This is a country where 4 out of 5 employees are not members of unions.

Union movements quite naturally promote the interests of their members. While we support the role of unions, their interests do not always coincide with the interests of Australia as a whole.

Labor are hostage to the union movement for campaign money and preselections. No Labor member of parliament can survive preselection or mount an election campaign without union support.

CRIKEY: Yowers! Murray will still be there after October 9. He’s not up for re-election this time. A Latham Government would have to negotiate its IR policies through a Senate with at least some Democrats there. The Democrats have been key players on industrial relations issues. Unfair dismissal laws, anyone?

Why isn’t’ this newsworthy?

Coverage of Dems IR policies

Subscriber email – 27 September, second email

The editor of the Workforce newsletter writes:

Hi Crikey, regarding Andrew Murray’s press release on AWAs not being newsworthy (Sunday sealed section, Item 19: “Democrats shut out of debate?”), we thought it was – it was our lead story last Friday:

ALP to starve Advocate

The ALP will wind down the Office of the Employment Advocate “as far as possible” by starving it of resources, if the Democrats resist any move by a Labor Govt to abolish AWAs, a spokesperson for Shadow WR minister Craig Emerson said. Winding down the OEA would make administering AWAs impractical if not impossible, circumventing the need to win the Senate’s support.

She said the ALP had already budgeted for the abolition of the OEA and the money had been allocated elsewhere. But AMMA national industry manager Simon Billing said the plan could be foiled if an interested party applied to the High Court for a Writ of Mandamus to force a Labor Govt to act in accordance with the legislation.

This week, Democrats Senator Andrew Murray said he would block any move by the ALP to abolish AWAs. He said statutory individual agreements were “an important contributor to flexibility, competitiveness, employment, productivity and high real wages”. The Democrats are committed to maintaining a range of statutory industrial instruments suiting the varied needs of employers, but say there is room for improvement.

Murray said particular attention needed to be paid to process and equity, and claims that workers were being placed under duress to sign. The senator said Labor was “hostage to the union movement” for its campaign money and preselections, and although unions’ affiliation to the ALP had dropped to 50%, little had changed, despite Australia being “a country where four out of five employees are not members of unions”.

“The message is the Labor Party are determined to honour their deal with the union movement,” he said. “The Democrats have no intention whatsoever of allowing union private interest to prevail over the national interest.”

Cheers Tracy Ony
Editor, Workforce

CRIKEY: We still can’t work out why the mainstream press didn’t pick up on this. Mind you, the ALP isn’t doing itself any favours by being totally prickly about IR at the moment. And it would have been good if Terry McCann had managed to refer to the Democrats and their IR policy on Business Sunday.