Did Labor’s doughty defender of the workers, Stephen Smith, really tell Lateline
on Friday night that the people who criticise the retention of dills on
Labor’s front bench (in the face of obvious talent) don’t accuse John
Howard of keeping Andrew Robb and Malcolm Turnbull off the front bench
while Jim Lloyd and Fran Bailey stay on board?

OK, it was
during a rollicking debate with George Brandis at the end of a long
week – but it’s lame to resort to the schoolyard footy team response:
“We wouldn’t want to put our best team up. They might actually achieve
something like showing the other mob up!”

It’s not the first
time Smith’s been caught making squirm-worthy comments on national TV.
Smith’s limp performance on SBS’s recent Insight
forum on the government’s workplace reforms has been noted in
dispatches. What should have been a good forum to take on Kevin Andrews
ended with a knock-out win for the IR minister.

The Age’s
Shaun Carney
described Smith’s performance, charitably, as “servicable.” Take this
Smith response to a simple question from host Jennie Brockie: Would
Labor wind back the Howard IR legislation?

STEPHEN SMITH: Once the dust has settled on the legislation
and the High Court decision on the legislation, we want to go to the
Australian people in the run-up to the 2007 election and say: ‘We
actually want to have a harmonious industrial relations system because
if you have a harmonious and fair industrial relations system then
you’ll get productive.’ The best way to get that is to treat people
with civility and dignity with fairness, and underpin your system with
fundamental principals.

BROCKIE: You are going to wind it all back?

SMITH: We’re going to set up the fair system for the future.

Waffle. And the knock-out response from the minister?

KEVIN ANDREWS: In other words… Rollback Two from the
Labor Party. That’s what they said about the tax system and the GST –
and now we’re having roll back around industrial relations.

Smith
kept his super portfolio – Industry Infrastructure and Industrial
Relations – in Beazley’s re-shuffle. But with Labor’s union
constituency getting angry over IR, bland and uncommitted commentary
will not stand up to John Howard’s talismanic labour legislation.

Peter Fray

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