The prime minister got assertive last night with his speech to The Sydney Institute on what he called the economic and intellectual case for industrial relations reform.

“Standing still is always riskier than going the extra mile on economic
reform,” he said as he put his case for industrial relations reform
firmly in an historical – and personal – context.

The London attacks have naturally put the prime minister at the
forefront of national political debate over the last few days. But he
entered the fray before this, when he returned from holidays early to go
on the offensive over industrial relations.

It was interesting to note what the Herald Sun had to say in its
editorial last Thursday about the efforts of
Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews and the Man Who Would be
King, Peter Costello. With the PM planning to attend the cricket, they
had plenty of fun with the metaphors:

The ACTU has stolen a march on the Howard Government
through its street
marches. The objectives of the government’s industrial relations
legislation were announced before the legislation has been so much as
written… Unions look like putting plenty of runs on the board while the
government appears to be relying on its Senate majority to push through
reforms. While the prime minister is away enjoying the cricket, his
ministers, namely Treasurer Peter Costello and Workplace Relations
Minister Kevin Andrews, need to step up to the crease.

Since then the Treasurer’s whacked the new Primate of the Anglican
Church in Australia, Phillip Aspinall, over the head with his crosier (here)
after his comments on the matter, but the IR warrior from Dollar Sweets
has had less to say on the matter than might be expected.

Hence a whole new set of gratuitous leadership speculation. As Aspinall
and Costello’s Hillsong buddies can both tell you, Matthew 25:13 tells
us: “Ye know neither the day nor the hour.”

Talk is the PM could finally move next year – but he also seems to be
playing a waiting game. He still has doubts about his deputy. He fears
that he may be too soft. Too unpredictable. He doesn’t trust the
underlying ideology. Brendan Nelson is trying hard, but has a small
problem for anyone chasing a leadership role – his colleagues don’t
trust him.

Despite his Medicare embarrassment and the way he was abandoned over
the safety net issue – let alone the personal dramas that spilled over
into public earlier this year – a school of thought insists that Tony
Abbott remains the PM favourite. And just in case you missed it, he’s
been there on the sidelines of the IR debate (here),
off bagging the “dinosaurs yearning for Jurassic Park” who should
“appreciate that in the modern world workers are much better educated
… much more capable of making their own arrangements with their

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey