Hugo Kelly writes:


Family First senator-elect Steven
Fielding may not have stepped officially into Parliament yet, but he’s
already causing headaches for the government. Yesterday he released a
press statement ringing the bell on plans by workplace relations
minister Kevin Andrews to shrink basic workplace rights down to the
bare bones.

Workers
“will lose their automatic right to meal breaks and paid public
holidays under the industrial revolution being ushered in by the Howard
Government,” he says in today’s Herald Sun.

Fielding
is particularly concerned that Christian holidays, Christmas Day and
Good Friday, will no longer be guaranteed for the vast majority of
workers not covered by an award. That’s his patch, as parliamentary
representative of a Christian church devoted to preserving “family
values.”

A government spokesman has confirmed that the
legislation would shrink basic conditions to just five, with meal
breaks (including lunch breaks) and public holidays to be junked from
its “fair pay and minimum standards” regime. How did Fielding know all
this? Is there a mole in the department? Was it a lucky guess, maybe?

Well,
probably not. In all likelihood, Fielding’s office was given a briefing
about the proposed changes. John Howard’s office has ensured Fielding
is placed in the information loop from the start, to smooth relations
with a potentially crucial senator. Fielding is being briefed on pretty
much everything he asks for.

Contrast this with your Joe
Average Coalition backbencher seeking information on upcoming
contentious legislation, who usually has to take a number and queue up
for help. It’s the kind of contradiction that’s bound to cause murmurs
in the ranks. Fielding, meanwhile, has picked up an interesting new
chief-of-staff, Felicity Dargan. Her previous job was adviser to Kevin
Andrews. There have been dark mutterings around Parliament that Dargan
is an agent for the government.

However, the facts seem to be
more mundane. It’s likely that Dargan, a devout Christian, saw an
opportunity for an interesting job back in politics and Fielding
readily accepted the chance to take on board an experienced hand.

That
she’s on good terms with the minister probably wouldn’t have hurt her
chances, but it’s unlikely she’s operating as a fifth column within
Family First – particularly given reports
that she experienced bullying from some staff members during her time
(ironically) in the Workplace Relations minister’s office.

Peter Fray

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