The IR reforms have generated much
debate. Not only have the reforms themselves been scrutinised, but they have
highlighted issues such as the Howard-Costello arm wrestle, Labor’s lack of
direction and leadership, and the unions’ strongest stand in years. All in all,
a great political debate. We’ve had plenty of comments on all the issues. (Read
the full IR round-up here.)

With the Libs’ plans under fire from
the Australian public, Ross Gittin’s article in the SMH today questioned John
Howard’s commitment to reform:

I’m convinced the crafty Mr Howard
is engaged in a giant test marketing exercise. And whenever the unions manage to
incite talkback radio’s indignation on another aspect, he’ll back off another
notch… But if that’s the game we’re playing, it will disappoint a lot of
business people, economists and newspaper commentators, who’ve been calling for
more labour market reform for decades.

What does it tell us about the
Liberal leadership? If Howard is serious about stepping aside soon (and it is
increasingly clear he is not), isn’t this the time for Costello to take over?
The treasurer showed last week that he’s ready to step in and take the full
brunt of the IR reforms – and not just the negative public response but also the
plaudits from the business community.

However, if Gittins is correct,
Howard obviously wants to win the next election himself. He won’t allow
Costello’s reform agenda to dent his popularity amongst average
Australians. If Costello is convinced that Howard
will not step aside soon, the prospect of challenging his leader must be at the
front of his mind – particularly due to their disagreement over the IR issue. By
positioning his commitment to reform against Howard’s commitment to being the
popular statesman, this could be the platform for Costello to launch his


Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey