The Prime Minister has said this morning
that he’s not pandering to employers with his industrial relations
reforms – or his decision yesterday to give employer groups an advance
look at the package. He’s telling the truth – sorta. He’s pandering to
the wobblies within the Government.

Michelle Grattan
got it right yesterday : “Nobody can remember anything quite like it:
business representatives summoned to Canberra on a Sunday morning for a
‘lock up’ on a major policy… The reason for the unconventional
arrangement is the Government’s publicity needs. John Howard is seeking
to get maximum clear air for his major statement today on the workplace
relations detail, which will also see the launch of a mega advertising
campaign that again digs into the taxpayers’ pockets.”

Get business on side, the Prime Minister hopes, and internal dissidents will come over.

David Marr predicted last week that once the Government’s industrial relations legislation appears it will be shoved through double quick.

There
have been some signs of dissent from Barnaby Joyce and Queensland
Liberal Senator David Johnston about the states’ rights implications of
the plans.

Informed sources, however, say it appears clear that
the Commonwealth does have the power to subsume the state industrial
relation systems. While it would be going a bit far to describe the
Nationals – particularly the Queensland Nats – as a party of free
enterprise, they do enjoy putting the boot into the union movement.

Johnston
belongs to a strange subset of West Australian political thought
that has been hoping for the past 105 years that a few stray ballot
boxes will turn up and actually give the federation referendum to the
“No” case, but he seems unlikely to make a stand. Joyce and Johnston
have been silent on the subject over the last 24 hours. That’s good
news for the PM.

The blue touchpaper has been lit and things
will explode in Question Time today. Then, when the furore has died
down and they have lost their newsworthiness, the bills themselves will
be introduced and shoved through as soon as possible. The bugs can be
ironed out later. Fine tuning and detail can be seen to then as well.

Rather
than fighting one large and lengthy battle over industrial relations,
the Government wants to get the legislation through and then fight any
remaining battles out on a case by case basis. They’ll be smaller
skirmishes, only of concern to the individuals involved. What the Prime
Minister wants today is the masses on his side.

As Grattan says today, the fine print of the IR reforms shows “both Howard’s ideological
commitment to labour market reform and his pragmatic political
judgement … the Government has struck what seems a neat balance
between reform and reassurance in the detail of its industrial
relations package, throwing the onus now onto the unions and Labor to
justify their scare campaign.”

And pushing any wobblers on their own side back into line.

Peter Fray

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