P*ssy polls for the Government this morning from both ACNielsen and Newspoll – with
the proposed IR laws being blamed for the Liberals’ lag.

Are the industrial changes vote losers – or might they just play into
the Government’s hands? The accepted view is that they will cost votes
– that they’re OK in today’s strong labour market where employees are
in demand, but that the “slow burn” Labor has warned about will kick in
as awards and contacts expire and if unemployment creeps back up.


Yet The Australian‘s George Megalogenis, one of our shrewdest
commentators thanks to his mix of political, economic and demographic
smarts, wrote on the weekend that Howard still has a winning hand, as long as he plays the IR card
right:

There are nine Coalition marginal electorates that contain an
above-average number of workers, from the Darwin-based Solomon to
Kingston in Adelaide’s south. If Labor collected all nine, it would
still fall seven seats short of office.

But what about the small-business voters who are looking forward to a
deregulated labour market? Here’s where the reality of modern Australia
collides with Labor’s hopes for a worker-led political revival.

Labor has five marginal electorates that contain an above-average
number of small business operators and a below-average number of
workers, from Richmond on the NSW north coast to Lyons in central
Tasmania.

In other words, a best case for Beazley of four seats because of IR.
This would return Labor to where it was after the 2001 election.

The Senate inquiry into the bills is due to report today. Malcolm Farr
observers in the Telegraph: “The truth is no one really knows or can conclusively prove what will
eventuate and any debate at the moment is merely about future ‘I told
you so’ rights. This uncertainty will be a critical influence on the
political situation leading to the next election, and on the Labor
Party’s future.”

He nominates two vital dates to watch for. One is March 31 next year,
which is when hundreds of enterprise
bargaining agreements in the manufacturing industry will expire and
have to be replaced. The industry will want to use that date as the
starting point for using the new set of IR laws. Another significant
date will be October 31 next year. That’s when some 4000 agreements in
the building industry will run out.

Yet, of course, we still have to wait to see if the bill gets through the Senate.

Barnaby Joyce, a committee member, has been leant on by his leader on
the legislation over the last few days after expressing reservations about the bill’s impact on the special
nature of public holidays, notably Christmas Day.

Reports this morning say that Coalition committee members should offer greater protections
over the 38-hour working week in the bills.

“Australian Democrat Andrew Murray wasn’t talking dirty last week when
he reminded any Latin scholars in the Senate: Post coitum tristum
(sic),” Farr says today. “Roughly, the phrase means there will be tears
before bedtime, or more strictly, after the act, the sadness. He continues:

The act in this case is the Government’s legislation to introduce widespread changes to workplace relations laws.

Murray didn’t state it, but his premise was that it is reasonably
certain the legislation will be passed by Parliament before Christmas.

He was referring to the period after that, the time when any flaws or
harshness in the new laws becomes apparent through the distress – the
sadness – caused to workers.

The Government says this won’t happen. The consequences for workers will be higher pay and more jobs.

Murray is also a member of the Committee and will be tabling a
dissenting minority report on the legislation today, along with the ALP.

There will be keen interest in anything Joyce may have to add, even
though it is expected that he will support the final legislation.

As we have said before, John Howard has treated Parliament with
contempt in the way the details of the WorkChoices laws were trickled
out, but the politics have been different.

We may well see a final bill with many of the nasties removed – along with Labor’s biggest hope for the next poll.