The Senate committee into the Government’s industrial relations changes handed down its report yesterday, recommending greater protection of a number of entitlements.

senators thought the bill was brill – but have suggested seven changes,
including protection for outworker provisions in state awards and
greater protection of four weeks annual leave for full-time workers.
They also want assurance that full-time employees will always be paid
for a 38-hour week.

Despite this, Liberal and committee chair
Judith Troeth says the bill should pass the Senate – with or without
the recommended changes. Labor senators say that if the legislation
passes seven plagues will sweep the land, while the Democrats and
Greens also argue against the bill.

Yes, it’s as predictable as that. At least Matt Price salvages a few gags out of the situation in his sketch in The Australian
today. “Naturally, and depressingly, the farcical report of the Senate
committee allegedly reviewing the Howard Government’s contentious
workplace reforms is as predictable as a two-bob romance novel,” he

At least Barnaby Joyce is adding a soupcon of suspense – although he’ll probably be bought off. On the 7:30 Report
last night he refused to rule out blocking the Government’s
controversial workplace changes if it failed to amend the proposed laws.

says he remains concerned about provisions in the workplace legislation
covering unfair dismissal rules and employees working on public
holidays without penalty rates – although he’s probably changed his
position three times since then.

The legislation paving the
way for the workplace changes should be introduced to the Senate when
our pols return to Canberra on Monday for the final two sitting weeks
of the year. While the PM’s off on a very tight schedule
overseas, no doubt he’ll be giving thought to the final shape of the
bills between now and then.

The whole political approach to
workplace reform has been to turn the legislation itself into an anti
climax. The Government’s outrageous advertising campaign and trickle
techniques on the details of the proposals have failed – but it’s still
in the position when it can present the final legislation as the
production of consultation and compromise, not a cave in.

After yesterday’s poor ACNielsenand Newspoll it may need to.

The Oz has more bad news on that front today, too. The Prime Minister is seen as being out of touch, political editor Dennis Shanahan writes. John
Howard’s campaign on industrial relations is battering his personal
standing, with voters increasingly thinking he is less caring, likeable
and trustworthy.

The latest Newspoll, conducted for The Australian last weekend, found voters believe the Prime Minister is dramatically out of touch with their needs.

Since the Coalition gained control of the Senate in July
and put forward wideranging IR reforms, Mr Howard’s appeal has slumped
in a number of key areas…

Over at The Age, however, Michelle Grattan reminds us of the Prime Minister’s skills at fighting back.

John Howard
is in political trouble over industrial relations, but is it quicksand
capable of dragging the Government down or a boggy patch he’ll plough
through in his well-worn gumboots? On the answer depends Howard’s
reputation as reformer, the Coalition’s fortunes and Kim Beazley’s

In the earlier part of his prime ministership, Howard
was less than sure-footed. Post 2001, however, he’s acquired a
reputation of near invincibility. But then, Jeff Kennett looked like
that, too. The big difference is that Howard understands political
mortality. He’s not complacent about the voters. He picks up their
feelings and usually reacts to them.

Roll on the amendments.