As predictable as the Senate Committee report
into the WorkChoices legislation might be, it’s not without merits.

While the Australian Democrats have lost
the balance of power in the Senate, Andrew Murray makes some strong
contributions in his minority report on the bill that are worth noting.

The first should be self-evident, but
hasn’t been covered: “If there is one good consequence arising from the Work Choices Bill it is that it will force all political
parties to recognise that the Work Choices Bill is a radical change. They
cannot go on accepting the status quo, but critiquing elements of it. They will
each have to reassess their vision and solution for relationships at work in
the 21st Century.”

Murray succinctly spells out just how big a change the legislation
represents – and the challenge it poses to the Government’s survival:

With the Work
Choices Bill the Liberal and National parties are assaulting the cultural,
economic, social, institutional, legal, political and constitutional
underpinnings of work arrangements in Australia.

bitter and protracted fights over the direction and nature of law and
regulation governing work and industrial relations in Australia
do not contradict the broad social political and governmental consensus there
has been in this area. Neither do the many situations where no more than
lip-service has been paid to elements of the consensus.

The broad
consensus I refer to has been that the standards of an advanced progressive
first-world liberal democracy should apply in Australia
with respect to wages and conditions and the organisation and management of

Much as
conservatives and organised capital disliked the movement, there was
nevertheless a broad acceptance that the organised collective expression of
labour rights through the union movement should be respected and supported.

That broad
consensus accepted that our workplace law should reflect the social contract
that growing national and individual or entity wealth should be accompanied by
rising living standards and a comprehensive safety net for the disadvantaged and
powerless in our society. Low or inadequate wages were to be supported by a
sufficiently comprehensive welfare system to ensure family stability and

conservative Australian federal and state Governments have been slippery on these
matters, it was expected that our laws should reflect the commitment made as a
result of our ratification of international conventions and treaties governing
the rights of the working population.

That broad
consensus meant that wages and conditions of work should bear the family more
than the individual in mind; that governments and parliaments should determine
law and regulation, but that enterprises unions and tribunals should determine
the detailed content and decisions of workplace relations; that independent
specialist tribunals were preferred for conciliation, arbitration and
determination rather than the courts; that collective labour and collective
capital had primacy over individual arrangements; that statute was the dominant
determinant of collective arrangements at work and common law the dominant
determinant of individual arrangements; that industrial relations should be a
multiple federal system not a single national system; that it was justifiable
to subordinate the economic to the social in the workplace by ensuring the
living standards of the worst off should be consciously and deliberately
raised; that health and safety and compensation for accidents or negligence
should be a primary feature of workplace law.

When I say that
with the Work Choices Bill the Liberal and National parties are assaulting the
cultural, economic, social, institutional, legal, political and constitutional
underpinnings of work arrangements in Australia,
I am certain that these two conservative parties are determined to radically
alter our work systems and values.

Control of the
Senate allows for the exercise of authoritarian conservative power. The
Coalition is determined to fundamentally change the Nation. This may not be
fully grasped by the backbench but there is no doubt of the Prime Minister’s

This is the biggie – Kim Beazley’s slow
burn. Murray calls it “a battle of the Government against the people” and warns
“in that battle the Prime Minister has the cards heavily stacked in his

Does that mean yet another few hundred mil
will be burnt on an advertising campaign? Probably – but the subliminals are
just as important here. Murray again:

The Coalition
Government can rely on most Australians not grasping what is happening until
long after it has happened. Evidence to the Committee made it clear that the
full effects of the legislation will not be felt until after the next election
in late 2007. Not only will 25 to 30% of all workers remain under state systems
until then, but the transitional arrangements and the continuing validity of
many existing agreements that only expire in 2008, means that for large numbers
of Australians the effects will only be after the next election. That is what
Mr Howard is counting on – that, and the expectation that they will remain in
effective control of the Senate for two more elections, after which it will be
very difficult for these changes to be reversed…

unprecedented ministerial intervention will replace a sensitively balanced
system where politicians were kept at an arms-length from work arrangements and
disputes. The safety net shrunk by three-quarters; the withering away of the
award; the decline in real terms of the minimum wage; the loss of most
statutory conditions…

The Prime
Minister… and his Ministers have been successfully using double-speak to
conceal the true nature of these changes. ‘Small l’ liberal words like
‘choice’, ‘flexibility’, ‘freedom’ disguise the heavy authoritarian
micro-management and restrictions on collective labour – the unions – and the
dismantling of the architecture and infrastructure of our workplace relations

They have
already shown they will use all the financial and other resources of the state
to advertise and ‘sell’ their policy. Capital – big business and employer
organisations in particular – support the heavy re-balancing of a system
designed to lift the profit-share at the expense of the wages-share and to give
collective capital – the market – primacy. And for those looking for strong
media opposition – big business media owners and shareholders have already
voiced their support for Mr Howard’s proposals.

counter-argument will need to be put out through advertising, traditional media
and other mediums, but in resource terms, opponents of the governments policies
are minnows to a shark….

But sharks, remember, turn on their own
when they are weak or wounded.