Christian Kerr writes:


Has the Prime Minister’s Midas touch deserted him? Has something jammed his political radar?

He probably won’t be too upset at the idea that his ambitious party
deputy may have mislead the Parliament over IR – but he won’t like the
WorkChoices polling that Glenn Milne talks about today in the Australian.

The PM’s industrial relations reforms were always going to be risky –
but they were supposed to be a slow burn. It ain’t so. Milne writes:

The first detailed survey on voter response to John
Howard’s radical industrial relations reforms will shock the
Government. The Coalition was expecting a backlash from ordinary
workers.

What this poll shows is that high-income earners are also profoundly worried that the changes go too far.

Not only that, it concludes the issue is a vote changer. The poll of
almost 2000 respondents was conducted by the Association of
Professionals, Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia. Its 42,000
membership also includes architects, IT professionals, pharmacists and
veterinarians…

The survey showed the respondents were deeply troubled about the Government’s WorkChoices package…

Well, d’oh. The Prime Minister and too many of his Cabinet colleagues have been blighted by the right.

You don’t expect a backbench full of donkeys to say anything – but you,
dear subscriber, are bound to have heard what we’ve been hearing.

There’s been a huge amount of anecdotal evidence that well educated,
well off, Liberal leaning people have been getting very worried about
IR. What’s been causing this? Well, these people’s kids are getting
their first jobs – and getting ripped off, their mums and dads think.
These people believe in hard work – but are worried by the wonderful
world of WorkChoices. This seems borne out by the research Milne
reports:

  • 76.9 per cent were concerned or very concerned about the
    reduction in the powers of the Australian Industrial Relations
    Commission
  • 75.7 per cent were concerned or very concerned about the
    reduction in the range of matters that can be covered in awards and
    enterprise agreements
  • 72.3 per cent were concerned or very concerned about the
    removal of the no disadvantage test for Australian Workplace Agreements
    that used to give them precedence over awards or enterprise agreements.

The research also asked respondents who they supported at the last
election, and whether the IR changes were likely to shift their votes
at the next election.

At the 2004 poll 35.7 per cent voted Liberal, 37.7 per cent Labor and 2
per cent voted for the National Party. So this is not a pro-Labor
professional association, an important point to be taken on board when
analysing the significance of the results.

When asked the likelihood that the industrial relations issue could
change their vote at the next election, 19.2 per cent of Coalition
voters said that was very likely and 9.6 per cent said they were likely
to change their vote…

Milne makes it crystal clear:

While the Coalition has a 20-plus seat majority in the
House of Representatives it’s a deceptive buffer. When you understand
that only 28,609 people in key seats need to change their vote for
Labor to win the next election, suddenly Kim Beazley’s task looks a lot
easier.

It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that number of voters being frightened
by the Government’s IR reforms. Especially when you consider analysis
produced by Opposition treasury spokesman Wayne Swan…

You can read that material in The Australian, but let’s just finish with these thoughts.

No Christmas tsunami is going to hit the Howard Government, but
WorkChoices could well turn the political tide against them. They’re
not about to be suddenly swept away. The next election isn’t due until
October 2007, remember. There’s plenty of time to get the sandbags out.

But if the waters keep rising, the PM will get more and more worried
about his position. Backbenchers will be thinking about their own
little patches of ground. And to think that the heir apparent made his
name as an IR ultra. That must dampen his hopes.

Poor Peter. We’re almost tempted to send him a present. It looks as if he needs some Christmas cheer.

Peter Fray

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