Are the Liberal and National Party ever going to make serious inroads
into breaking the enormous financial, industrial and political power of
their ideological opponents – the $500 million powerhouse conglomerate
known as the union-controlled ALP?

The Liberal Party haven’t got a hope in hell in the forthcoming
Tasmanian and South Australian elections and the lack of support from
the Federal Party in both campaigns has been noticeable.

Similarly, Nick Minchin’s comments
to the HR Nicholls Society reveal just how difficult it is achieve
meaningful industrial relations reform in Australia. Minchin conceded that the government hadn’t gone
nearly far enough and that most Australians “violently disagree” with
the new system.

You then have the rising prospect that the package will be taken down
by the High Court. The states had a procedural victory in their
challenge yesterday, winning a delay until April 7 to make their
written submissions, largely because the Federal Government still
hasn’t produced its regulations supporting the Work Choices
legislation, which was passed all of five months ago now.

Stephen Long’s scoop for AM on Minchin’s speech was instructive here too:

It
was unbelievable, he (Minchin) told the conference. Every Cabinet meeting, the Workplace
Relations minister would come back with yet another issue that had emerged from
taking over the state systems.

The Finance Minister said he couldn’t understand why colleagues Kevin
Andrews and Philip Ruddock are so relaxed about the High Court
challenge to the new industrial relations laws. He warned the
Government had appointed conservative judges to the High Court, and
they could well be conservative about using the Corporations Power to
override the states.

Minchin “remains nervous” about what the High Court will do with all
eight Labor states and territories lining up to challenge and even Terry McCrann, someone the government would normally
expect support from, has strongly attacked the legal basis of the
changes.

Whilst commissioner Terence Cole is causing havoc for the government,
AWB, BHP and various other bodies at the moment, his royal commission
into the building unions appears to have changed very little. Three
years later the CFMEU is as big, strong and powerful as it’s ever been – making and breaking projects at a whim.

Big companies are still backing down from potential union fights
every other
day. Qantas baulked yesterday when it opted not to shift some of its
maintenance work to China and Leighton has just reached a generous
settlement
with the shop steward it sacked on the Mandurah to Perth
rail project after 400 workers went on strike for 12 days. Leighton and
its partner Kumugai were already staring at a $100 million-plus blowout,
which they’re trying to pass on to WA taxpayers, before the chaos of this latest strike.

Then you’ve got the government’s attempts to weaken the union-backed
industry funds through its superannuation choice legislation. Gary
Weaven’s team of former unionists, who run the majority of these
low-cost funds, have waged a smart, aggressive and expensive campaign
and they’re winning the market share battle against the high-commission
private operators.

Even the waterfront war was hardly a case of “smashing the union”,
because the MUA remains cashed up and powerful and workers on the docks
still get huge pay packets, albeit after substantially lifting
productivity.

Finally, consider the $500,000 raised by Labor last night as the Who’s Who
of Queensland business turned out to celebrate Peter Beattie’s ten years
as Queensland’s Labor leader. Anyone who suggests Australia’s union-ALP
conglomerate is on the wane has rocks in their head. Truth be known,
they’ve never been stronger.

Peter Fray

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