The Government didn’t get a good run on IR
in Question Time yesterday.

The opposition had fun with the revelations
from Estimates that just 314,000 of the 5.9 million pamphlets printed in
support of the workplace laws have been ordered by the public while the rest
remain in storage – at a cost to taxpayers of $8,000 a month. And then they got into the details of how
WorkChoices is operating, with the Prime Minister forced to defend Cowra Abattoirs’
decision to sack workers and rehire them on lower pay.

Labor IR spokesman Stephen Smith wanted to
know how workers could lose penalty rates when the booklets promised pay and
conditions were “protected by law”. The Prime Minister responded that this was
“the kind of thinking that helped throw a million people out of work when the
Leader of the Opposition was employment minister.” He claimed 78% of the new work
contracts included a pay rise, and 84% paid higher wages than
comparable awards.

Yet the opposition is dealing in specific
cases, while the Government is forced to fall back on abstracts. Personal
examples carry more clout in debate. This is why WorkChoices remains tricky
ground for the Government.

Most major reforms – say, health and
education changes – only directly involve a small number of people at any one
time, or else they become part of everyday life – like paying GST. They are
hard to personalise.

The IR changes are different. Too many
people can see themselves as being directly affected at some stage. That should create plenty of scope for