A Labor Party not tied to the labour movement would be a
strange beast with our two party system reduced to the American model with
little difference of substance between the alternative governments.

Judging from the reaction to Kim Beazley’s weekend
speech to the NSW Branch of the ALP, the editorial writers and political
commentators want an Australian version of Republicans and Democrats. The
Beazley promise to undo many of the recent changes to industrial relations law
was attacked by almost all of them.

Yet the policy Labor is now committed to will present
the electorate in 18 months time with a real choice. Not this time will Liberal
and Labor be tweedle dee and tweedle dum. The next election will actually mean
something. That makes Mr Beazley’s speech outlining his plans
something worth reading and you can find the full text on the Labor Party

A few examples of what you will find

• I believe AWAs are nothing more than a means
to cut wages, cut conditions, and undermine decency and fairness in our

• A Beazley Labor Government will abolish John
Howard’s Australian Workplace Agreements.

• The fundamental problem with AWAs is that
they ignore the basic inequality in the bargaining relationship between
employers and employees. And they give no protection to employees’ basic

• Under my Government there
will be no statutory individual contracts.

• The Party I lead will unashamedly be the
Party of collective bargaining, and collective agreements.

• Employees should be free to choose to have
their interests represented collectively. When they choose to be represented by
a single voice, they can offset inequalities in the bargaining relationship –
making bargaining fairer.

• I will ensure that employers and employees
have the capacity to enter into common law employment agreements that do not
drive down wages and conditions.

• They will be underpinned by Labor’s new
minimum standards. They will provide flexibility upwards, to the overall
advantage of both the employer and the employee, and our

The speech also dealt with the link between immigration
and industrial relations policies that I have written about several

• John Howard’s only plan for the future is to
drag Australians down. Make our kids compete in a race to the bottom with
India and China. A low-wage, low skill race we shouldn’t be in and
we can never win.

• I’ll legislate so employers who make
Australian workers redundant will not be able to sponsor foreign workers to do
the same job for a 12 month period.

• And I’ll move immediately to abolish John
Howard’s foreign apprenticeship visas. No government I lead will import foreign
apprentices while Aussie kids are turned away from training.

The Government, commentators and business lobbyists have
been quick to label Labor’s industrial relations policies as a return to the
olden days with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry going so far as
to refer to a return to the 19th century! Yet Mr Beazley will campaign with his
own version of an opponent returning to bad old ways as he links John Howard
with Robert Menzies.

• Delegates, our Prime Minister is stuck in
the past. He loves nothing more than to be cast in the same light as his great
hero Robert Menzies.

• …we mustn’t forget how Pig Iron Bob earned
his nickname in the lead up to World War Two. For helping to arm
Japan – Australia’s wartime enemy. Well John Howard has gone one
better than his hero now. His Government turned a blind eye as AWB channelled
$300 million into Saddam’s brutal dictatorship, to buy the bullets and the guns
and the bombs aimed at our troops.

• Menzies and Howard – true brothers in

There is nothing original about another of Labor’s
campaign themes outlined on Sunday. Foreign debt will be at the forefront in a
copy of the approach John Howard took in the run-up to defeating Paul Keating.

“John Howard sits back, content to squander the once in
a century opportunity offered by the resources boom,” was how Mr Beazley put it.
“So out of touch he thinks the boom will go on forever and our creditors don’t
notice we’re piling up millions of dollars in foreign debt every month.

“Our foreign debt has soared by $70 billion since I last
spoke to you – its fastest growth in our nation’s history. It’s now half a
trillion dollars. That’s $24,000 for every Australian man, woman and

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey