While there’s plenty of talk about what the High Court’s WorkChoices decision mean for federalism, there’s – ironically – been precious little on what it means for IR.

Paddy McGuinness, writing in The Australian, is closest to the mark:

[T]his will be treated as a great victory for the Howard Government and a huge defeat for the union movement. And in the short term that is the case. The structure of the conciliation and arbitration system (with its quasi-fascist corporatist ideological underpinnings, informed by late 19th-century Catholic social thinking) has no more than historical relevance. The special privileges of the trade unions under it are finished.

But do not be deceived into thinking that this is a triumph for market forces and for competitive capitalism, or even for economic freedom. It simply substitutes another elaborate system of regulation of economic matters, which in essence is just as statist as that it replaces…

The greatest modern Australian historian, Geoffrey Blainey, has warned that the pendulum of history and ideology swings back and forth, and that socialism (not to mention its concomitant totalitarianism) will revive at some time in the future. Pity the poor Chifley government! For present doctrine would have made it possible for it to make over the Australian economy in the late 1940s, as it wished…

One day the Labor Party will return to federal power, armed with immense new powers thanks to the High Court’s extraordinary majority decision.

Exactly – but there’s more. Crikey has reported on the subterranean muttering on the Government backbench and amongst some key Coalition constituencies over the final form of the WorkChoices legislation and their concerns over Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrew’s grasp on the detail of his own law.

We broke the news of how independent contractors are afraid that the complementary legislation dealing with them may achieve the opposite to its intended consequences and act as a Trojan horse for the Transport Workers Union.

Major concerns exist over the extensive power the WorkChoices legislation grants the Minister to make changes through regulation, rather than legislation.

The provisions are there to give the Government the power to tackle with unexpected contingencies as they arrive, but IR professionals tell Crikey that they also make it almost impossible to know what the legislation actually says at any given time.

The power to make changes through regulation empowers bureaucrats. It empowers administrations.

The power to make changes through regulation means that a new government could significantly alter the intent of the legislation. The Senate can disallow regulation – but if the numbers were not there, the spirit of the WorkChoices law could be changed without legislation.

Kevin Andrews has given the Commonwealth Government enormous powers – powers that one day may be used for purposes very different to those they were designed for.

Peter Fray

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