When in doubt, relate it to jobs. Maintaining jobs. Creating jobs. That is the current Prime Ministerial message. John Howard is speaking about jobs everywhere. On Wednesday, protecting Australian jobs was the reason for not endorsing the views of the visiting British climate change guru Sir Nicholas Stern.

The Stern views are clearly too stern for Mr Howard. Some of them, if implemented, “would do great damage to the economy” and his government was not going to agree to prescriptions “that are going to cost the jobs of Australian miners.”

Earlier in the week was WorkChoices where Mr Howard brought out jobs as his defensive weapon. At a Kirribilli doorstop he rejected criticism of his industrial relations policies in this way: “We’re not going to be making any changes of substance to WorkChoices because we believe WorkChoices is a very good policy and we also believe on the first anniversary of WorkChoices, which will be next week, looking back it’s very hard to accept that WorkChoices has been unfair when we have a 32 year low in unemployment…”

Not that this emphasis on jobs is some new development. It has been a constant during the Howard years. The PM’s comments on global warming back in November 1997 were not so much different from his reaction to the Stern report: “Since its election the Government has addressed the critical issue of global warming in a way that effectively promotes Australia’s national interests… We have also made it plain that we are not prepared to see Australian jobs sacrificed and efficient Australian industries, particularly in the resources sector, robbed of their hard-earned, competitive advantage.”

And while many Australians might have forgotten what a negotiating triumph Australia had at the Kyoto Conference back then in 1997, John Howard saw it as “a marvellous day for jobs in Australia” with “an outcome that will protect tens of thousands of Australian jobs…”

With views like that it was no surprise in August 2001 that he told JJJ listeners that the forestry agreements struck in Tasmania “were an attempt to strike a balance between preserving the environment and also preserving jobs. …” The theme was the same in a radio interview nearly four years later: “Well I am not going to become Tasmanian political pundit Tim, I won’t do that because I think the obligation I have as Prime Minister is to do the right thing by the workers of Australia and I have always put protecting the workers of Australia at the very top of my agenda whether it comes to employment, family tax benefits, family tax cuts, or anything else. Workers always come first as far as I am concerned.”

No surprise either to see jobs on the list of achievements in the press statement headed “Coalition Government: Eleven Years of Achievement” at the beginning of the month: “Australians are reaping the benefits of the Coalition’s economic management, with official figures revealing since 1996 Australians: … enjoy far greater opportunities to find a job, with more than two million jobs created.”

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.