The Australian ran another lengthy editorial deriding the ALP’s IR policy today. And on its front page it revealed the anonymous mutterings of a single Labor frontbencher about disquiet at Julia Gillard’s performance. ”Labor team turns on Gillard” headlined the Oz, while the Daily Telegraph screamed ”Julia falls flat”.

But is there more to this than mere ideological outrage in what is becoming a blatant campaign by News Limited’s papers to wake their readership from any lingering honeymoon dalliance with Kevin Rudd? Why is it that News Ltd takes so strong a line in favour of WorkChoices and Australian Workplace Agreements? Ideology or simple self-interest?

Mark Latham said it first in his diaries:

Thursday 11 March 2004: “… trekked out Cavan to meet with Lachlan Murdoch and John Hartigan. They wanted a get-to-know you opportunity, so the Evil Empire must think I’m a chance. No harm in turning up to see what they are up to. Paul Kelly was right about this duo: lacklustre and over-rated … Two main political issues: AWAs and Foxtel. Murdoch’s company has the highest number of AWAs in the country; all their journalists are on individual contracts. Hartigan pressed hard for me to drop our policy dedicated to their abolition, but I told him there was no chance of that.”

According to a News spokesman this morning, half of its journalists are on AWAs, a small portion of the 2500 Australian News employees on individual agreements. To give that some context, there are, according to government figures, just 17,276 AWAs across the entire information, media and telecommunications sector.

News looks set to wage this campaign until the election, and if it does, Kevin Rudd has every reason to fear what The Australian, the Courier-Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun, the Adelaide Advertiser, the Hobart Mercury, etc might yet achieve.

The thing Kevin Rudd has to avoid if he is to win the election is the doubt factor. So, when it comes to sowing small seeds of doubt in the minds of millions of reading voters as to Labor’s capacity to manage the economy, the Murdoch headlines could be bullets. 

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey