In last Thursday’s Crikey, I wrote about the apparent demotion of former Employment Advocate Peter McIlwain, superseded by Barbara Bennett as Director of the new Workplace Authority.

Joe Hockey denied that McIlwain had been demoted, stating:

[B]ecause of the fact that I think Barbara has the capacity to be a very public face of the Workplace Authority, Barbara will be an excellent director and Peter will be an excellent Deputy Director.

It was interesting, as I suggested, particularly since the Minister has confirmed that a large part of Bennett’s role will be a public relations one, that her background and suitability for a position overseeing the new fairness test had not been highlighted – as McIlwain’s reputation for even-handedness was when he was initially appointed Employment Advocate.

Blogger Trevor Cormack at Solidarity thinks he knows the reason why:

So that’s the reason Joe Hockey is coy about Barbara Bennett’s experience prior to her new appointment as head of the Workplace Authority. The Australian called her a “key IR fixer” and “a key troubleshooter for John Howard”, and based on her track record that’s exactly what she is.

As the head of Workplace Relations Implementation at DEWR, Bennett advised business that take-it-or-leave-it AWAs were “not inconsistent with” employees’ freedom of choice. As the head of Comcare, Bennett ran a weak safety inspection system, allowed business to sidestep State safety regimes, and pushed to restrict workers’ compensation insurance coverage.

That’s why Barbara Bennett is qualified to run the Howard Government’s Workplace Authority.

Cormack blogs from an explicitly pro-union perspective (and as Crikey has previously observed, there’s nothing wrong with bias in a blogger because it’s upfront), but he has done sufficient digging in the public record to raise some legitimate questions about the approach and allegiances of the bureaucrat overseeing the policy that dare not speak its name.

The Howard government has form, many would allege, in promoting public servants based on political services rendered, and few would disagree that it’s quick with the political fix. The fairness test, and its accompanying advertising campaign, is certainly that. And now, perhaps, its administration can be shown to be as well.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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