What does Tourism and Small Business Minister Fabulous Fran Bailey do when she isn’t living high on the hog and enjoying expensive taxpayer funded junkets overseas? Why, she berates business groups.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd has given former Peter Walsh staffer Craig Emerson an interesting task – making a concerted effort to lure a key and growing government constituency, independent contractors. He’s even given Emerson a title to match: Shadow Minister for Service Economy, Small Business and Independent Contractors.

It’s been fascinating to watch. Emerson has been impressive. He has worked hard to develop a credible policy alternative and steer it through the union-dominated ALP (the bruvvers don’t like independent contractors and prefer everyone to be “employees” – and members of the union). Whereas deputy Labor leader Julia Gillard’s relationship with business is poisonous, Emerson goes down a treat and is well-regarded.

The Government was always going to have to be deft in countering Emerson – especially after Kevin Andrews alienated virtually every major employer group during his time as Workplace Relations Minister on the issue of independent contracting.

Andrews, it seems, never really understood independent contracting or didn’t like the idea. So, what did the Government do? It sent in Fabulous Fran. The resultant mess is all over The Australian today.

Fabulous Fran has a go at any employer group who deviates from the government line. Sometime Crikey contributor Ken Phillips cops a special serve for supporting Emerson’s efforts.

Given that the government has been able to criticise Gillard for her veiled threats to business, this is an embarrassment John Howard doesn’t need.

Labor is using supportive comments from the Independent Contractors of Australia on their election material for small business, making the ICA a very important group in the debate.

If the government could win the ICA back, they would have some powerful material to counter the ALP. Fabulous Fran, however, has done her darnedest to keep them offside.

Fabulous Fran, of course, ended her first term in parliament by losing her seat. Many observers believe she may be set to repeat this effort.

Perhaps it’s time the PM put someone vaguely competent on the case. Joe Hockey, maybe?

Peter Fray

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