Tony Abbott, claiming he’d been taken out of context over those job “protections” comments has released the full text of the Q&A on his website. Here it is in part: 

The ALP has outrageously doctored what I said in a debate with the ALP’s Warringah candidate in Brookvale on Tuesday night. This is the transcript of the question and my answer in full.

Question from mediator: This has been dubbed the Me-Too election and Work Choices is certainly one area where the two national parties differ significantly. Putting national statistics aside, Mr Abbott, have you any evidence to prove that the introduction of Work Choices has been good for the people of your electorate?

Tony Abbott: As that great Labor leader Tony Blair said, ‘fairness begins with the chance of a job’ and there is a lot more fairness in the workplace today in this country than ever before because there is a lot more chance of a job. [applause]…

Whatever you make of the clarification, there’s another interesting point here: Abbott quoting Tony Blair. And quoting this quote in particular. When it comes to Blair’s “fairness” = “jobs” line, the Coalition can’t ever seem to get enough.

Last year, Kevin Andrews, then Workplace Relations Minister, told Lateline: “The law protected Mrs Harris, but it also, and these changes also gave an opportunity, for people to get a job. As Tony Blair said, fairness starts with the chance of a job.” It was not the first time he’d used the Blairism.

But no-one loves Tony Blair’s fairness quote more than John Howard. In 2005, discussing the IR changes, he said:

As Tony Blair once famously said, fairness in the workplace starts with the chance of a job. And he said that when he addressed the trade union congress and told them that he had no intention as a Labor prime minister of reversing the labour market changes of the Thatcher government because he knew they’d created higher productivity and greater job security for the people of Great Britain, and he was right.

This year, he’s cranked up the Blair. Here he is in March with Fran Kelly; April with Laurie Oakes; May with John Laws. We could go on. (The ALP also claims that John Howard’s “opportunity society” was ripped straight from the Blair songsheet.)

Here’s something Tony Blair, quoting Tony Blair, said to the Trade Union Congress in 2004:

Over the weekend I got out the first speech I ever made to a Labour party conference not as leader but as Employment spokesman back in 1990. I said: a Labour government would introduce a minimum wage; a legal right to union recognition; sign the social chapter; restore trade union rights at GCHQ; improve maternity leave; introduce paid holidays; end blacklisting; and remove the power of automatic dismissal for those lawfully on strike.

We have done every one of those things. But we only did them by being in government not in permanent opposition…

[The Warwick agreement] should be seen not as diluting the changes we have made but conditioning them with one very basic set of principles at its heart: good jobs don’t come with bad work practices; successful employers don’t succeed by abusing their employees; quality public services don’t achieve excellence by undervaluing public servants.

Gordon Brown concurred that “by guaranteeing a minimum wage and proper rights at work that the modern route to prosperity is not exploitation in the workplace but fairness in the workplace.”

Two years ago, Mike Steketee roundly criticised Howard’s penchant for the Blair quote. Two years on, it’s still being spruiked:

…Howard did not mention what else Blair has done. Far from relying solely, or even mainly, on a deregulated labour market, he has introduced a national minimum wage and increased it in real terms, provided income tax credits to people who take up work and introduced an array of training, work experience and wage subsidy programs for the long-term unemployed and those with other disadvantages. In other words, Britain is using some of the dividends of economic reform to help those left behind; Australia is telling them their main pathway to work is to accept lower wages.

Tony Blair recognised the need to move away from the old union model, but worked to ensure “protections” for workers. As Abbott says, context is everything.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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