The drama of the Coalition’s apparent backflip on AWA’s masks the reality of Rudd’s large scale adoption of WorkChoices. There’s a lot of political spin that’s hiding policy truths. The fact is that Rudd has retained 70-80% of WorkChoices, including individual statutory agreements but with different names.

Within this context the Coalition is following a sensible political and policy line in agreeing to pass Rudd’s interim workplace Bill.

WorkChoices AWA’s Mark 1 was dangerous. Any statute that enables the breaking of a freely entered contract with the imposition of worse conditions onto one party is unacceptable. If such laws were passed affecting commercial contracts there’d be uproar from the business community. The reaction against WorkChoices AWA’s Mark 1 was justified. The ACTU got it right!

In trying to fix the problem, WorkChoices AWA’s Mark 2 created an unworkable administrative mess in applying a revised no disadvantage test.

The Coalition is following an astute political line in burying this problem even if it creates immediate ammunition to be used against them. What is surprising is the speed with which the Coalition is putting the past behind them! Normally defeated political parties wail about their loss and descend into extended, destructive introspection.

For the Coalition to change so quickly is something the ALP failed to do after Keating lost to Howard. It took Rudd to bury the ALP’s self-destructive wailing. It was the first demonstration of just how astute and pragmatic Rudd is.

A second demonstration of Rudd’s skill is his retention of individual work agreements while pretending he’s rejecting them.

Rudd is retaining existing AWA’s until 2010. But if these are so unfair why is he retaining them? Surely if fairness were to apply, employees on existing “unfair” AWA’s should be entitled to compensation.

New AWA’s can be entered but are called ITEA’s and last for 2 years. From 2010 individual flexibility clauses will be compulsory in all awards and individual agreements.

Existing AWA’s retained? ITEA’s and individual flexibility clauses? Looks like an AWA duck. Walks and sounds like an AWA duck. Must be individual statutory agreements.

This is all good labour policy stuff which Australia needs if labour arrangements are to encourage rather than stifle productivity growth and deliver fairness.

On the political front it constitutes fun of which Master Machiavelli would be most pleased. In this new environment assume that nothing is what it appears to be.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey