Could it get worse for Brendan Nelson after a 9% approval rating and major embarrassment on industrial relations on the same day?

The answer is yes – and IR tensions are at the core of the issue again.

Nelson won no marks from his shadow cabinet colleagues when he took the lion’s share of the opposition advisers’ allocation for his own office. The background of these staff also caused concern.

Nelson copped flak for appointing the former Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss Peter Hendy as his chief of staff. But Hendy wasn’t the only refugee from the bosses’ union given shelter by the Liberal leader.

The ACCI’s former director of economics, Michael Potter, is now Nelson’s chief economist and another ACCI alumni, Nicolle Flint, occupies an adviser’s role.

Liberal MPs see ACCI as a key driver of WorkChoices. They see WorkChoices as a key cause of their defeat last year. They believe ACCI failed to provide support for the policy in the election campaign.

What they don’t see after all this is why ACCI personnel, unable to deal with the new government and unemployable elsewhere, should be taken in and given plum jobs by their leader.

They are full and frank on the issue – off the record, naturally – but for how much longer?

These are more IR tensions Nelson simply doesn’t need with his tenuous grip on the office.

Peter Fray

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