Forget the “backflip” and “backdown” headlines – the Coalition’s decision to ditch AWAs is the smartest move they’ve made since the election. Their new emphasis on partyroom consultation might have been rough on Julie Bishop, but it will save them plenty of angst come the next election.

It may have been painful – judging by her press conference yesterday, almost physically painful – for Bishop to acknowledge the reality that AWAs are inextricably linked to WorkChoices in the public mind. But perhaps Joe Hockey’s remarkable claim that Coalition Ministers didn’t understand that people could be worse off under WorkChoices concentrated conservative minds. If Cabinet Ministers, the very men and women who determined the policy, didn’t fully understand it, then what chance mug punters?

Although you wonder what on earth Coalition Ministers thought the point of the reforms was if they weren’t going to make some people worse off. These people ran Australia for 11 years?

In any event, the Government and the ACTU can say what they like, but the Coalition is now putting sufficient distance between itself and the putrescent corpse of WorkChoices to ensure that they can’t be demonised as hellbent on resurrecting it. Maybe Kevin Rudd shouldn’t have been quite so unsubtle about threatening to use the issue as a double dissolution trigger. Now he’ll have to work hard on a scare campaign to get any traction on the issue at the next election.

Not that the Liberals couldn’t have improved the presentation of it. Andrew Robb – who maybe should lend some of his gravitas to one or both of his leaders – anticipated the reversal in his early morning interview yesterday with Fran Kelly, saying “watch this space” on AWAs. But the double backflip with pike is always difficult to pull off, especially when it’s your colleagues that are doing the piking. Bishop’s press conference, in which she outlined at Proustian length a convoluted scheme of amendments, Senate inquiries and eventual admissions of defeat, drew justified mockery from Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd in Question Time.

Bishop is evidently still at the denial stage of grieving for WorkChoices. Most of her colleagues have moved on, and now she has to as well. We’re a long way from “Australia’s first female Prime Minister” at the moment. But one of the joys of Opposition is that it gives you plenty of time to reflect and recover. And there are worse things in politics than consulting with your colleagues.

Peter Fray

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