The Government’s embrace of News Ltd’s John Hartigan isn’t limited to his appointment – hilariously – to the “Governance” steering committee for April’s Gabfest ‘08.

Hartigan was also appointed two weeks ago to the Government’s Business Advisory Group, which will advise the Government on its next round of reforms to the IR framework.

There is, it should be noted, already a workplace relations advisory group, called the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council. Established by statute and everything. It was reconstituted under the Howard Government and features, besides the ACTU, members such as the BCA, ACCI, the Australian Mines and Metals Association, the NFF and the Master Builders.

Ten points to the reader who can spot what those groups have in common.

Oddly enough, the Government prefers to consult with its own hand-picked employer representatives, including Heather Ridout, whose Australian Industry Group didn’t make the mistake of backing the disastrous business campaign for WorkChoices during the election. And John Hartigan is there as a representative of the media sector.

The media sector doesn’t normally spring to mind as a critical contributor to workplace productivity. While we may be Stakhanovite in our digging for the truth, journalists are hardly up there with miners when it comes to contributing to the economy. No – much as John Hartigan may be “stoked” to be repeatedly tapped for his advice, this comes direct from the Tony Blair playbook.

Recall that, back before his Iraq misadventure, Blair was regarded as one of the most gifted politicians in generations, partly for his assiduous and successful cultivation of Rupert Murdoch before and after his election in 1997.

Labor knows that it is well-placed to rule for a decade or more. Only an implosion of Whitlamesque proportions, or a serious economic shock, threatens this. That’s why Rudd is so “seized” about inflation, and how it is handled. In particular, he knows that the Government is exposed to the claim that its industrial relations rollback threatens a wages break-out. Either way, giving the Australian head of News Limited buy-in is insurance. It won’t buy favourable press coverage now – and it’s not needed, in any event. But it might help offset critical coverage when, inevitably, things aren’t going so well for the Government.

Peter Fray

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