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Federal

Aug 28, 2012

When it comes to WorkChoices, Abbott can't take a trick

Tony Abbott can't turn a trick on IR -- he's in trouble no matter what he says, and plenty of it is friendly fire.

Tony Abbott gets away with many things, his critics charge. The media too often fail to hold him to account, to pull him up, to challenge him. To the extent that that’s true on other issues, it isn’t on industrial relations. In fact, Abbott can’t take a trick on IR.

He’s the one who thought it was a bad idea in the first place when the Howard cabinet considered WorkChoices, the one who called WorkChoices “a catastrophic political blunder” in Battlelines, who in that book even questioned Holy Writ about individual contracts, saying “the much-touted abolition of Australian Workplace Agreements could be insignificant by comparison” with the requirement for good faith bargaining. He’s the “dead, buried, cremated” bloke.

And yet everyone, it seems, is conspiring against his resolution. Most of his party is well to the right of Abbott on IR, and wants movement on issues like unfair dismissal. The business community is talking incessantly about productivity and the need for flexibility. His former colleague Peter Reith is an enthusiastic spruiker of IR reform. And then John Howard beams in, from what according to Abbott is ancient history, to offer his own take.

Labor ministers, of course, were like seagulls on a chip with it. Too bad that Howard wasn’t even talking about WorkChoices, but primarily urging a return to the Reith-era Workplace Relations Act of before 2005. Too bad that the recent Fair Work Act review identified Labor’s “replacement” for AWAs, individual flexibility agreements, as too complicated and inflexible to use, and recommended a series of changes to them. That was lost in the mix, reflecting the exact problem that confronts Abbott — he can’t even talk about IR reform without every utterance being taken as code for WorkChoices.

That’s why when he does talk about IR reform, he sticks to a meaningless incantation. The Coalition thinks there’s a “militancy problem, a productivity problem, and a flexibility problem” but, he said yesterday, all it would do would be to make “cautious, careful, responsible change”. He similarly said they’d make “careful, cautious, responsible change” in May, and “careful, cautious, responsible change” back in February. The only deviation was when he slipped up earlier this month and added a “prudent” to “careful, cautious, responsible changes”.

Having built an entire, and successful, political strategy on what happens to a Prime Minister when visibly seen to break a high-profile commitment — voters may forgive you if you fail to do something you commit to doing, but look out if you do something you’ve promised you won’t — Abbott is the least likely of anyone in his party to decide, once in government, that it’s time to revisit WorkChoices. But voters don’t believe it. Even more Liberal voters think he’ll bring back WorkChoices in government than don’t. The incessant business lobby push for IR deregulation has lifted the proportion of voters very concerned about a return to WorkChoices to its highest level since 2010.

Kevin Rudd’s success as opposition leader lay in carefully picking a few clear points of distinction with John Howard and sticking to those while ignoring everything else. Abbott’s so-far successful strategy has been entirely the opposite. But on IR, he’s trying hard to do a Rudd and keep minimal distance between himself and the government. The problem is, no one, even on his own side, appears happy to let him keep doing it.

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136 comments

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136 thoughts on “When it comes to WorkChoices, Abbott can’t take a trick

  1. cairns50

    no one beleives him bernard because the man simply can not speak the truth

    kerry o’brien had that told to him by abbott himself

    leigh sales exposed him the other night, then the next day he backflipped on what he reckons he said to her

    slowly but surely people are finally waking up to him

  2. fredex

    ‘Dead, buried, cremated” {sic}

    [“TONY Abbott has signed a “contract” promising that Work Choices is dead and buried but he continues to muddle his message on the controversial laws.

    “Give me a bit of paper, I’ll sign it here,” Mr Abbott said to 3AW host Neil Mitchell as he tried to end questions about John Howard’s divisive workplace laws.

    But pressed again by Mitchell, Mr Abbott said: “I can’t give an absolute guarantee about every single aspect of workplace relations…….. ….”]

    July 19, 2010

    Thats why poor poor Tony can’t take trick.
    Because he contradicts himself [thats using a polite term] .
    In the case above within a minute or so.

    [” But voters don’t believe it {him}”]

    Gee, I wonder why?

  3. Mobius Ecko

    Abbott = Liar
    Flexibility = WorkChoices
    WorkChoices = Big Business
    Big Business = Abbott
    Abbott = WorkChoices

  4. klewso

    “Work Choices dead buried cremated” – he scribbled, July 19 ’10 (then again he did write that, and we all remember him saying no to trust “anything he said”, just before he said only to trust what he “committed in writing”?) we all saw him do it in that radio stunt, meant to reassure us.
    Not “WorkChoices” – that sleeps.
    And what’s in name anyway – actions speak louder than words.

  5. John Bennetts

    Speaking as one more Abbott nonbeliever amongst many, I almost choked on your last sentence, Bernard:
    “The problem is, no one, even on his own side, appears happy to let him keep doing it.”

    Of course not – his own side know him far too well to trust him.

    Now the wider electorate seem to have woken up, and about time, too!

    My question is: If Abbott gets dumped by his party and Malcolm is a has-been, who will be next?

  6. David Allen

    It’s only last week Abbott was yearning for a return to the ‘Howard Golden Age’. This was the age abrubtly punctuated, with a full stop, as a result of ‘Workchoices’.

    Why would anyone ever believe anything he says. He’s in constant contradiction with himself.

  7. klewso

    Does Abbott have any shame – or conscience?

  8. arnold ziffel

    John Bennetts above: ‘My question is: If Abbott gets dumped by his party and Malcolm is a has-been, who will be next?’
    Perhaps it falls to Hockey – here he is as Minister for IR being interviewed by Kerry O’Brien http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2007/s2049308.htm
    So he’s been drinking the Kool-aid too.
    They’re all wearing the opprobrium, and so they should.

  9. Liz45

    BERNARD – It’s because via Abbott’s own mouth, he can’t be trusted on anything – anything at all! I recall the Health Rebate issue re contributions to Health Funds, was written in concrete or some such. A few months after the ’04 Election(if that) it was a ‘ooops, didn’t realise it would cost THAT much, sorry folks’ and it didn’t happen. He wasn’t castigated and called A-LIAR like JG has been; no shock jocks; no Murdoch hate articles etc etc! Don’t trust him! Wouldn’t trust him! Don’t like him! Full stop! He’ll say and do whatever it takes to be elected, and then……

    Also, he thinks we’re either suffering from dementia of some kind, or have a very short memory! Mark my words – if he gets elected, it’ll be on with a vengeance, and to hell with mandates blah blah! He has no conscience and has no need of one! And the Telegraph in NSW will be as quiet as an angel, as will Alan Jones and the others! Just like they are over O’Farrell’s lies over the Port Kembla Port sale! Not a murmur! Sickening!

    @CAIRNS50 – When I saw Abbott in the Parlt after the Leigh Sales interview, even I couldn’t believe that he’d change his story! Open mouthed I was! He told her at least once that he hadn’t read that media release and then said he did! Unbelievable! His tongue should be long enough to reach from Canberra to the Top End now – so many lies!

  10. swingingvoter

    Abbott has also spoken about IR in terms of a pendulum. Work choices may have swung too far to the right but the fair work act has swung it too far to the left (not to mention that it encouraged the more hysterical elements of the union movement as seen in melbourne today) Abbott is aiming to swing it back to the middle.

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