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Federal

Dec 4, 2012

Reith’s backdoor into WorkChoices could work for Abbott

Calls for an inquiry into trade unions could be an effective vehicle for the Coalition to return to aspects of WorkChoices -- without using that hated name.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Has the Coalition been presented with a way to revisit WorkChoices without the political opprobrium?

One should always pay attention to the views of Peter Reith, who is happy to offer his thoughts on Coalition policy refreshingly unrestrained by political calculation. Reith doesn’t believe in a small-target philosophy, particularly not these days. His call for an inquiry into trade unions shows he’s out in front of his former colleagues in terms of exploiting the recent prominence in public debate of union scandals.

Reith’s proposal opens up the possibility of converting what for the Coalition so far has primarily been a tactical ploy against the Gillard government and a means of damaging the reputation of the wider labour movement into a vehicle for renewing the campaign against trade unions that formed the heart of WorkChoices.

The tactic was used successfully by the Howard government to directly attack the CFMEU, via a royal commission into the construction industry. The resulting legal framework, enforced by the draconian powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, diminished the role of the CFMEU (and also saw a significant rise in the number of construction industry workers dying at work).

The Coalition has been able to use the revelations of extensive corruption within the Health Services Union and the 20-year old Australian Workers Union saga as the basis for a general attack on union corruption. This has extended to attacking industry superannuation funds, run by “venal” union officials as a “gravy train”, according to Tony Abbott.

Industry super funds, run jointly by union and employer representatives, consistently and strongly outperform retail super funds run by the big banks and AMP, which provide a lucrative source of fees for financial planners. The Howard government unsuccessfully tried to stymie the growth of industry super funds through its 2004 superannuation choice legislation.

It hasn’t all been one-way traffic. A business campaign, run through the national newspapers, to pin Australia’s poor productivity performance on trade unions and the Fair Work Act has come a cropper, partly because of the inconvenient fact that labour productivity has been on the increase since 2011. And even The Australian Financial Review has begun admitting there’s been no wages breakout under the Fair Work framework, despite that being one of the central claims of its opponents (see Greg Jericho’s insightful piece on the lack of a wages breakout).

Nonetheless, as Reith has sensed, a year in which the media has relentlessly scrutinized the HSU and events in the AWU two decades ago (while ignoring far worse instances of business fraud) provides an ideal basis to propose an inquiry that could furnish the basis for more restrictive legislation on the activities of unions.

Abbott’s promise to hold an inquiry into the AWU matter if elected, a commitment likely to be routinely exploited by Labor as part of its campaign to paint him as capable only of negativity, could neatly be transformed into a commitment to a broader inquiry into “union corruption”, with the goal of restricting unions’ activities and capacity to use members’ funds. It could even be used to drive “venal” union officials off industry superannuation boards.

And all with nary a mention of the hated WorkChoices.

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34 comments

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34 thoughts on “Reith’s backdoor into WorkChoices could work for Abbott

  1. cairns50

    how can it be that someone like peter reith who acted outside the law with respect to the waterfront dispute and somebody who did not tell the truth as is probably responsible for many deaths re the children overboard affair and the sinking of the siev x still be able to command a position where they can influence public policy in australia ?

  2. Apollo

    Don’t you worry BK.

    We’ve already have a socialist as the leader of the so called “free world”. During his young years in Indonesia, he was indoctrinated by chairman Mao’s secret agents. And La Reina Ranga? What can I say, our special scientists had hypnotised and and implanted in her brain with special instructions.

    Try as you may Reith and all of the conservatives. Socialism will rule the world. YOU BETTER RECOGNIZE!!

  3. Peter Shute

    yes by all means encourage Peter Reith to pontificate and demand inquiries and such. Give him more space to attack unions. It just hastens the death of Tony Abbott’s already doomed ambitions to be PM.

  4. Mr Tank

    “(while ignoring far worse instances of business fraud)”.
    It would be nice mate if you cited a few examples…

  5. NeoTheFatCat

    Mr Tank, AWB springs immediately to mind. Of course, Pratt got off lightly as colluding on prices isn’t as bad as union corruption (unless you happen to be on the receiving end of years of high prices).

    It’s weird how one corrupt union official is seen as symptomatic of the whole movement, but a stupid or corrupt businessman doesn’t call into question the whole capitalist system.

  6. Gavin Moodie

    Yes, an inquiry into ‘union corruption’ seems very good politics for the Coalition.

  7. shepherdmarilyn

    Bernard, too long in Canberra for you if you think we should listen to the idiot Reith on anything at all.

  8. geomac62

    Mr Tank
    Cast your mind back to when Howard bailed his brother out and to cover his behind introduced policy to cover workers when firms fail in their responsibilities . The most recent seems to be Rosella which looks like not having enough to cover workers entitlements . Who picks up most of the slack ? the government . Its a rort of the worst kind in that they operate until creditors are called in while not contributing to their workers basic entitlements . Isn,t that operating while insolvent ?
    To have a former minister who broke his own industrial laws speak about propriety is beyond the pale . To compound this is the fact that the same man broke government guidelines/laws by passing on his PIN phone information and shamelessly misinformed the media and public regarding children overboard , truth overboard in fact . HIH , OneTel , various developers getting the run with politicians of both stripes ,Packer and his no tender casino .
    Lets have a proper inquiry into the AWB scandal that includes all participants as its terms of reference , no exclusion of relevant ministers such as Downer and Vaille . Lets have an inquiry into the contributors to Abbotts slush fund to sink Hanson and if it was a legal slush fund . Lets have an inquiry into why tax is avoided by religious groups when a lot of their transactions are not non profit or charitable .
    Cebus ? I believe is among the best performers for super and is union based re not big bank type fund . How about an inquiry into the rip off of so called financial advisors who spruik only the funds that pay a commission yet get paid for advice . Just too many to keep up with isn,t there tank ? Where to stop ?

  9. Suzanne Blake

    Bernard, you will get a job in Gillards spin office working for McTernan. That is a brilliant spin on it

  10. cairns50

    helo again suzanne ,well fancy u coming into this blog, no doubt it wont be long before your right wing vitiol starts, bye bye the end for me

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