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Crikey Says

Feb 28, 2014

Crikey says: Labor's friendly fire from Ferguson

Virgin's loss, Qantas' pain: the airline fallout. Bernard Keane on Tony Abbott's brave stance. The real worry for Joe Hockey: capex. The battle for Crimea explained. A newspaper on the death of newspapers. How South Park thwarted Aussie game censors. And a Follow Friday from Africa.


Well, this is unhelpful: an ex-Labor minister urging a new Coalition government to get tougher on workplace relations. Speaking at an energy conference in Perth today, Martin Ferguson pushed Tony Abbott to go further than his “modest” proposed reforms:

“We must get serious about closing the competitive gap that has opened up between Australia and our rivals. A workplace relations system that drives investment to other countries is in nobody’s interest — certainly not those union members and their families who will be bargaining themselves out of a future.”

Of course, Ferguson would say that — he now sits on an advisory board to APPEA (“the voice of Australia’s oil and gas industry”) and was speaking in that capacity today. Perhaps Labor could have pushed its former resources and energy minister to uphold the spirit of the ministerial code of conduct, which states:

“Ministers are required to undertake that, for an eighteen month period after ceasing to be a Minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matters on which they have had official dealings as Minister in their last eighteen months in office. Ministers are also required to undertake that, on leaving office, they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a Minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.”

If Ferguson didn’t have his plum new job to spout industry lines on industrial relations, Bill Shorten could have avoided the embarrassment.


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14 thoughts on “Crikey says: Labor’s friendly fire from Ferguson

  1. granorlewis

    Bill Shorten’s embarrassment is not because Martin Ferguson has made these comments, but because Bill Shorten is totally refusing to hear the will of the electorate. Ferguson’s words that you have quoted, say it all. It is Shorten who is threatening jobs by his niaive positioning on IR.This whole current mess be it Qantas, GMH or any other example comes down simply to the fact that under Labor, Australia got all its priorities wrong, and that’s what killed these formally great businesses. Your very commentary, using words like unhelpful and embarrassment, indicate your bias in these matters, but that’s OK. At least Ferguson has the common sense to call things as they are, and you try to convert to a vested interest issue. Wrong,wrong,wrong!

  2. JohnB

    I didn’t much care for this bloke when he was in office – Even less so, now.

  3. David Hand

    Maybe he’s not merely “spouting industry lines” but actually believes what he’s saying.

    It’s so easy and superficial to ignore the substance of what someone says by criticising his or her associations.

  4. klewso

    He’s all Right. He got what he wanted out of the party.

  5. JMNO

    I felt for a long time that Ferguson was in the wrong party. Whilst in Government he always seemed more on the side of big business, especially in the resources industry, than of the workers. He still prosecuted a class war but it was not against the bosses but against ‘greenies’ which was anyone who questioned resource developments. He is now in his natural home.

    Bill Shorten shouldn’t feel too embarrassed about him. He should be relieved that he is no longer a member of the parliamentary party.

  6. Electric Lardyland

    I cu neer unnerstan wa Marn Fersn wuz sain anway.

  7. granorlewis

    Bill Shorten is of course part of the reason MArtin Ferguson is no longer there. The Labor mob is the poorer for his loss. At least, with his long experience in the Labor/Union world, he knows as well as anyone the problems and issues that prevail – but Shorten has no idea!

  8. AR

    “Stockholm Syndrome” or, another foreign term, Quisling?
    Since the Right took over the Sussex St Lubyanka during the Fraser years – when the ACTU leader was … forgotten his name, little man complex, loud voice and little between the ears except a desire to get his bum on board seats – and the demoralised ALP were bludgeoned (literally in the case of inner city Sydney – remember Peter Baldwin?)into toeing the party line in return for a mess of potage/power.
    And wotta mess it turned out to be, a front bench of apparatchiks who’d never done a day’s work in the real world, the ‘horny handed sons of toil’ had become, in Frank Crean’s words, “the scum of the middle class”.

  9. Sean Doyle

    Martin Ferguson just took off the rather thin and transparent veil he wore in government. Couldn’t do enough to appease the miners when minister and his new job after politics is about as surprising as the sun rising in the east. A blow in to Batman, where he was a severe mismatch to the southern section (at least) of that seat, he got what he wanted for himself without worrying too much about his constituents. He’s no loss to the ALP.

    Unfortunately for the ALP, they seem stuck with Paul Howes for now.

  10. R. Ambrose Raven

    Let’s just list his more appalling actions since leaving politics:
    …1…in being employed as an energy industry lobbyist within a few months of leaving Parliament, Martin Ferguson demonstrated not merely a contemptuous breach of the Gillard Labor Ministerial Code of Conduct but also the ease with which politicians can exploit their parliamentary experience for personal gain, including advancing projects deeply contrary to the public interest that they were supposed to be representing while in public office.

    …2… Martin Ferguson also managed to be given charge of a panel seeking not only to resurrect the notorious Gunns pulp mill, but also insisting that Tasmania’s economy depends on doing so! In deeply hypocritical contrast to his views on IR, Ferguson asserted that there was no role for either federal or state Governments in the development.

    …4… Ferguson sought to exploit exactly the pressure on domestic gas supply caused by his approval of Queensland’s three massive LNG export projects to politically blackmail the NSW government into accepting open-slather CSG mining.

    …5… Ferguson has openly become a class traitor. He criticised the WA MUA as a “job-killing” and “rogue” union, while urging more extreme IR laws, the old ABCC back, and greater aggression against unions. Ferguson clearly did not care that he was obviously wrong in his claims that unless the unions were tackled and excessive wages reduced, more Australian jobs would go offshore.

  11. David Hand

    That’s a beautifully written union manifesto Raven, even featuring such traditional slogans as “class traitor”. I can’t quite reconcile your devotion to the job destroying Green agenda to shut down industry in Tasmania though.

    Ah maybe that’s because Ferguson believes in it. That’s probably enough for you isn’t it.

  12. R. Ambrose Raven

    A very very mediocre reply Hand, not even managing the usual dismal denialist standard. I can’t quite reconcile your devotion to the job destroying Ferguson/Coalition agenda to shut down industry in Australia though.

    It may of course be that like the Noalition, you want the Coalition weapon of mass job destruction to force wages down and turn Australia into one big sweatshop.

    Ah maybe that’s because Abbott believes in it. Abbott says many Holden workers will be “liberated” by the loss of their jobs at the carmaker. That’s probably enough for you isn’t it. Can we hope that you are similarly liberated from your own employment, preferably as soon as possible?

    Consider, for instance, the “benefits” forecast to flow from Palmer’s ‘China First Project’, to be Australia’s biggest coal mine:
    . • the net economic benefits to Australia will, at best, be small.
    . • damaging impacts (according to the Economic Impact Statement commissioned by Waratah Coal to help make the case for the China First mine) include:
    . • 3,000 jobs will be lost across Queensland and Australia, particularly in manufacturing, agriculture and tourism.
    . • $1,250 million of manufacturing activity will be lost.
    . • Inflation will rise.
    . • Small and medium sized businesses will be hit with higher bills for payroll and rent. This will result in some of them shutting down.
    . • Housing affordability will decline for those who are not employed in the new mine.
    . • Wealth will become less evenly distributed, with most of the benefits accruing to those employed in the China First mine.

    Yet, naturally Qld Premier Campbell Newman is demanding – as at July ’13 – the Commonwealth rubber-stamp the environmental approvals “so we can create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment to this state right now.” Truth for Newman, Abbott & Co is whatever serves the needs of the moment, or if you prefer, whatever looks good in a press release.

  13. David Hand

    My education in how an economy works came by witnessing the visionary reforms of the Lange / Douglas government in NZ where I lived at the time, and the Hawke / Keating government in Australia. Both governments put in place reforms that will positively impact our society for the rest of this century.

    Those reforms were required because the big government model where almost everything was regulated, publicly owned, protected from competition and subsidised had completely broken down.

    The current government attitude to industry policy is following in the footsteps of the Hawke / Keating reforms and rightly so.

    I guess you don’t remember what it was like between 1975 and 1985.

  14. R. Ambrose Raven

    Well, Hand, at least your ideological obsessions have been flushed out into the open, sewerage though they are.

    For all the talk of the benefits of globalisation, NZ leaders clearly considered (as at Nov ’11) that they’re competing for people, jobs, and investment with all countries but particularly with Australia, that they’re “slowly losing the battle’, and that “if we don’t act decisively then our future as a first world country with first world public services and first world opportunity for the next generation is at risk”.

    Australia has long had a flood of economic refugees, not from Iraq or Afghanistan or Sri Lanka, but from New Zealand –53,900 in FY11, a record 54,000 people in the year to August ’12. “These are economic refugees.” according to New Zealand Council of Trade Unions secretary Peter Conway.

    Over 2005-11, New Zealand has suffered a nett emigration loss to Australia of 160,000 people as individuals, particularly the younger generation, have taken advantage of the buoyant Australian job market and higher wages. At least some New Zealanders see NZ as beginning to look more and more like an enormous retirement village – but who will provide the taxes to support the village residents?

    Stopping the exodus to Australia was part of John Key’s 2008 campaign. Yet until this year the flow was accelerating. It averaged 21,500 net long-term departures annually under Helen Clark, but increased to 25,000 per year under John Key. Christchurch’s earthquakes were not a significant factor. Granted, that has occurred, if only temporarily, and six years later.

    “In NZ we have very poor and badly directed savings. We own a much smaller proportion of our own economy than the Aussies and therefore any trade balance of payments surplus leaves the country as foreign owners of our businesses profits. And we lack capital for small start up and rapid expansion businesses. So either our ideas or our young companies are sold. The stock market is much more limited than I remember it 30 years ago both in terms of companies listed and proportion of kiwis investing.”

    “Free” trade will lead to a race to the bottom in terms of industry structure and living standards, unless it is complemented by a range of policies designed to move the nation up the skills chain and into more sophisticated industries. A sweatshop? Sounds like your kind of country, David. Not really all that visionary, neither.


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