BUSINESS AND UNIONS TANGLE

Business groups are pushing back against efforts by Labor and the unions to alter Australia’s industrial relations framework and shift the balance of power away from employers.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has upped its rhetoric, warning about the “tone” emanating from Labor after Bill Shorten’s National Press Club address last week.

‘‘In particular, the call for a huge increase in the minimum wage, styled as a living wage, to 60 per cent of median earnings,” the body’s chief executive James Pearson is quoted as saying in Fairfax papers today. “That would represent an increase of over 26 per cent over four years, and quite simply that would overwhelmingly impact small business in Australia.”

Last night on the ABC’s Q&A program ($), ACTU secretary Sally McManus flew the (non-Eureka-emblazoned) left-wing flag, hitting out at the Coalition’s planned corporate tax cuts and claiming it would be the top 15 companies that would benefit most and not small businesses. McManus pushed Pearson on the level of profit a company should be earning before it gives its workers a raise.

“How big do profits have to be,” she pushed. “Forty per cent? Fifty per cent?”

With Malcolm Turnbull also looking to put the boot into Labor as he surges to a slightly less bad election-losing position in the polls, numbers out today from the Australia Institute may give him pause for thought. Commissioned by the left-leaning institute, an online survey found 64.6% of respondents thought it would be better for the government to grow the economy by spending on services like healthcare than by cutting corporate taxes.

AN UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP

Michael Wolff’s tale of fire and fury may have raised questions about Donald Trump’s health, but today it’s the US president’s remarks on health care that have caused a stir — including inside Theresa May’s Tory cabinet.

British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has rebuked Trump after the President pointed to ongoing protests regarding the UK’s National Health System (NHS) as evidence that universal healthcare is a bad idea.

“The Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working,” Trump warned on Twitter. “Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care. No thanks!”

If nothing else, Trump has forced some odd alliances against his foes. In response to the tweet, Hunt was forced to side with the same protesters out in the streets to voice their disapproval of his government.

“I may disagree with claims made on that march but not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover,” Hunt responded. “NHS may have challenges but I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage – where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance.”

The small trans-Atlantic row put Theresa May in a tough spot, as she continues to court the unpredictable Trump while also backing her Health Secretary.

All in all, a good day for Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.

“Wrong,” Corbyn said in response to Trump’s tweet. “People were marching because we love our NHS and hate what the Tories are doing to it. Healthcare is a human right.”

One protest, three interpretations.

DOYLE DENIES INAPPROPRIATE TOUCHING

Recently retired Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle admitted to an investigation into his allegedly inappropriate actions that he touched the inner-thigh of councillor Cathy Oke at a 2014 dinner but insisted the contact had not been sexual.

In a scoop in The Australian today, it is reported that Doyle, who is currently in hospital seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, told investigator Ian Freckelton QC that the touch had been intended to secretly communicate to Oke about potential candidates for a job opening. Oke told the inquiry the touching was repeated, forcing her to move her legs away.

Four women have made accusations against Doyle, who says he has been denied natural justice.

THEY REALLY SAID THAT

‘‘I’ve put my life on the line for major Islamic, Muslim countries in this world. And I find it deeply offensive that this cheapo hack at me has come out on day one.”

That was newly sworn-in Australian Liberal Senator Jim Molan is refusing to back down after it was revealed he had shared an anti-Muslim video distributed by the far-right party Britain First. The video claims to show “Muslim violence” — that’s the bad kind of violence, in case you were wondering — but Molan refused to apologise and encouraged people to have a look at the clip for themselves. He also said, just by the by, that he couldn’t guarantee its accuracy.

Britain First does not have a good record in this regard, with President Donald Trump sharing a number of videos promoted by the group in November. One was quickly debunked and the other appeared to be taken out of context.

Unlike Molan, Trump later apologised for sharing the videos.

READ ALL ABOUT IT

Catching the money man: How Australian taxpayer dollars and a fake drug cartel helped bring down the world’s most wanted money launderer.

Controversial China book may get parliamentary protection

New spy laws to hinder ‘legitimate work of media’ ($)

Top End shale gas development would blow Australia’s carbon budget, TAI says

Smart meter price pain as power spikes ($)

WHAT’S ON TODAY

New Zealand: Waitangi Day celebrations and protests take place.

Victoria, NSW, NT: State and territory parliaments return for the year.

Melbourne: A fitness hearing will be held to determine whether alleged right-wing extremist Phillip Galea is able to stand trial on charges of preparing a terrorist attack.

Melbourne: Members of Melbourne City Council will meet for the first time since Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s resignation.  

Canberra: High Court sits to consider how to replace the Tasmanian Senate seat left vacant by Jacqui Lambie

THE COMMENTARIAT

Ban on the most Australian symbol of them all an outrage — Peter FitzSimons (Sydney Morning Herald): “It is a symbol for all of us to reclaim as a wonderful symbol of our history, standing for all the things I note above, including unionism, and including brave entrepreneurs telling an iniquitous government where they can stick their excessive mining taxes. And for the Australian government to ban it from worksites on federal projects is simply unconscionable.”

CRIKEY QUICKIE: THE BEST OF YESTERDAY

Did the ABC and Fairfax just kowtow to our bumbling, repressive government? — Bernard Keane: “For its handling of the documents, the ABC duly got pats on the head from foreign policy thinktanks and News Corp for being ‘responsible’. Except, we don’t know how ‘responsible’ the ABC was. We will never see the documents, so we can’t see whether the decisions about the national interest made by its journalists and executives about what should be revealed make any sense. We simply have to trust the gatekeepers that they know best.”

The real reason Channel Seven elevated the opinion of a neo-Nazi — Emily Watkins: “One of the really negative things that’s come out of this battle for attention is the best way to get attention is to raise fear or anxiety. And in many cases that’s done very cynically without care for what’s in the public interest.”

Does the ABCC directive on union logos breach the constitution? — Charlie Lewis: “Professor of constitutional law at Sydney University, Anne Twomey, told Crikey the implied freedom of political freedom was not a personal right. ‘It is a limitation on the legislative and executive power of the Commonwealth,’ she said. ‘So the issue is not what an employer does, the issue is whether the law in question breaches the implied freedom.'”

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE

Peter Fray

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