In a big-news-story shaped hole on its front page today, The Australian has exposed the shocking truth: Bill Shorten told potty-mouthed construction industry workers in Queensland late last year that Labor planned to reform Industrial Relations laws! Or, as Simon Benson puts it:

“Bill Shorten vowed to tear up the nation’s industrial laws, which he described as a “cancer”, during a rallying speech late last year to workers at a Queensland coalmine where CFMEU protesters were revealed to have allegedly threatened to rape the children of non-striking workers.”


After reproducing the fairly vague quotes — “Where the laws of the land are being distorted; where they are being mutated; where they’re being metastasised, like a cancer, to undermine your existing conditions … I do not think that is proportionate or fair” — the story reminds us that individual picketers at that work site were recorded a month earlier screaming vile abuse at alleged scabs, something not publicly reported until after Shorten’s visit. 

Firstly, it is remarkable that a story on the national broadsheet’s front page could contain literally no new information; Labor’s intention to reform industrial relations legislation  — particularly around the negotiating agreements, and protection of penalty rates — has been publicly on record and widely reported for many months. The fact that Shorten spoke to the Glencore workers was publicly reported when it happened, particularly after the abuse became public.

On the Oz‘s page six, there’s a similarly graceful linking — a federal court judge’s assessment of “deplorable behaviour” of the CFMEU and an attendant fine of $105,000 is jammed, sans link, onto the end of a completely unrelated story regarding a CFMEU delegate’s unfair dismissal claim

What might have been mentioned, but wasn’t (and rarely is), is that employer groups are equally committed to “tearing up” Australia’s IR system.

Just yesterday the Australia Resources & Energy Group made a submission to the Senate Select committee on the future of work and workers committee they argue for changes far more radical and wide reaching than anything Labor have aligned themselves with: abolishing the award system and the attendant minimum wages for industries, reintroducing individual agreements and allowing employers and employees more “flexibility”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey