Election 2001 in focus

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Election 2001 in focus

Former ACTU President Simon Crean appears almost certain to lead the Labor Party after last weekend's election defeat, but it appears that Peter Costello - another federal parliamentarian who made his name in the industrial arena - may have to wait longer before he is handed the Liberal Party leadership.

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Former ACTU President Simon Crean appears almost certain to lead the Labor Party after last weekend's election defeat, but it appears that Peter Costello - another federal parliamentarian who made his name in the industrial arena - may have to wait longer before he is handed the Liberal Party leadership.

Costello made his name in the 1980s when he ran a successful Supreme Court case for the owner of Dollar Sweets, a small confectionary factory in Victoria who successfully sued the confectioners' union for common law damages after a protracted and bitter strike in support of a 36-hour week. The union was forced to pay $175,000 in compensation in a landmark case that was seen as a significant win against union power. During this period, Costello was also a regular advocate in Australian National Wage Cases, a counsel for the National Farmers' Federation and a consultant to small business organisations.

But the Prime Minster strongly hinted to journalists this morning that he may well see out the full third term of his Liberal government, leaving Costello to bide his time as Treasurer before he makes the next significant move in his career.

In other election news Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott managed to hold on to his Sydney northern beaches seat of Warringah, despite a strong challenge from the popular former State MP Peter Macdonald. But his comfortable margin of 13% was reduced to 5%, indicating that he may now need to pay very close attention to local electorate issues.

With three senior ministers leaving the government after this election - Peter Reith, Michael Wooldridge and John Fahey - John Howard is expected to announce a major reshuffle within days. But neither Tony Abbott's nor the Prime Minster's offices were prepared to make any comment about who might hold the Workplace Relations portfolio in the new Howard ministry.

As expected, the Labor shadow spokesperson for industrial relations, Arch Bevis, held on to his Queensland seat of Brisbane, but Democrat Industrial Relations spokesperson Andrew Murray is still fighting for his West Australian Senate seat.

There will be many in the industrial wing of the Labor Party who will not be sorry over the defeat of Cheryl Kernot in the Brisbane seat of Dickson, as they maintained a lingering resentment over the deal she made as leader of the Democrats with the then workplace relations minister, Peter Reith, when he introduced the Workplace Relations Act in 1996.

Reith, the man who led the Liberal Party's major industrial relations reforms before he was moved to the Defence Ministry after the phone card scandal, did not contest his seat this election. His spokesperson refused to speculate on Reith's post-politics plan, suffice to say that he intends to 'go sailing'.

The election of Jennie George in the safe Labor seat of Throsby, on the NSW South Coast, brings the total number of former ACTU Presidents in Federal Parliament to three - she joins Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson, who hold the Victorian seats of Hotham and Batman respectively.

In the northern NSW seat of Richmond, the Labor Party had pinned their hopes on defeating the sitting National Party member Larry Anthony, and had named the seat as one of the few that looked almost certain to fall from Coalition hands. But former union organiser Jenny McAllister lost the battle with 48.9% of the vote. Anthony did not mention her by name when declaring his victory on election night, preferring to claim a win over imported Labor activists from Sydney and 'left wing unions' that he said had come to the seat to campaign for Labor (McAllister herself was born and raised in Tweed Heads, and returned from Sydney to contest the seat).

In the Tasmanian seat of Bass, another former union organiser and the current sitting Federal member, Labor MP Michelle O'Byrne, defied the critics who said that Bass would be one of the Labor seats most likely to fall.

On the other side of politics, Liberal candidate Sophie Panopoulos, a barrister who specialised in small business and tax, won the Victorian seat of Indi. Panopoulos made a name for herself as a prominent student activist against compulsory student unionism, and later as a high profile spokesperson for Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy during the Republic debate and advocate against compulsory unionism in the workplace. Like Peter Costello, she has been an active member of the H.R. Nicholls Society, the right wing association committed to bringing about radical reforms of the industrial relations system.

With the Greens looking likely to take at least two, and possibly more seats in the Senate, and the Democrats reducing their numbers to six or seven, the Coalition will need the co-operation of either the Democrats, or the Greens and independents, to ensure major legislation is passed in the Upper House. But the introduction of secret union ballots before strike action and other controversial IR reforms are unlikely to receive the support of the Greens or the Democrats, whose policies are generally more sympathetic to Labor's IR positions.

See previous story (277/01) for a comparative Federal Election IR Policy Summary.

 

 

 
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