Howard 'obfuscating' on AWAs, says Laurie Oakes

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Howard 'obfuscating' on AWAs, says Laurie Oakes

Prime Minister John Howard has responded to leading political journalist Laurie Oakes' claim that he is 'obfuscating' on the effects of his industrial relations policies by … obfuscating.

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Prime Minister John Howard has responded to leading political journalist Laurie Oakes' claim that he is 'obfuscating' on the effects of his industrial relations policies by … obfuscating.

In his column in this week's Bulletin magazine, Oakes says there is no point questioning John Howard about problems with AWAs because: 'he obfuscates. (The perfect word. The Macquarie Dictionary says it means 'to confuse or stupefy')'.

Oakes writes that when he interviewed Howard on the Sunday TV program and asked
him about agreements under which workers 'lose their penalty rates, their holiday leave loadings, public holidays' in return for very little money', Howard responded: 'Did you say annual leave?'

'Annual leave loadings,' Oakes replied.

'Ignoring that, [Howard] proceeded to explain at length that workers could not lose their annual leave: “I seize on that as an example of the way in which, in a fairly glib fashion, allegations are being made that aren't correct.”,' Oakes writes.

Confuse and stupefy

'The fact that I'd made no such allegation was irrelevant. The real reason the PM seized on it was to confuse the issue and stupefy both interviewer and audience. It enabled him, as he always does, to avoid the central issue in the debate over his WorkChoices laws – that a lot of people are going to be worse off.'

Labor seized on these comments in Question Time yesterday, repeatedly asking Howard if Oakes' comments were 'right'.

Howard responded to one question on Oakes' column by saying: 'I quite like Laurie, but let me say his analysis is not one that I would accept. Let me put it graciously: his analysis is not one that I am minded to accept.'

In reply to a question by Opposition Leader Kim Beazley as to whether he has seen the column and whether he agreed that 'a lot of people are going to be worse off', Howard replied:

'The answer to the first part of the question is yes. The answer to the second part of the question is that I believe Australians will be greatly better off as a result of our policies.'

Response to Alan Jones

Oakes also had a go at Treasurer Peter Costello in his responses to questions from radio announcer Alan Jones, quoting the following exchange:

JONES: I have had a young bloke come to see me here to say, 'If I don't get penalty rates and I am not given overtime, my current take-home pay will drop by 40% and I can't survive.' What do you say to that person?

COSTELLO: I have no doubt that in a growing economy with a better system of industrial relations, those people will have a better chance of a job and higher wages.

JONES: He has got a job.

And a little later:

JONES: He can, he will be paid less.

COSTELLO: Yes. I have no doubt that as time goes by in a profitable economy that man's wages under a contract will grow faster than they would have under any award because under an award in a stagnant economy ...

JONES: He has to make his mortgage payment next week.

'So it went on,' was Oakes' comment. 'By refusing to deal squarely with the questions Jones raised, by attempting to use the “confuse and stupefy” technique, Costello came off sounding not only devious but also out of touch and even a bit thick.

'But anything, it seems, is preferable to admitting that the ACTU's campaign against WorkChoices has a pretty solid basis in fact.'

Absolutely disgusted

In Parliament Howard was also referred to a comment on the ABC Lateline program by Spotlight worker Annette Harris, who was threatened with an AWA that would have removed all her penalty rates in return for a 2 cents an hour wage rise:

'No, John, wake up ... If I work a Saturday or a Sunday or a public holiday, I'm behind the eight ball every time I go to work. So you can't tell me they've - [that is, Labor] - got it wrong and I'm absolutely disgusted with John Howard.'

'Prime Minister, isn't Mrs Harris right?', was the question

Howard's reply: 'I am sure Mrs Harris is a very nice lady, but I beg to differ with her.'

Details

The Laurie Oakes column can be found here.

Question Time can be found in Hansard on the Federal Parliament website:

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