Howard’s problem as politics divides on national IR system

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Howard’s problem as politics divides on national IR system

Liberal and National State politicians are lining up to oppose the Howard Government’s plans for a national IR system, and Labor and union leaders are being quoted as supporting it – but regardless of this war of words, Prime Minister John Howard has a real political problem.

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Liberal and National State politicians are lining up to oppose the Howard Government’s plans for a national IR system, and Labor and union leaders are being quoted as supporting it – but regardless of this war of words, Prime Minister John Howard has a real political problem. 

Federal Minister on ALP and unions

In a speech to the National Press Club today, Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews quotes NSW Premier Bob Carr as saying in a 1990 policy statement:

‘In a nation of 17 million people struggling to modernise its economy, seven separate systems of industrial regulation are an absurd luxury.’

(Carr was reported yesterday in The Australian as being willing to cede NSW’s IR powers to the Commonwealth, but has since strenuously denied. It seems more likely he said he would cede what was left if the Federal Government is successful in using its corporation powers to take over about 85% of the state IR systems.)

Andrews then quotes Victorian Premier Steve Bracks as saying in 1996 that the Victorian ALP supported the:

‘…concept of a single national system of industrial relations, and it always has. It can deliver benefits to both employees and employers by creating a uniform national framework for dispute resolution and the application of minimum employment standards that can be more easily complied with and enforced.’

ACTU Assistant Secretary Richard Marles is then quoted as saying:

‘[H]ow on earth does a small employer…work their way through the myriad of laws and find out whether or not they are covered by State or Federal law? It is perhaps impossible to imagine putting such employers and workers in a more complex legal situation.’ 

ALP on Liberals and Nationals

Meanwhile NSW Minister for Industrial Relations, John Della Bosca, today called on the State Opposition to withdraw its backing for the Commonwealth’s national IR system and promise to scrap the State system.  

‘The NSW Opposition recklessly announced its support sight-unseen, before the package was complete,’ Della Bosca said.  

‘Now the proposals have been unveiled, State Liberal and National party leaders around the nation have signalled their opposition – as has the public.  

Della Bosca then offered the following quotations from leading State Liberal and National Party politicians: 

‘I am absolutely opposed to the unitary industrial relations system - I think it’s stupid. There is no justification for dismantling what is a very good, cooperative IR system.’ - Queensland Opposition Leader, Lawrence Springborg ABC.net.au (30 May 2005). 

‘I got myself a full briefing from the federal Minister’s office, I spoke to Kevin Andrews on a couple of occasions on the telephone. I just can’t support it. I mean, I’m a Western Australian first…’ - Western Australian Opposition Leader, Matt Birney Lateline (22 April 2005). 

‘Well, I’m arguing that it’s not necessarily in the smaller States’ best interests…the system that will be delivered long term over a 10 or 15 year period will be a New South Wales and Victoria driven system.’ - South Australian Opposition industrial relations spokesman, Iain Evans PM program (22 April 2005).  

‘A centralised Federal system is not good news for Western Australia.’ - Western Australia Nationals Leader Max Trenorden ABC.net.au (31 May 2005). 

Senate problem

It is said the Devil can quote scripture to his own purpose, but Howard has a real problem in Senator-elect Barnaby Joyce from Queensland. 

Joyce said yesterday that he could not support unfair dismissal provisions that extend exemptions from firms with 20 employees to those with 100. 

And Joyce said the national IR system was a clear issue of State’s rights. 

‘My job under the constitution is to protect my State’s rights and that is what I am going to do,’ he said. 

But, unlike the other politicians quoted above, Joyce joins the Senate on 1 July – and he will have a vote. 

Related 

Howard sets revolutionary path for IR system

ACTU sets out battle plan to fight IR changes

 

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