Taxpayers pay for Govt's IR campaign material

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Taxpayers pay for Govt's IR campaign material

Is it a document that shows the Howard Government plans to force all workers under WorkChoices, or does it show the Federal Government using taxpayers' money to conduct election campaign research?

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Is it a document that shows the Howard Government plans to force all workers under WorkChoices, or does it show the Federal Government using taxpayers' money to conduct election campaign research?

Opposition IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, yesterday released a document in which the Department of Workplace Relations is calling for tenders to do economic modelling on two industrial relations 'scenarios'.

Gillard said the document revealed that the Government was planning to 'destroy State industrial relations systems and force Australians onto AWAs'.

Economic impact

This was because the brief asks a consultancy to model the economic impact of: 20% of the workforce being on AWAs, an increase of 15% or 1.5 million Australians, 100% of the workforce being covered by the Federal system, and 10% of employees being covered by an award, a decrease of 9%.

That interpretation could prove to be true, as the Howard Government already requires the use of AWAs and the Federal IR system on construction sites where Federal money is involved, and in the country's universities which receive Federal funding.

It also certainly wants a fully national IR system and a reduction in the use of awards.

However a closer look at the document shows that it is, arguably, more likely to be used as a basis for taxpayer funded election material promoting the Liberal Party's position.

'Misread the document'

In the face of a barrage of questions from Gillard in Question Time yesterday, Prime Minister Howard refused to concede any of Gillard's points about the economic modelling, saying she had 'misread that document. It does not prove anything of the kind'.

And Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, yesterday released a statement (which is not on his website) about the matter, virtually admitting the value of the document to the Coalition - although he called it 'responsible policy analysis'.

'A cursory glance of the brief reveals the Government is interested in assessing the cost of reversing the workplace relations reforms of the last 11 years,' Hockey is quoted in media reports as saying.

'It also takes into account existing trends in the [sic] employment and workplace relations.

'Responsible policy analysis'

'There is no "secret plan" — the research covers existing policies. Gillard is trying to take what is responsible policy analysis and work it into her tricky and political fear campaign.'

So what does the DEWR document ask the economic modellers to do?

The first section obviously would seem to seek out modelling that supports the Government's current IR policies.

Model 'consequences'

For example, in the section that asks them to model the consequences of a universal national IR system in which the State Governments have transferred their IR powers, the document notes: 'The benefits from this transfer would include reduced red tape and less confusion for business.'

In the section on a postulated increase in the usage of AWAs from 5% of all employees to 20%, it is noted: 'This further enhances the flexibility of the workplace relations system and allows employers and employees to tailor agreements to suit their individual needs.'

Complex and inflexible

Similarly, a reduction in award coverage from 19% to 10% would 'reduce the number of employees affected by the complexity and inflexibility of the award system'.

But what if the Labor Party is elected to govern later this year?

Gentle guidance

Labor would suggest that DEWR has been asked to write Labor's IR policy in government for it, and that the economic modelling for this is also guided in a certain direction.

The modellers are asked to 'determine the likely economic costs of” removing access to AWAs, after having pointed out to them that 'the cost includes the loss of flexibility and the ability to negotiate mutually beneficial outcomes that are currently available'.

Impact on productivity

'Regional and industry differences are expected to be substantial - for example the impact on productivity in the mining industry in WA,' the document says.

The document also wants modelling on a postulated increase in the number of days lost to strikes, with the current number compared, 'for example', to the number lost in the December quarter in 1992. Labor was in power in 1992.

Labor in power

A comparison is also sought between current levels of labour force participation compared with 'the levels recorded in the mid 1990s' — again, when Labor was in power.

It would seem that the anticipated outcomes from the modelling would enable the Government to praise its IR policies and condemn the potential outcome of those attributed to Labor during the election campaign. It would also provide a credible 'independent' basis for the campaign.

Impact with voters

Gillard presumably chose Labor's line of attack on the document as an indication of Howard's future plans, because this would have more impact with voters.

However, the style of the document fits more closely with the massive TV advertising campaigns pushing WorkChoices that the taxpayers have so far funded.

Typical of all Governments

Of course all Governments — Labor, Liberal and (in the case of Queensland, National) — have used and will continue to use taxpayers' money to collect material that will be part of their subsequent election campaigns.

Normally departmental research requirements that are clearly political do not see the light of day, just the 'independent' outcomes. So the taxpayers never know what their money has been used for.

More ads to come

Hockey yesterday stated in Parliament that a 'second tranche' of WorkChoices advertising was planned, but claimed he could not confirm that it would cost more than $31m. He declined to deny that there could be a third 'tranche'.

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