WorkChoices spread 'fear and panic', says Fed Govt report

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WorkChoices spread 'fear and panic', says Fed Govt report

Two weeks before the Federal Government rushed out its new AWA fairness test it received a report saying its WorkChoices legislation had caused 'fear, panic, insecurity, cynicism, distrust and disempowerment' in the community.

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Two weeks before the Federal Government rushed out its new AWA fairness test it received a report saying its WorkChoices legislation had caused 'fear, panic, insecurity, cynicism, distrust and disempowerment' in the community.

A confidential briefing paper, prepared by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, has been obtained by The Australian newspaper, and Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, has confirmed its legitimacy.

The contents of the briefing paper imply that the new head of the Workplace Authority, Barbara Bennett, was hired as much for her ability to appear on TV and 'sell' WorkChoices as for her administrative ability.

Hurt working people

According to the briefing paper, most people believe the WorkChoices industrial relations laws have hurt working people and their families.

As well, the public blames the reforms for a fundamental shift in the Australian way of life from 'work to live' to 'live to work'.

Hockey blames 'fear campaign'

Hockey this morning blamed the public's concerns over WorkChoices on the 'scare and fear' campaign launched by the trade unions and the Labor Party.

However, he admitted the Government 'made the wrong decision' when it abolished the no disadvantage test for AWAs, but it had 'changed that' by introducing the fairness test.

According to The Australian, the research behind the briefing paper reports 'key emotions' in the community of fear, panic, insecurity, cynicism, distrust and disempowerment over WorkChoices.

'Just the start'

'It's like there's a guillotine over our heads,' said one respondent quoted in the research. 'Stability is gone.'

'The kids will think it's great to get five days' annual leave and a bowl of rice,' said another. 'This is just the start.'

'They legally can't force you to sign a contract ... but get real ... they victimise ... make it so unbearable to be at work, you choose to quit,' said another.

'Marketable' person needed

The briefing paper indicates advertising agencies were given the chance to suggest a 'marketable' person to head the Workplace Authority.

'Identifying an appropriate figurehead for this organisation will be critical,' the document states. 'This is very much a public role, requiring an individual with a strong reputation for "independence", commonsense, and an empathy/understanding of the average Australian's circumstances.'

Two people suggested for the position were former head of the competition watchdog Allan Fels, and former head of the Reserve Bank Bernie Fraser.

Hockey refused to tell The Australian if the agencies had a hand in selecting Bennett for the job.

TV ads 'waste of money'

The research confirms the Government's $45m advertising blitz in 2005 to promote WorkChoices was mostly a waste of taxpayers' money.

'The main advantages (people) have heard about the system are not reassuring: flexibility is usually seen to be an advantage to the employer rather than to the employee,' the paper states.

'The two images that have formed in the community's minds ... are, firstly, that of a pendulum that has swung too far in favour of employers (especially big business), and secondly, that of the little guy pitted alone and unprotected against the might of the big corporations and their lawyers (and the Government).'

Laws 'driven by polling'

Labor IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, says the research proves changes to the law were driven by polling.

'The advertising campaign that's splashed all over our TV screens isn't about telling working people what they can and can't do at work,' she said. 'It's been driven by this polling and it's been driven by the Government's desperation about the next election.'

Hockey said the Government will continue to do research into the impact of ads for WorkChoices.

'It would be a waste of money to undertake any information campaigns without monitoring how they were performing and whether the information was getting out there,' he said.

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