|Issue No 106||10 August 2001|
The Minister Against Industrial Relations
Serial Tool Tony Abbott is back in the Shed with his impersonation of one of those rabid parents who scream themselves hoarse on the sideline while their kids are just trying to play a game of footy.
As the Tri-Star workers, their representatives and their employer spent the best part of a fortnight trying to resolve a dispute that highlights all that's wrong with the Howard IR system, it was left to the Mad Monk to turn up the rhetoric. And it did it with his manic sense of understatement that calls a spade "an implement that should be used to hit workers over the head".
Abbott's behaviour highlights the dangers of combining a big mouth with a closed mind. By sounding off without properly understanding the process of industrial conflict resolution, the Minister ended up looking like a boof-head.
From the start the rhetoric was red-hot opportunism and red-hot divisiveness. 'Industrial and economic treason' the Monk cried out to any who would listen. 'A load of crap' the Australian Industrial Relations Commission replied in a ruling that seemed to be specifically targeted at Abbott, stating, as it did, that the workers had in no way acted illegally.
As the parties got down to the hard work of negotiating a fair outcome for all, Abbott was again on the sidelines yelling for the employers not to give in until the union "capitulated". Surprisingly, it was a line only followed by parts of the media who - though normally expected to bash the unions - recognized the legitimacy of their claim to protect their entitlements. There was actually a reasonable public debate being conducted, weighing the relative merits of the trust fund and the insurance bond model. But there was general acceptance that the Howard Government's safety net model was inadequate.
It was this element that was decisive in the political - though not the industrial - conduct of the dispute. On the one hand you had the Howard government trying to run the union-bashing cliche that it drags up whenever it feels under pressure. It was the Beazley opposition that was actually debating the policy imperative of protecting workers entitlements.
Abbott's performance in Question Time this week was rvintage tub-thumping propaganda from the "union power" mantra, the railing against "labor mates" and reference to the workers as "the metalworkers" - a brazen attempt to tap into the perceived retro connotations of that term - event though they had long been members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.
The irony was that when the dust finally settled, both parties walked away with something they could live with. The unions with entitlement protection for their workers, the employer with the insurance bond model over the Manusafe scheme. The only one looking like a loser was the one who had taken the 'winner-take-all' approach - Abbott. He alone, misunderstood the process and came out with nothing. Where most saw the dispute as an issue to be managed and resolved, Abbott saw it only as a political opportunity to be exploited.
The point Abbott has missed in his political education is that the Minister charged with Industrial Relations' job has been to rise above the political to resolve disputes in the national interest. That's been the role of IR ministers since the system was established - to leave behind partisan position and help the parties find common ground, intervening before the independent umpire to argue the constructive line. Instead, Abbott was pushing harder than the bosses. And he can barely wait to dust off and do it again.
Of course, the problem is that Abbott doesn't even believe in the system, he wants to tear it down. To have such an ideologue in this position is an affront to 100 years of history, 100 years that had developed a system of industrial relations that placed cooperation over conflict. Of course, this has all unraveled over the past five years and Abbott's custodianship merely exposes the system as the farce it has become. There might be a place for Abbott in a hard line conservative government like Howard's - maybe as press secretary - but his presence in his current portfolio is downright destructive to the national interest. He's bad for workers and employers and he's a liability to the Howard Government.
Interview: In Exile
Burmese's government in exile's Minister for Justice U Thein Oo talks about a struggle for democracy that has become a test of international solidarity.
Politics: A National Disgrace
Labor's IR spokesman Arch Bevis gives his take on the workers entitlements issue and its mismanagement by the Howard Government.
E-Change: 2.2 The Information Organisation
Peter Lewis and Michael Gadiel look at how network technologies will change the way organizations operate in the Information Age.
Media: The Fine Print
Mark Hebblewhite looks at how the major dailies handled the Tri-Star dispute and finds that the story really does depend on the telling.
Human Rights: A People Besieged
Labor MLC Janelle Saffin, an active supporter of the pro-Democracy movement in Burma, sets out the issues behind the ILO sanctions.
International: Postcard From Brazil
The CFMEU’s Phil Davey reports on a rural movement that puts our National Farmers Federation to shame.
History: Indonesia Calling
They needed no resolutions. Soldiers and workers who did not know one another moved together, the black ban started to reach out across the harbour from the noisy, smoke-filled room.
Solidarity: On the Frontline
Australian trade unionists are providing practical help for the Burmese through projects funded by APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad.
Satire: Skase 'Too Ill' to Fly Home for Burial
Spanish authorities have deemed Christopher Skase too ill to return to Australia for his own funeral.
Review: Living Silence
In these extracts from her new book, Christina Fink goes inside Burma to find a world where military repression is slowly crushing a people.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005