||Issue No. 257||01 April 2005|
Interview: [email protected]
Unions: State of the Union
Industrial: Fashion Accessories
Legal: Leg Before Picket
Politics: Business Welfare Brats
Health: Cannabis Controversy
Economics: Debt, Deficit, Downturn
History: Politics In The Pubs
Review: Three Bob's Worth
Poetry: Do The Slowly Chokie
The Locker Room
Bus Lanes On Vic Rd
Dirt Cheap Right On Money
Even if you don't like his politics, you have to admire his ability to defy political gravity and ask yourself: how does he do it?
His secret has been a sturdy craft that has proven to be remarkably durable through turbulent times.
One wing has been his command of conservative family values, a mainstreaming of the political epicentre around Howard's battlers, the people Labor lost in the nineties with their foray into identity politics that seemed to somehow belittle their ordinary lives.
The other wing has been the perception of economic competence - bedding down the seismic reforms of the Keating years and keeping the market indicators looking good, even if they have been pumped up on bucket loads of personal debt.
Now he is soaring higher than any leader in a generation, free of the constraints of the Senate from July 1.
Towards the sun! That golden light which he has pursued since the wilderness years when he was just another right-wing zealot looking for friends at the HR Nichols Society.
The light is industrial relations reform, a simple concept that has been dressed up in forests of technical legal jargon designed to cover up Australia's best kept political secret - that is, industrial relations reform is really an attack on rights at work.
The Howard Government's vision is an extreme one - an economy made up of individual units of labour, engaged under secret contracts where wages, conditions and hours are a matter for the employer to determine.
The breaking down of the 100-year system of industrial laws is Howard's final dream - it would hurt his political enemies and help his backers in big business.
It would also cement his place in the international neo-conservative movement, with Australia becoming an international outlier with the 'free-est' labour market in the developed world.
There is only one problem, his battlers aren't applauding; in polls and focus groups they say that their rights at work are important to them; more surprisingly, so are unions - whether or not they are members.
And if they have kids, those feelings are only stronger - job security and certainty of working hours are the foundation stones of a functioning family unit.
If labour market deregulation is bad for families, evidence is mounting that it is also bad for the economy.
An analysis released by the AMWU shows the shift to contractor arrangements is already white-anting the tax base to the tune of $14 billion per annum in legal and illegal tax evasion and will only accelerate under the Howard reforms.
It is also a key contributor to the skills crisis, with no incentive for disposable units of labour to be trained, nurtured or even protected from workplace injury, a recipe for less not more productivity.
The course Howard is charting will only weaken the family and the economy - the wings that have taken him this far.
How ironic if at his moment of greatest power, the man who flew so high came crashing to earth because he flew too close to sun. It would be the stuff of legends.
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