||Issue No. 287||28 October 2005|
A Sick Set of Laws
Interview: Under Fire
Politics: And the Winners Are ...
Economics: The Common Wealth
History: Walking for Justice
International: Deja Vu
Legal: The Rights Stuff
Review: That Cinderella Fella
Poetry: Is Howard Kidding?
The Locker Room
PM's Fatal Flush
Sign of the Times
Labor's Love Lost
The Human Wedge
If there ever was a symbol of the political difficulties the Howard Government is facing straddling the defend between social conservatism and economic liberalism it is Louise Markus.
Markus is the Hillsong parishioner who squeaked into Federal Parliament last election by a couple of hundred votes after a very un-Christian campaign discrediting the ALP's candidate Ed Husic on the basis of his Muslim linage. As Husic pointed out in a recent address to the Sydney Institute, the campaign backing Markus used all the tactics, push polling, op-eds by conservative columnists, all aiming to highlight the fact that here was a Muslim candidate - and that was a dangerous thing to the people of Greenway.
It worked a treat and Markus squeaked in to an unlikely victory, an Evangelical Christian on the Howard Government front bench. The political commentators worked themselves into a lather, slotting her alongside Family First Senator Steve Fielding as proof of the rise of religion in Australian politics.
Only difference is that while Fielding holds a Senate seat in his own right, Markus is part of the Howard team; a team that has used its unexpected Senate majority to make a mad grab for power by over-turning more than a century of workers rights in an effort to put a stake through the heart of the union movement.
The difference in their approach to IR has been poles apart; while Markus has had to apologise and toe the party line, Fielding has been running an increasingly tough line based on the simple assertion that these laws are bad for Australian families. I(t hasn't exactly been a radical call given the line-up of theologians saying much the same things: Cardinal, Bishop, Rabbi, Imam - Howard has unified our faith community like never before.
But for Louise, it's been a different story; a constant stream of constituent queries; a well-organised local campaign committee and the constant shadow of the legislation. Slowly, reports of her fraying under the pressure have begun to filter through; one (unsubstantiated) report was that she accused her electorate of being KKK clones; another that she angrily turned on a union organiser at a community day.
The following email summary of a telephone conversation with a constituent highlights her difficulties:
Q: Are you going to support the industrial relations changes?
A: Her answer was she was supporting it in principal-but there were changes that she had relayed to other ministers and the Prime Minister that she wished to see. These had subsequently been adopted and included in the new draft.
In effect, Markus is attempting to claim credit for the dodgy 'projections' being offered workers - that is, the fact that award conditions will apply unless the AWA you are forced to sign says they won't
Q: What is the likelihood that employees will lose conditions such as overtime, penalty rates, shift allowances and redundancy pay despite assurances that they can maintain their award conditions?
A: This was one of the changes too that she had put up and had been adopted. If you are under an EBA these will continue if all the staff wish it to continue. The difference will be in that the EBA's will be registered federally instead of at state level. An employer may offer a new employee an AWA though.
Ah, so that's the catch!
Q. The lack of evidence for the removal of unfair dismissal laws both in terms of it being a problem for business and its impact on
A. Government would come down hard on employers who abused the system. Employees could go to AIRC first. If not satisfied they could ask the office of workplace assistance to represent them. Unfair dismissal now covers more categories.
This is gibber - the Commission is losing its powers; unfair dismissal are gone and the only avenue is through the courts in very narrowly defined categories. And the employer merely needs to point to performance or attitude to get away with it.
Q. How are Australian Workplace Agreements going to suit the needs of the individual when research tends to show that when they are offered in the workplace they are in fact the same for all employees?
You can use an union to represent you in negotiations.
Great, except your union has limited access to your workplace, can be fined for asking for the wrong thing in bargaining and has basically no right to take industrial action. That is, you can be represented by your union, but it will be fighting with one hand tied behind its back.
Q. Why won't the Government allow a full and comprehensive
Senate Inquiry into the proposals?
A full and comprehensive Senate Inquiry into the proposals could not be held was because of the "cost".
Q. The government has already spent in excess of $40 million wouldn't it have been better to have spent a few million on a Senate inquiry so we could at least have had some input into a legislation that was going to affect our lives so much.
A. Send me an email with my address so I can answer your questions by mail. I'll also send you the booklet.
Ah, the live of a Howard Government backbencher.
Footnote: A recent poll of voters in Greenway, the nation's most marginal seat, found that 62 per cent of Greenway voters thought the changes would be bad or very bad for the average work and 31 per cent of voters would be less likely to vote for the Howard Government next time around.
If those numbers are anything to go by, the Human Wedge may not be torn for much longer.
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