Therese Rein: accepting responsibilty, common law contracts and political precedents

It seems pretty clear that Therese Rein isn’t cut out for the federal political arena if these words of hers are accurately quoted:

“I fully accept personal responsibility for any errors made by my company in handling the details of the employment arrangements for staff,” she said “I have also accepted full responsibility for rectifying any errors.”

Apologising and taking responsibility for your mistakes! No wonder people like Howard, Downer, Costello, Vaille and Abbott think they still have the measure of Labor. Kevin Rudd has done this thing of acknowledging his mistakes a couple of times too. This is the right thing to do of course, but it is dangerous. There’s a good reason why Mr Howard never apologises or admits a mistake – political and Press Gallery practice tends to be that apologising for one action means that you are seen as probably guilty of whatever else people also accuse you of at the time. Despite this, I think it’s a good thing to see both Ms Rein and Mr Rudd adopting the practice of taking responsibility for mistakes.

The topic of Therese Rein, who has come into the spotlight because she is also Kevin Rudd’s wife, has received a lot of political media coverage recently. Apart from her willingness to take responsibility for a mistake, there are two other aspects out this situation which probably merit more attention that they seem to have received.

Firstly, it is reported that all of the Australian workers in Ms Rein’s company who are alleged to have been underpaid are on common-law contracts. This shows that exploitation is just as possible on common-law contracts as they are on AWAs, if there are insufficient safeguards in the law. To me, the issue is the overall protections against exploitation, not whether a worker is on an individual common law contract or an individual statutory contract (which is what AWAs are).

Secondly, Ms Rein’s decision to sell the Australian arm of her business interests could well have long-term consequences for many politicians. She has no doubt done the right thing politically to just clear away her business interests as an issue once and for all. However, it sets a big precedent, putting the bar much higher for all Ministers and their spouses.

In the long-term it will be quite a big disincentive for people wanting to go into politics if not only they, but also their partners, have to drop any business interests to avoid perceptions of conflict of interest. This will not be healthy for politics, as it is valuable to have people with business experience involved in Parliament and the Executive.

ELSEWHERE: Some other posts on this topic can be be found at Ambit Gambit, Larvatus Prodeo and Blogocracy. And John Birmingham, who has a regular blog on the Brisbane Times website, puts his view very bluntly:

There’s been a lot of talk about the principal of this and the perception of that, but I say principles schminciples. Rein’s been forced into a fire sale simply because politics is a cesspit, populated by bottom feeders and feral carnivores.

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  1. Andrew Bartlett

    it will be quite a big disincentive for people wanting to go into politics if not only they, but also their partners, have to drop any business interests to avoid perceptions of conflict of interest.

    Aahh, you noticed. That’s the whole idea. A parliament that’s full of thick, compliant party faithful is a parliament that’s easy to control. Encourage all the riffraff with a broad range of experience in the rough-and-tumble world to take part in politics and heaven only know what could happen ….. epidemics of democracy, outbreaks of informed debate, wise consideration of bills …..

  2. Except Andrew it was never true in any real sense if you read McManus’s first piece which said the workers were paid over award, with 4% increases every year (AWA’s have no increase over 5 years), leave loading applied and all McManus based his supposition on was the word of an unknown lawyer who said they would be worse off if they worked 90 minutes a week overtime.

    But this is a business that does not work nights or weekends so penalty rates do not even apply and never would have.

    In other words it was a concotion with a vague hint of truth to it – a wrongful classification which was known and corrected.

    No exploitation involved at all and I am shocked that you didn’t read the piece but you are in good company.

    Nor did Channels 7, 9, 10, SBS or ABC – they just parroted McManus’s line, a man who could go to jail for publishing documents illegally for heaven’s sake.

  3. Marilyn, I’m also going off Kevin Rudd’s and later Therese Rein’s own press conferences, where both of them admitted a mistake of underpayment which was being rectified. I presumed they wouldn’t be saying this if there wasn’t a mistkae to rectify.

    I thought Gerard McManus was risking jail by refusing to disclose a source to a Judge/court, thus putting himself in contempt of court. I wouldn’t have thought that was a negative reflection on him.

    However, I agree coverage of this saga has been overblown. The atmosphere inside the Parliament House bubble is shifting close to hysteria these days, with every sentence and eyebrow twitch capable of being turned into a matter of alleged public importance.

    And this morning’s ‘revelation’ in The Australian that “all her 800 staff under individual contracts and profited from finding jobs for workers to be employed under AWAs.”

    This sort of nonsense goes beyond hysteria into a whole other dimension. Individual contracts have been part of Australian workplace practice for decades. And how could it possibly be anything other than totally expected that a firm whose role is helping people to find jobs would sometimes be helping people into jobs that come under AWAs. It would be a strange employment agency that only tried to help people into a portion of the jobs available.

  4. Well,it’s a desperate government, isn’t it? Cornered and under pressure for their own mistakes, they employ another dirty smear campaign. The truth will trickle out after the damage is done, as with the 2001 Tampa and interest rate Fear of 2004, but by that time; by the time people again recover from all the hysteria, fear and trembling, it will be post-election!
    If, by some miscalculation of Howard and his affiliates, Rudd Labor DID win, there would be the benefit of knowing that that, with all the conflict of interest stuff cleared pre-election, there would at least be no hope of the “Keating Piggery’ nonsense used to smear Keating back in’95.
    Incidentally, this writer can forsee a spin off for minor parties and indies at the election, because regardless of any unlikely validity in any of the government’s claims (through its tabloid proxies) against the Rudd family, even people with single-digit IQ’s will recognise a smear campaign when they see one and this may mean votes the government is hoping to recapture may instead deflect off to the centrists instead, through distaste of Howard’s tactics!

  5. I’m sure you’d all be very forgiving if it was John Howard’s wife caught blatantly violating the policies her husband espouses.

    Here we see the remaining rump of the Democrats in the last stage of their existence — as a minor appendage of the Labor Party.

    “Keeping the bastards honest” was a good concept. Pity it couldn’t last.

  6. Of course she should not have had to bail out, its simply a pragmatic political decision at the macho urgnionsg of the spinners, althouhg of course the sale has yet to happen. No doubt that process will take at least the time it takes to see if the election is won, and with due dilligence and all the asssocaited legals appropriately so.

    I’m more surpised that all the defenders of the provision of wealth for all haven’t decried the obscentity of some one person having the hide to accumualte $175m in wealth – lord forbid she may be an accursed wealth creator…

    This is not a Tampa or the like – I dont think it willl hurt at all. Most people accept that if people do well they earn a lot of money and good luck to her

  7. OK I concede that but McManus clearly must have known it was a fault of job classification and he didn’t bother to put that in and that it was before she owned the business which he also left out.

    Bottom line though is that the pay is above the award and the contract simply reflects the award – I had to sign a similar one 20 years ago when I was a MOPS with Sandra Kanck for John Coulter.

    No big deal – we were asked way back then if we were worried about not having weekend rates and when we asked if we would ever work on weekends we got laughed at and told of course not.

    Again no big deal. McManus – what to say about him who I once believed was credible. Then I read Iain Lygo’s book about the TAMPA and the Newsltd coverage and find he is nearly as bad as Bolt and co.

  8. You are in a good mood today, aren’t you EP? Perhaps you could (a) find anywhere were I’ve attacked John Howard’s wife, (b) indicate where Ms Rein has “blatantly violated the policies her husband spouses” and (c) indicate why you’re completely ignoring the fact that I’ve done a multitude of posts attacking the ALP’s position on particular issues?

    Why don’t you stick to facts – I know you’re capable of doing that quite well. I’m interested in balanced or reasoned comments, not partisan yapping from attack puppies for the Coalition or Labor.

  9. There was a good comment in the SMH letters today, I thought, from a former CES employee to the effect that he had not realized there was so much money to be made from the unemployed.

    Just goes to show what privatization can do for entrepreneurs, but does it really help the unemployed? In my opinion the operation of private companies create barriers to entry to the labor market.For example, where do mature-aged without social benefits go. As I understand it, there is no economic incentive for private companies to take up their cause.

    Furthermore, I would have thought there is a disincentive for non-workers to join the workforce, knowing you can be expected to be treated by the proverbial piece of soap in terms of wages and conditions.

    The point is that Ms Rein’s company would be inextricably bound up with government policy and so the conflict of interest would be patent. She and her husband have recognized the obvious in a forthright way. So good on them for that.

    The underpayment issues also arise directly from government policy, and the fundamentalist market doctrine that orchestrate them.

  10. This blog didnt show up at all at my computer,are the Labor Party up to something,along with the Feds re APEC ,and security.

  11. As I recall, John Howard originally had a rather (and commendably) strict stance on conflict of interests in his ministry.

    Pity it didn’t last – as he lost 4 mininsters in the first year if I recall correctly.

  12. Andrew Bartlett:
    I really don’t know if Theresa Rein did the right thing or not – nor do I really care – nor is taking sides on this issue on MY agenda – nor will I allow any party apparatchik or contractor or marketer or propagandist to shove it onto my agenda.

    Some parliamentarians have been unduly penalized for lesser mistakes/infractions/errors-of-judgement; others got away with blue-murder when they really did deserve to be thrown to the lions or suffer some other well-deserved fate.

    What does worry me – and it seems to cause you concern too – is that all the shenanegans and ballyhoo, like the current issue [or non-issue?], will drive worthy people away from involvement in politics.

    What was far more important than what Theresa Rein did or did not do ….. was Jackie Kelly deciding not to contest the next election [regardless of predictions about how her electorate will vote]

  13. Maybe this is off topic. Private employment agents do not care about the unemployed unless there is a quid in it. I am unemployed but do not receive any benefits because of the asset test due to the inflated value of land. Try getting a job when you are 63.
    I find it obscene that some one get build a fortune in the unemployed when the under-employment is so high.
    Politicans admitting mistakes in a welcome change.

  14. i must admit, i would not allow people to put stuff up on your web-site UNLESS they are prepared to put their name behind what they say. i think some people are cowards – they refuse to crawl out of their holes of arrogance & ignorance.

    unless, of course, if they are your partisan ghost writers?

    in fact, this country has become a symbol of greed & arrogance via corp sponsored [usa & uk mainly] media dictatorship.

    even the abc has been infected with a spin via the lack of info thru new ‘terror’ laws.

    i will be happy to claim polly asylum from this country of my birth, as a refugee in either russia [the home of my father or cuba my spiritual home]. i think the commos were spot on about DISTRIBUTION of resources in a FAIR society.

    my next port of call is polly asylum to either cuba or palestine – at least they are HONEST fascists; and, in putins case, COMPETENT. there is zero worse than an incompetent ‘nice’ guy or gal that is your friend?

    what some people do not seem to see is that there has been a catastrophe in the human species in the last 50 or so years. the greed is god syndrome infects the west in a grip that seems unlikely to be broken except via global nuclear war. it would seem that that fascist tird, gwb, is just the vegetable to initiate this event?

    wrt rein, we do not KNOW the facts. some one has gone off half – baked with out a proper verification of the facts from a NON-partisan auditor.

    so, until such time as ‘we’ have facts that have some substance [rather than a knife thrown from a media lynch mob], then we should be silent on the matter.

  15. Dr. Victor Kacala

    Cheer up Dr. It’s best to stay positive although we all know there have been many times when we wished some things hadn’t happened.(Groan)! We have a wonderful country in Oz. About Ms. Therese Rein… I would have been happy to have her retain her successful business and I’m sure it could have been worked out but right now the stakes are high. Shame really. Nancy Jakeman.

  16. The real issue here is not the philosphy but the Australian people.

    How do you think each married woman feels when they see/read of Ms Rein being used by the media and the Government to attack Kevin Rudd? They feel that it is grossly unfair, she cant help her business suddenly coming into conflict with politics. The media and the Government are wrong to keep writing about her and making reference to her. The issue is do we follow American gutter electioneering and use family members to attack politicians as in this case.

    Mr Howard lost every married womans vote – no wonder the 10% sudden swing back to Labor. I know that my wife cannot now even stand to listen or see Howard or Costello she is so angry.

  17. Jeff, you said

    Private employment agents do not care about the unemployed unless there is a quid in it.

    How true! For all its faults, the old coast-to-coast, impartial Commonwealth Employmemt Service was more effective in finding suitable jobs for those who wanted to work.

    If ambitious, talented, hard-working, intelligent people are dissuaded from entering parliamentary politics ….. there are plenty of alternative outlets for their energy and talent: organized crime, religous fanaticism, terrorist groups and warlord militias ………

  18. It was a pity that the Howard government privatised the system though isn’t it?

  19. a question if i may.
    who,s industrial rules was the comany working under was it the new howard govts rules or something elce.

  20. Now the latest hysteria – the AFP have said they are not actually investigating Rein as the media implied or even stated.

    But the Dean Mighell thing just got sinister and we should all be rather concerned about it.

    It would seem that the group formed to Monitor the media gatecrashed an ETU meeting, illegally taped it, tried to sell it to the ABCC – the group that bugs building sites – and then to the media and the whole thing was fixed long before Rudd became the leader.

    This seems like a grotesque breach of privacy, and a federal offence – I wonder if the Feds are going to pretend to investigate this as well because last time I looked union meetings don’t have a single thing to do with Media Monitors.

  21. dear nancy jakeman, thank u for u kind words. in the oz constitution, there is the word fair i.e., “advance oz FAIR”. the issue is to define fair. i am cheerED, all on my own. still, thanks for the tip.

    if u wish to cheer me up [a good idea at any time for any one], why not comment on one of my papers?

    a. this is a tech spec for a global system of justice:

    b. this is a spec for a global system of ethics based on the work of the dalia lama:

    c. it would be better to comment on the issues i raise rather than banal generalities.

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