WorkChoices – what happens when a government stops paying attention?

Parliament resumes this week, although only the House of Representatives is sitting.  The Senate is not sitting, but a range of Senate Committees are engaging in additional Estimates hearings.  I expect the focus on economic management and the current pressures on the economy will continue. No doubt Brian Burke’s extraordinary capacity to keep making life difficult for politicians will also come into focus as well.

Also catching attention is the latest offering from the ABC’s 4 Corners, which features a range of senior Liberal MPs all seeking to retrospectively put on the record what they think should have been done to avoid last year’s election defeat. Such internal ‘history wars’ are not uncommon in political parties that suffer electoral setbacks, and are probably mainly of interest to the protagonists themselves and to the minority of people who follow party politics.

However, there is one facet of the Liberal Party’s blame game which should be of interest to everyone, and that is the report that Joe Hockey, the Minister formerly responsible for workplace relations, suggests “most Cabinet ministers in the former Howard government did not realise that workers could be worse off under Work Choices.”

This is a prime example of how the Coalition winning control of the Senate at the 2004 election turned out to be a curse for them, rather than a blessing. It is precisely those sorts of badly thought through, ideologically or politically driven decisions which ignored reality that previously used to be detected by properly functioning and diligent Senate Committees. The Coalition’s refusal to allow proper examination of Work Choices by a Senate Committee meant the Cabinet’s ignorance about what they were doing ended up being shared by many of their backbench.
I appreciate that Mr Hockey has some self-interest in making such a claim, as he could be seen as having to bear some responsibility for the widespread public dissatisfaction with Work Choices. Personally, I find it hard to believe that all but a very small number of Cabinet Ministers would not have been aware of this fundamental fact. The inability to credibly claim that ‘no worker would be worse off’ was a key part of how Work Choices differed from the workplace laws that had been in place for the preceding decade.

However, even taking some poetic licence from Joe Hockey into account, it is an example of just how blasé politicians can become about the real world impact of the decisions the take, particularly after a long time in government.  I don’t know how many Cabinet Ministers had fallen into a mindset where they basically just accepted the word of the Prime Minister and a few other senior ministers, without getting across even the basic detail of what they were agreeing to.  But I have no doubt that quite a number (although by no means all) of the Coalition backbenchers had adopted that approach of just accepting the propaganda and spin coming out of the relevant Minster’s office and parroting it back to the Parliament, the media and the community.

I saw this occur not only on Work Choices, but also on many other major issues such as the so-called Welfare to Work measures, the propaganda driven defence of the Northern Territory intervention and the flagrantly misleading justifications for the brutalisation of refugees.

It is always a dispiriting feeling to be engaging in debate on an important piece of legislation in the Senate when the realisation hits you that the person you are debating doesn’t really have the first idea what they are talking about, and even worse doesn’t care. It’s not a matter of who is right and who is wrong – it is when things degrade to such an extent that there is no longer any interest in the facts, only the spin and the talking points.  It doesn’t happen everyday, but when it does, it is a less than uplifting experience.

Those who are worse off as result of Work Choices (or other measures like Welfare to Work) will not feel any better to know that so many of the people who made the decision to adopt the measures which caused them hardship didn’t even bother to understand what they were doing.

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  2. I think you are preaching to the converted on this Senator.Hockey retained all his inspiration and energy by the only possible critics he would face, occasionally, are the prospect of answering questions from the registered media.If he had been confronted by cadets ,of journalism that didnt get a job at the ABC he wouldnt of lasted long.

  3. Interesting how often this happens: leaving complex policy to portfolio holders and following leaders against instincts, or perhaps because of a lack of sensitivity to the electorate.

  4. I think it demonstrates more than back benchers just believing spin – it shows they actually chose not to believe the workers, the people, who were telling them what effects it was having. To discount this evidence that would have been coming into their electorate offices every week, I’m sure, or to think every single one of those stories was simply part of the unions / ALP anti-workchoices campaign, really does show conclusively how arrogant and out of touch they were.

  5. and the cure is to put the fishing pole of power in the hands of the people. a nation with citizen initiative doesn’t have to put up with workchoices. indeed, a politician working under the oversight of citizen initiative will not even think to disadvantage so many voters. the libs knew, btw, anyone did, who cared. but since labor kept generating leaders and policies that had little to offer, perhaps the libs were entitled to think they could get away with it.

    too bad the imaginatively named ‘democrat’ party didn’t believe in democracy. to be fair, nor does any other ozzian, mostly through profound ignorance.

    “you get the government you deserve” covers this situation well. a nation of sheep will be ruled by a parliament of dogs.

  6. An Al Loomis an expert on sheep and dogs,and obviously so much like a lot of talk-back persons who regularly ring the ABC up over any issue,and issue their generalities about people place and events.Never let us off the chain Al.Or out of the barbed wire paddocks,after all we havent learnt to smile,because only sheep know how to recognise one!?

  7. I am amazed (well nothing in politics should really cause amazement) or at least highly bemused by Joe Hockey’s revelation – assuming there is some element of truth in his remarks.

    I thought removal of the “no disadvantage” test was a fundamental tenet of conservative ideology and neo classical market economics that stipulated that wages should be flexible downwards as well as upwards.

    As a former public servant, the Cabinet documents that all Cabinet Ministers received would have highlighted the contentious bits – so can only assume that Cabinet Ministers didn’t bother reading the papers outside their own areas and were happy to rely on the sponsoring Minister and PM’s assurances.

    If that is the case, the Government was well past its use-by date regardless of whatever views on its ideology you might have.

  8. The media are already talking about a double dissolution over Work Choices.

    Joe Hockey is a bloody liar, just trying to save his own skin. If he had any personal integrity, he would run as an Independent or start his own “centrist” party – since there doesn’t appear to be any at the moment.

  9. Iread that S.E.Queensland is heading for more wild weather Senator!?How that will pressue those on low incomes ,would be more disillusioning than the work choices debate,as inflation,and human and property damage gets up and in peoples lives.Luckily ,as a cynical comment,we have Centrelink,to save us from physical and monetary effects of weather in a fair way everywhere,as long as an emergency is called.And I am also happy that Centrelink wants to see all the payslips of being employed,because after all,why should I cheat with so much hardship around.And ,they are so honest at Centrelink,that they have noticed they have had to keep out of the rain themselves.Where my number of hours I worked and payed tax,means I must have a bloody payslip or a series of,because I have paid tax.So I now have to pay the telephone bill,because after all they are providing the service of having a telephone number.No doubt I will have superannuation,and paid holidays and sick leave and rights to receive a tax rebate for costs associated with my work!They Centrelink are like our wonderful economists providing arguments amongst themselves about the nature of the effects of full employment or near full employment as measured by the statistics from wherever they come from,as Bankers and economists are such flexible and hardworking citizens that,they could of worked on the back of a potato harvester,and conditions of I guess they will have factored in the number of problems as result of weather already,because they are so flexible they work in emergency services as volunteers,and say ,themselves could solve the problems in N.S.W.hospitals.Because such healthy active people like themselves,could do the physical work around the hospital whilst using their calculators,or mind calculating and remembering those calculations.

  10. A minister of a portfolio ought to have a good idea of the likely effects of the legislation he’s promoting. If he does not, well… it’s like a doctor saying, “oh, I didn’t know that drug would have that effect on you.”

    So Hockey has just said that he’s not competent to be a minister in government.

    Why then does not resign?

    I don’t believe him for a moment, though. How could anyone have actually thought that?

  11. Phil:

    I’m sure insurance companies could outdo any public servant, politician, government organisation (e.g. Centrelink) or bank when it comes to unfair or criminal activities.

    If you have a middling to large claim, they are absolute mongrels.

    Wait a minute, now! At least some of the banks are ALSO insurance companies.

    Anyone who has read the Old Testament would know that if you are a money lender, you will go straight to hell when you die.

    Under biblical “communism”, you sell all of your riches and give the money to the poor. That way everyone is on a level playing field – not too much, not too little – otherwise known as sharing.

    You don’t lend out other people’s savings, and rip both savers and borrowers off for your own gain.

    Religion has some good things about it after all:

    “A camel will go through the eye of a needle before a rich man goes to heaven.”

  12. Is there any group of people you dont find objectionable Coral?

    Parroting the message is a universal practice for all politicians from all sides.

    Much of the Work Choceis legislation will remin and rightly so, the major probelm as I’ve said before was the channelling to AWA’s (which have always and will continue to exist in most industries albeit with a diffenret name) at the expense of collective bargaining and the ramping down of minimum standards.

    The politics of the phrase “work chocies” have been very succesfully exploited – just need to restore a bit of balance in the system.

  13. Coral,

    Communism has nothing to do with christianity.
    Communism and all forms of visionary solicialism is all about the deification of man.

    Karl Max correctly defined communism as humanism, which he defined as “the denial of god and the total affirmation of man”.
    (Karl Marx Economic politique ett philsophie.)

    According to Riene Eisler Feminism is Quote ‘ “The last evolutionary development of humanism. Feminism is, she Said, humanism on its most advanced level”(RIENE EISLER, Humanist MagazineNovember/December 1990.

    “By the year 2000”,said The feminist Gloria Steinem, we will.. Raise our children to believe in human potential, Not God”.
    (Steinem Saturday review of education 1973)


  14. Tony:

    I was referring to what I call “biblical communism” – a term coined by me – which has nothing to do with humanism or the deification of man.

    They are the teachings of the bible.

    Please re-read my post in that particular light, and you will see what I mean.


    I don’t like groups per se all that much. They contain all kinds of individuals. Some are nicer than others.

    I find the modern world has a fairly small percentage of nice people, whether they belong to groups or not.

  15. Coral#13

    That’s okay Coral, mentioning communism and the bible,in the same sentence always upsets us
    DLP’ ers


  16. Andrew, I know what you mean about debating with Senators and others who don’t know the subject. Laziness happens everywhere I know,but it’s frustrating if we’re the ones paying their salaries. I’ve sent emails to Senators and Members and sometimes can’t believe their answers. I often wonder if they’re even in this country.

    I recall prior to WorstChoices legislation being introduced into Parliament, all questions about it were passed off by,’wait until legislation is in the house,all will be revealed’ or words to that effect. The day it was introduced, only a select few were allowed to speak, the gag/guillotine put on and then government numbers voted for it. How many even read the manual of how to read the Legislation??Requests for an inquiry were only allowed with just a short time for submissions etc. I know, as I listened to some of them. It’s a damned disgrace, and as I’ve said before Andrew, it must be frustrating for dedicated people like you who work so hard. I know of many others I’d wished got the boot instead of the Democrats.I think the Greens also work diligently.

  17. Naomi:

    When you’re John Howard and have the numbers, you don’t need to care what others think or know. You are also not interested in their input.

    That’s what you do when you have a totalitarian mindset.

    Information control is the most powerful tool used by destructive cults – also communists – and by another person withholding information on one of your favourite threads.

    I have no trust of the Greens at all. I think they are dangerous extremists.

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