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Peter Reith, Tony Abbott and the industrial relations maze

Peter Reith votes in the Liberal Federal presidency election. AAP

“Julia Gillard’s retrograde changes to workplace relations law are slowly burning our economy and in time the voices of embattled business will be heard across the country.” – Peter Reith, The Age, June 28, 2011

Today, in the latest instalment a series of stories interrogating statements made by public figures, six leading academics look at Peter Reith’s argument that there’s a pressing need to reform industrial relations laws,

Zareh Ghazarian, Lecturer in Politics at Monash University

“While the Liberal Party is buoyed by strong opinion polls, it must still rise to the challenge of presenting a cohesive suite of policies to the electorate. Reith has just started the ball rolling, albeit in an indirect way.” Read the full article

Rae Cooper, Senior lecturer at the University of Sydney

“Whether you like it or not, Australia has a highly casualised (pay per hour) workforce, this remains largely untouched by the Fair Work system. Employees and employers are free to negotiate "individual flexibility arrangements” within the collective bargaining system and while there are some protections, for example these arrangements are subject to no disadvantage tests, they can be made over a broad range of matters. “Good faith” collective bargaining, which the Fair Work Act promotes, is flourishing.“ Read the full article

*Carol Johnson, Professor of Politics at Adelaide University * "Despite his own support for key aspects of the policy, Abbott described WorkChoices as ‘a political mistake’ in his post 2007 election book Battlelines. His challenge will be to placate the industrial relations hard liners in the Liberal party (who believe radical IR policies are essential for the Australian economy) while bringing in industrial relations changes that keep WorkChoices ‘dead, buried and cremated’ in the public mind” Read the full article

Michael Rafferty, Senior research analyst at the University of Sydney

It seems that Reith is trying to carve out a space on the right of Tony Abbott on industrial relations. Abbott was a staunch supporter of the Liberal government’s WorkChoices legislation, but the electoral defeat of the Liberal government sent a shock wave through even the right of the party.

Many Liberal parliamentarians do not want another costly debate over industrial relations. In any case, the Rudd and Gillard governments have only knocked the worst edges off WorkChoices in their equally euphemistically titled FairWork Act. Read the full article

Jeff Borland, Professor of Economics at Melbourne University

“When it comes to improving living standards in Australia today, labour market reform is not a first-order issue.

"Achieving better health and social outcomes for the Indigenous population - yes. Increasing education attainment, particularly through early interventions targeted at children from disadvantaged backgrounds - yes.

"New infrastructure projects, tax reform, dealing with environmental degradation - yes. But extra labour market reform - no.” Read the full article

Jill Murray, Associate Professor of Law at LaTrobe University

“For every step in implementing its mandate to "rip up” Work Choices, the Government has hesitated and, in cases, quietly placed its foot back down on the ground…. Without the creation of very radical laws, in some areas it is difficult to see how the Coalition could outflank what the Government has done in this field.“ Read the full article

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