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Abbott dogged by Spectre of #WorkChoices

Abbott distances himself from the ghost of Howard

Tony Abbott, has distanced himself from the legacy of John Howard after he put the Opposition Leader under pressure over industrial relations.

THE Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has distanced himself from the legacy of John Howard after the former prime minister put him under pressure over industrial relations, the economy, the GST and the carbon price.

Mr Abbott put some space between himself and his political mentor after a speech Mr Howard made to a business audience was secretly recorded, leaked and reawakened the WorkChoices bogey.

”Let’s face it, John Howard is two prime ministers ago,” Mr Abbott said yesterday.

HOWARD AFR PHOTOGRAPH BY GLENN HUNT 09052012.NEWS- John Howard speaking at the PwC Federal Budget Breakfast in Brisbane.“The public will support a change of attitude if they’re given an opportunity to pass judgement.” … John Howard. Photo: Glenn Hunt

”John Howard is three Liberal leaders ago. That was then, this is now. There is no going back to the past.”

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In the speech, made to a Westpac forum and leaked to The Australian Financial Review, Mr Howard talked up the economy, said the revenue problem facing the states would be helped if the GST were applied to fresh food and observed Mr Abbott was locked into opposing the carbon price for political reasons, a position that was costing business certainty.

“The public will support a change of attitude if they’re given an opportunity to pass judgment. We found that with the GST,”he said.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott holds a media conference at a  Canberra home on Wednesday 22 August 2012. Photo: Andrew Meares“There’s no going back to the past” … Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares

Mr Howard said it was a mistake under WorkChoices to have removed the no-disadvantage test from individual workplace agreements, known as Australian workplace agreements.

He advocated a return to the AWAs that existed before WorkChoices and were underpinned by the test.

He also suggested revisiting the unfair dismissal provisions that were removed under WorkChoices but reinstated, in part, by Labor’s Fair Work Act.

The government leapt on the speech to claim it was only a matter of time before Mr Abbott re-embraced elements of WorkChoices, which contributed to the downfall of the Howard government in 2007 and which still resonates poorly for the Coalition.

”Two simple questions – do you or don’t you agree with your old boss John Howard?” the Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten asked.

The Liberal MP Steve Ciobo urged Mr Abbott to re-embrace pre-WorkChoices AWAs, as did employer groups such as the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Mr Ciobo said it was ”absurd” employers could not offer individual employment contracts to their staff. ”It puts us behind the rest of the world when it comes to labour market flexibility,” he said.

But Mr Abbott will not embrace even the pre-WorkChoices AWAs because of fears voters will conflate them with the WorkChoices version.

He said yesterday he would only make changes to Labor’s individual agreements, known as individual flexibility arrangements. The recent review of the Fair Work Act found these arrangements contained so many caveats that employers hardly bothered to use them ”because, in their view, IFAs do not provide meaningful flexibility”.

Mr Abbott said these agreements needed to be more flexible ”but there’s no going back to the past”.

The government also leapt on comments by Mr Howard talking up the strength of the economy.

Mr Howard said there was no doubt the Australian economy was doing better than most.

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said Mr Abbott ”should stop talking down the Australian economy and start telling the truth about it”.

About Darin Sullivan (1967 Articles)
President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and a professional firefighter with more than 25 years’ experience. Father of two daughters, he lives and works on the NSW South Coast, Australia. He is a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around him. He is a Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and works with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist he has long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. Now a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and has decades of experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. He is passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. Darin is also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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