Does anyone else get frustrated when they hear and see the members of the Federal Labor government being given the Third Degree by the media over the tiniest tidbit of unsourced gossip or misstep, and with respect to their policies, yet the Opposition are only given the once-over-lightly?
I know I do.
I am also heartily sick of their glib dismissal of valid questions, on the odd occasion that they are asked them by journalists, with the pat line,“We are merely an Opposition, and as such we cannot be expected to make (difficult) decisions about our policies, and inform the electorate with answers, until after we get back into power.” Or some such similar codswallop.
Where's the journalist who has the gumption to make the perfectly valid point back to the Opposition mouthpiece, whoever they may be, that, no, you are the alternate government going into an election campaign and the electorate has the right to know the detail of your proposals so that they can judge both teams competing for their vote on a level playing field?
If you, like I am, are sick to death of the ABC, News Ltd., and to a lesser degree, Fairfax, being used as Coalition Talking points platforms, then I suppose it will again be the job of the citizen journalists of the Fifth Estate to ask those tough questions.
I know that we will never be able to ask the Coalition MPs to their faces the questions that need more than those glib Talking Points mouthed back to us as answers, but maybe, just maybe, there's a journalist out there reading this who will take our concerns and questions on board and put them to the Coalition.
Thus, in the interests of truly 'Fair and Balanced' inquiry I have begun to wade through the mire of the Liberal Party website and their statements to the press, and composed some questions, based on their stated words which have been written down there, so we have to believe them, which are begging for answers.
This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the composed output of the Libs, so I'm sure I'll find fertile ground for further questioning in the future as we make our way through the election campaign.
OK, let's start with Coalition 'Economic Principles' and Industrial Relations policy, shall we?
The Coalition say they are for 'Building Sustainable Prosperity' and that, 'Individuals, rather than governments, are usually best placed to make decisions that maximise community well-being.'
What I would like to ask is, how will an Abbott government be able to rein in the well-documented exploitative practices of 'individuals' in the form of employers, who made decisions which demonstrably minimised 'community well-being', as a result of WorkChoices, which Tony Abbott has pledged to bring back in a modified form? He may say that he will not bring back WorkChoices and that the community has no appetite for further workplace change, but doesn't that contradict other statements which he has made this year wherein he stated he did want to make changes to the new Unfair Dismissal provisions of the 'FairWork Act', and to abolish Weekend Penalty Rates? See here for a reminder:
I would especially like to highlight this quote from Julie Bishop: "Signalling the Coalition's intent, deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop yesterday attacked the government's overhaul of workplace awards and said the return of 'inflexible working conditions' such as weekend penalty rates was costing employers and workers."
I would thus like to encourage an enterprising journalist to ask Ms Bishop, or Mr Abbott, to come up with definitive evidence to explain that assertion. I mean, whenever I have been into my local pharmacy of a weekend recently, post the introduction of the 'Fair Work' legislation, they have seemed to be doing pretty well, have sufficient staff to meet everyone's needs, a goodly number of customers, and the pharmacist has seemed happy enough. I also have not seen any pharmacies, or any other small businesses, having to close down of a weekend as a result of the new workplace laws or having to pay weekend Penalty Rates. Sure, that is not to say that some small businesses have not had to close their doors. However, I would make a guess that that would more likely have been due to the credit squeeze the banks imposed during the worst of the GFC.
Now, could someone ask a Coalition spokesperson whether, as Joe Hockey said on Lateline this week, whether the Coalition will tamper with the Workplace Laws, or not? Will they leave Penalty Rates alone, as Hockey suggested, or will they seek to abolish them, as their Leader and Deputy Leader suggested in their February, 2010 statements?
Could an enterprising and conscientious journalist ask Ms Bishop to detail with hard facts where jobs have been lost in the Aged Care sector, in the Retail sector, in Pharmacies, or in Agriculture, as a result of the Labor government's new 'inflexible working conditions'? I thought we had 5.1% unemployment and a looming skills and worker shortage again? Which tends to suggest otherwise, Ms Bishop, don't you think? Please explain, Coalition.
Also, as stated in Tony Abbott's February speech to a Business luncheon, does he still subscribe to the statement he made back then, that the Coalition “had a mandate to take the Unfair Dismissal monkey off the back of Small Business, and we will once more seek that mandate”?
Also, whether, he continues to believe that, “We had a mandate to introduce Statutory Non-Union Contracts and we will seek to renew that mandate”?
Does this also mean, as that statement seems to suggest, that he is specifically anti-Union? If not, why make a virtue of the fact that Statutory Contracts should be 'non-union'?
Tony Abbott also stated that, “Labor had interim transitional employment agreements”, and “We will make them less interim. ”What exactly does he mean by that statement? Does it mean that he would like to abolish them on coming to government? Sure sounds that way to me.
Also, “Labor has individual flexibility agreements. We will make them more flexible because we understand that you can't run a successful business without being able to deploy your workforce to their best advantage and to your best advantage”. Somehow I think the bit about 'to their best advantage' was put in there as camouflage for his real intent, to craft laws that will work to the employers' best advantage.
He then goes on to say, “We want to make it possible for businesses to be more profitable and for workers to earn more. That's what we had under the Howard government. That's what we need to have again.”
Now, those statements suggest a number of questions to me.
Firstly, could Tony Abbott suggest how the ALP's flexible workplace arrangements do not now deploy employees to their employer's best advantage, beyond going into the realms of worker exploitation?
Also, how increasing the 'flexibility' of employee work arrangements does not equate to the Howard government, under WorkChoices, allowing for employers to order their employees to work whenever the employer wanted them to? And being forced to come into work at short notice, under threat of being sacked if they didn't, taking absolutely no account of the employees home situation with respect to their families?
Is that not the extreme sort of 'flexibility' that Tony Abbott's words conjure up in your mind?
It sure does in mine.
I'd like someone to ask him if that will be the case if Eric Abetz, member of the H.R. Nicholls Society of extreme I.R. advocates, becomes Industrial Relations Minister in an Abbott government.
Enough of the tightly controlled message being the only thing that gets out each day from the Coalition during the election campaign. We need real answers to real questions!
Finally, could some enterprising journalist, during the election campaign, challenge Tony Abbott, when he comes out with the statement again, which he no doubt will, that workers earnt more under the Howard government as a result of the changes brought about by WorkChoices? As far as I can remember it, that 'fact' was as a result of the figures being inflated by the salaries of upper and middle managers on Individual Contracts, who benefited the most from WorkChoices, and not the wages of employees on the bottom rungs of the employment ladder who were forced into Individual Statutory Contracts.
I will be endeavouring to scour the Liberal Party's written words (because they are the ones we are told to believe) to formulate more questions which they should be asked in the days and weeks ahead during the election campaign. Hopefully, as I said, there will be some journos out there still with a conscience and not an agenda, who will take those questions on board and try to ask Tony Abbott for some straight answers to them, and not be fobbed off when he gives non-answers.
I would appreciate it if we could all be on the lookout now for the statements, made by members of the Coalition, which suggest pertinent questions and thus demand straight answers. Maybe we could compile them into a file which could be sent out to all the journalists on the campaign trail, so that they may in turn ask those questions of the Coalition on our behalf.
Especially so considering the fact that Tony Abbott has today said that he not only wishes to bury WorkChoices but to cremate it. Which is all well and good as a soundbite intended to disarm the electorate from Day 1 of the campaign. However, it is my hope that the journalists with Tony Abbott scrutinise closely what he has written down as commitments with regard to this contentious policy area. An article from The Courier Mail today outlines the bare bones of his Industrial Relations pledges.
However, the last couple of sentences give me pause for thought: "Mr Abbott will pledge that if the Coalition wins the election it will not seek to change Labor's new Fair Work Act for at least three years." He will say he wants to make individual agreements more flexible and reduce small business burdens, but "do so within Labor's existing legislation".
What that says to me is that he is engaging in an electoral fix to get the issue off the agenda by saying that he won't touch the Fair Work legislation in the first term of an Abbott government. No doubt he would spend the entire first term of his government massaging the electorate and softening them up for the changes that he has promised to bring in in his second term. Therefore an eneterprising journalist on the campaign trail should pointedly ask him what exactly are the changes that he intends to bring into the workplace in his second term? And, if he fobs off the questioner with a glib line about just let him get a first term before he discusses a second, then I would not let him get away with that. The electorate needs to know now!
Also, what exactly does he mean when he says he wants to make 'individual agreements more flexible'? Does that mean he wants to abolish Enterprise Bargaining in favour of Individual Agreements for all employees? Does it also mean, as I noted above, that he wants to bring back the employers' ability to demand an employee work at the employer's whim, with no say in the matter of when they are rostered on to work, and no allowance made for family duties and Work/Life balance?
Lastly, what does he mean when he says he wants to 'reduce small business burdens...within Labor's existing legislation'? Does this mean that he will be wanting to severely modify Labor's Unfair Dismissal provisions within the Fair Work legislation? Well, isn't that just returning to WorkChoices principles under the cloak of the Fair Work legislation?
We need answers to these questions, and we need our best and brightest journalists to ask these questions of Mr Abbott now, and not just let him skate on by with his glib daily soundbites that say everything and nothing as he is never pinned down for long enough to get a straight response and a truthful, explicit answer from him.
What do you think? Will you join us here at The Political Sword and work with us to provide the scrutiny of the campaigns of both parties, which the Press Gallery appears to have not the time or the inclination to apply to the welter of material that will be released over the life of the election campaign?