Pick up the phone

The Conversation, a news website operated and funded by a number of universities, has published a significant number of articles on Prime Minister Albanese’s Jobs and Skills Summit. Most of them, as has most of the reporting of the ‘summiteers’ work, have been broadly positive.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton chose not to attend the summit, claiming it was a ‘talkfest’. The Deputy Opposition Leader and Leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, did attend and from most reports involved himself in the discussion. The reporting of his participation and contributions were again, mostly positive.

The strange thing about Dutton and Littleproud is that technically they belong to the same political party, Queensland’s Liberal National Party (or LNP for short). Under the LNP rules, elected federal politicians have the opportunity to sit with either the Liberal Party or National Party caucuses on Capital Hill. Clearly there are differences in the LNP — we might call them the Liberal faction and the Nationals faction.

To an extent, Dutton was correct in that the Jobs and Skills Summit was a ‘talkfest’ — most of the contentious issues were either discussed and resolved at various ‘roundtables’ in the weeks leading up to the summit or passed to committees comprised of various stakeholders to go and investigate and report back to government.

The Summit at worst did present an opportunity for stakeholders to bring their preconceived biases to the table (or not in Dutton’s case) and air them. What really happened was quite different. Employer groups, unions, politicians, the heads of large charities as well as a few eminent business people sat together for a day and a half and found out that the ‘other side’ were not the personification of the devil incarnate, rather they were humans with similar concerns. Most attendees agreed in fact the current enterprise bargaining system is broken and women have generally had the raw deal in the employment stakes for eons.

And that can only bode well for the future. Most reports of the Summit suggest that David Littleproud wasn’t the only one with his sleeves rolled up, following the discussion and making positive contributions, everyone from Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest to the ACTU’s Sally McManus was doing likewise. Probably unsurprisingly to us mere mortals, they found a lot of common ground.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that communicating is more effective at resolving disputes than just about any other method. While banged up together in the halls of Parliament House, there was plenty of time for networking and informal discussions between diverse groups such as union officials and management from Chambers of Commerce and Industry. While there were no reports of them all joining hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’, it would have been hard for the attendees to walk away without some understanding of the views of others. You could make the case that the Nationals now have a better view of the issues relating to labour supply and skills development than the Liberal faction of the Coalition. It was also reported that most speeches at the Summit suggested to some extent that we are all in this together.

Which begs the question why Dutton didn’t attend and what have the Liberal faction of the Coalition learnt from peering into the Summit rather than being a part of the Summit. It appears the answer is nothing much. The Sunday after the Liberal Front Bencher Michaela Cash was on SkyNews decrying the outcomes of the Summit as a lot of hot air and not much else. Dutton certainly hasn’t changed his tune — but then again it took a number of years for him to admit he should not have walked out on Kevin Rudd’s apology to first nations people.

It appears that the Liberal faction of the Coalition are still fighting culture wars from decades ago using the tactics of total opposition, rather than reading the room and seeing that conversation and communication are far better at achieving results that most can live with. As a result of the Summit, hopefully unions, employers and government will follow the government’s objective of reducing the aggressive posturing and increasing the compromise, consensus and dialogue, which does achieve a better outcome for all.

It’s a pity the Liberal faction isn’t talking to anyone — especially the National faction of the Coalition. While there will still be some posturing and argument over future industrial relations and skilling policy, most Summit attendees have hopefully cottoned on to the lesson that picking up the telephone and talking is far better than picking up the megaphone and yelling from some distance away. Who knows they might also bypass Peter Dutton — because they probably know everyone else’s phone number.

What do you think?

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Norman Abjorensen


Might I respectfully point out that Littleproud is not deputy leader of the opposition. That office is held by Sussan Ley.

bruce bilney



".. most Summit attendees have hopefully cottoned on to the lesson that picking up the telephone and talking is far better than picking up the megaphone and yelling from some distance away."

That's the nub. As my Czech mate says, When in doubt , communicate! 

But when you have naysayers like Abbott and Luddites like Dutton in charge of the Right, there's no way that communication can happen. 

My brother Gordon, who was Member for Kingston 1983-96, went as a fairly idealistic new MP to Bob Hawke's summit conference when he first came to power. Gordon was so hopeful as he was about to leave, bubbling with ideas and reforming zeal. Days later he was back, and it was as if the light had been turned off, he was so crestfallen by the attitude of the sneering attitude of the LNP even then. He regretted that they had even been invited to the summit. 

This time, what Albo did was pretty clever really. He anticipated that if there was opportunity for serious disagreement on some points, the Right would make much of them, so he reduced the tyre pressures a bit by lowering expectations before the event, and avoided punctures. It left little for the Right to object to and virtually ensured, as you say, an atmosphere approaching ‘Kumbaya’, with Dutton and his Leftovers on the outside looking ridiculous. They are amazingly powerless now.

They really are in a wilderness now, the Opposition. It seems to me that they will have to change completely ever to become relevant again, and they just won't be the same thing after that. Their other option is to go so far Right as to be right out of contention. That's what I reckon anyhow. 

Thanks for your continuing thoughtful contributions.



@Norman Abjorensen - thanks for your comment. You are correct - we'll try to better next time.

@bruce bilney - Yes Albanese was clever in downplaying expectations. While we haven't seen the full outcomes yet, Dutton's and Ley's carping from the sidelines didn't seem to get much traction (even in media outlets that would usually be reasonably sympathetic). Thanks for continuing to read my contributions - its appreciated :-)

Michael Taylor


Always a pleasure to read your articles, 2353, and always a pleasure to see Bruce’s comments. 

How many Rabbits do I have if I have 3 Oranges?