WHEN Kim Beazley hits the airwaves on talkback radio these days he is bombarded with calls from Liberal Party stooges thinly disguised as average Joes “concerned” about his attack on the Government’s industrial relations laws.

  Nothing new about either of the major parties organising gullible troops to flood the switchboards and feign outrage when their opponents are taking questions.

  But lately the orchestration against the Opposition Leader has been noticeably elevated, even if the acting of the callers hasn’t improved a jot.

  So too has the Government’s use of Dorothy Dixers during Question Time been more enthusiastically employed and finely targeted in a bid to embarrass the Opposition.

  Before Parliament rose for the winter break last week almost every Minister — from the PM down — was thrown a friendly question or two from obliging backbenchers about the “dangers” of Labor’s IR intentions.

  Combet’s joke

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews never misses an opportunity to call a media conference and respond to almost any utterance made by Mr Beazley, his IR spokesman Stephen Smith, or union leaders.

  Mr Andrews and John Howard both seized on a joke made in a speech this week by ACTU secretary Greg Combet reminiscing about the “good old days” when the unions ran the country.

  It was a joke and Mr Combet’s audience reacted to it accordingly, but it allowed a free kick to the Prime Minister and his Workplace Relations Minister who tried to squeeze as much mileage out of the comments as possible.

  And Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Hendy is out in front of the cameras as much as Mr Andrews in his campaign to backup the Government and condemn the ALP on IR reform.

  It is all starting to look a bit desperate.

  Only one sure conclusion can be reached from so much attention being given to the Opposition over the industrial relations topic and that is that the Government is well and truly rattled.

  The public reaction to the extensive and harsh workplace reforms is worrying the Government, with even some business owners confessing they believe Mr Howard has gone a step too far.

  Staking his future on it

Since the WorkChoices legislation was introduced late last year and the new laws came into effect three months ago, commentators have been predicting that Labor will not be able to win an election on the IR front.

  Kim Beazley thinks otherwise and he is staking his future on it.

  Last week’s National Day of Action rallies held in cities and regional centres around the country no doubt have boosted his determination.

  Mr Andrews predictably declared the turnout to be less than the unions had anticipated. The unions and Labor just as predictably hailed the protests as huge successes.

  Whichever way you look at it, 80,000 people pouring into Melbourne’s streets alone is a lot of concerned workers.

  More than 150,000 protesters nationwide adds up to a win for the Opposition Leader in this early round of the IR battle.

  With more rallies planned between now and next year’s Federal election, Mr Beazley will hope to build on the momentum he found this week.

  The Opposition Leader has staked a clear point of difference between himself and the Prime Minister on the IR front by promising to abolish Australian Workplace Agreements.

  The audacious move has brought down the wrath of big business peak councils and many media commentators — and it has sent the Government into a tizz trying to rouse up sentiment against the plan.

  Back to the dark ages

It was a step Mr Beazley had to take if he hoped to give voters a clear choice at next year’s poll.

  It may backfire — the Opposition Leader has already been accused of trying to drag industrial relations back to the dark ages.

  But so far it appears there are enough workers worried about job security, and enough examples of ruthless employers already abusing the new IR laws to the detriment of employees, that Mr Beazley will get a fair hearing even on his provocative decision to end AWAs.

  The problem for Mr Howard and Co. is that even the most comfortable of white collar managerial types, who might not be too concerned about threats to their own working conditions and remuneration, have expectations that their children looking for work will be fairly treated.

  WorkChoices makes no such promises and Mr Howard has offered no such guarantees.

  In China last week, the Prime Minister uncharacteristically used a strong metaphor against the Opposition Leader’s plan to scrap AWAs.

  “Labor and the unions’ industrial relations changes are a dagger at the throat of the successful resources sector,” Mr Howard said.

  Remarks such as those from a political leader renowned for guarding his words, betray just how much the Opposition is getting under the Government’s skin.


Chris Johnson is a federal political reporter for The West Australian newspaper. 

Chris Johnson, in Canberra

It is all starting to look a bit desperate.  Only one sure conclusion can be reached from so much attention being given to the Opposition over the industrial relations topic and that is that the Government is well and truly rattled.  The public reaction to the extensive and harsh workplace reforms is worrying the Government, with even some business owners confessing they believe Mr Howard has gone a step too far.