Love him or loathe him - depaNews October 2007


Whether you love him or loathe him, or haven't made up your mind, he’s made up his mind about you

Well, what a bummer. We know that John Howard hates union bosses. That's what he calls the democratically elected officials of unions who get their jobs, and retain them, by having members of the unions vote to appoint them - just like the process of election in Bennelong. But the Howard Government conveniently ignores this democratic process and demonises people acting in the interests of their members as union bosses.

My mother taught me that if you can't say something nice, then you shouldn't say anything at all and while a succession of planning ministers, boofhead councillors, tedious and unimaginative general managers and know-nothing human resource professionals (sic) test my commitment to mum’s advice, clearly John Howard's mum didn't teach her kids such good manners.

But with the election now announced for 24 November, the Prime Minister reveals its not just union bosses he doesn't like. He doesn't like you either.

The Coalition's first election television ad asked the question " Who is more likely to put Australia's economy at risk?" - contrasting the options of "pro-growth" nice blokes like Howard and Costello with pictures of Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan imposed on L plates.

But wait, there's more. Can there be anything worse than learners? Yes, there can, and its "trade unionists". And "anti-business" ones at that.

We know that many of you are easily offended and the idea that you belong to a union, in the eyes of the Government makes you one of those horrible "trade unionists" and that, of course, means you’re anti-business. Shame on you!

We think it's appalling.

More appalling though, is that the Government keeps making the assertion linking trade unionists, growth and the concept of anti-business in a climate where for the past five or 10 years, the best performing superannuation schemes have been Industry Funds, where "trade unionists" sit on boards in equal representation to employer representatives. These funds (and the Local Government Superannuation Scheme, although a government fund is essentially an industry fund) are always found to outperform corporate funds because they are run providing all profit to members. What, does that mean that the Government's obsession with demonising union bosses and union members as being bad for growth/business is wrong?

We also think it's a sign of panic. In the last few weeks there have been two extraordinary examples of the Government launching unacceptable attacks upon academics whose only crime has been to carry out independent research and find that WorkChoices has damaged people's lives and incomes.

On Tuesday 2 October, a comprehensive study on work and life in Australia was released by the University of Sydney's Workplace Research Centre. Jointly funded by UnionsNSW and the Federal Government, it found, amongst other things, that average full-time workers on Australian Workplace Agreements were $106 a week worse off than those on collective agreements. $106 each week.

"Avuncular" Joe Hockey (as he was described by Prime Minister Howard when he was appointed as Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations to try and recover from the fiasco of Kevin Andrews) immediately launched a defamatory attack upon the authors of the research as well as the significance of 50% of the funding coming from UnionsNSW.

Describing academics who had never worked for unions as "trade union officials who are parading as academics", Hockey didn't hold back. Joined by Treasurer Peter Costello (who was formerly an infamous anti-union Victorian solicitor) they launched a partial, jaundiced and unfair attack upon the research. Soiled and infected by UnionsNSW (depa is affiliated to Unions NSW, so some of the funding would have come from us) he claimed it had to be tainted - even though half the funding came from a Federal research body notorious for being fastidious about research funding and proper scientific method and standards.

None of the four academics had worked as union officials and one of them had never even been a member of a union.

It's shameful and we hope the respected academics at Sydney University act on their legal advice and take defamation action against Minister Hockey. If there's something wrong with the research method, then the research method should be attacked. If there's nothing wrong with the method, then the Government should do something about WorkChoices.

Sadly for the Government, it's hard to find research, done by anyone, that shows that WorkChoices has had a positive effect on employees and Hockey is an old hand at dishonest attacks on academic research. His distorted and untruthful allegations about Professor David Peetz, the author of research from Griffith University which did not please the Government earlier this year, continued to be made after the independence of the research was clearly established and academics rushed to express their outrage at the unfair attacks.

Earlier this month at a public forum at Sydney University, Harvard University Professor of Economics Richard Freeman, claimed that WorkChoices was a "complete distortion of the most conservative economic thinking on how you would make efficient bargaining". He claimed it was "a law that does not seem to follow any economic principle for labour institutions in a market", it represented "outdated" rather than modern thinking and "previous proponents of the reform principles on which it was based - those of the early 1990s capitalist system - had already changed their minds".

Professor Freeman claimed "the outside world is interested because this is a unique experiment … it is unique in that it is large-scale reform that was not precipitated by any economic crisis, industrial disputes were down, the economy was good, and unions were fading away".

Sara Charlesworth is an academic who co-wrote a report for the Victorian Employment Advocate, which was released on 9 October and found some negative impact around maternity leave arising from WorkChoices. Charlesworth was phoned by an officer from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations after the research was published and asked if she "had a union background".

It's not really a question of whether you love or loathe John Howard. While he might have missed out on some important lessons about good manners from his mum and while he might be less than scrupulous with the truth, he is a good role model for older people to keep active with his morning walking program and he hugs his kids.

We think it is more important that he loathes you.

Finally, if you would like to see the Coalition's election ad about nasty "trade unionists" you can do so using this link.

And if you feel like a laugh, you can use this link and see a satire of the ad. Minor language warning, so don't blame us.

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