16/10/2007 - 22:00

Get ready for a new government

16/10/2007 - 22:00


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With the federal election campaign officially under way, the business community should start planning for the prospect of a Labor government in Canberra.

With the federal election campaign officially under way, the business community should start planning for the prospect of a Labor government in Canberra.

Election results are never guaranteed but the reality is that opinion polls all year have consistently and clearly put Labor in a winning position.

Many pundits thought John Howard would be able to whittle down Labor’s lead, but the polls tell another story.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd has proved to be an astute political performer. There have been a few slip ups but nothing big enough to sink Labor’s commanding national lead.

Mr Rudd has created a ‘small target’ by reducing policy differences between Labor and the coalition.

But voters may be left wondering what a Kevin Rudd-led Labor government would really be like.

Would Mr Rudd continue to dominate, or would senior ministers like Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard – who has just about disappeared from view after releasing controversial industrial relations policies earlier this year – be given room to move?

Would Mr Rudd be able to choose his own ministry on merit or would the party factions and the union bosses have a say?

Would Labor be a big-spending government, like its counterpart in Western Australia, or would it be fiscally prudent?


Labour shortage a major issue

A recent survey by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA found that the labour shortage was the number one issue facing business in the state.

With unemployment below 4 per cent and likely to stay very low, the labour shortage will continue to be a major concern.

Gone are the days when a business could plan a project – whether a new mine or a new restaurant – and be confident that it would be able to find the necessary workers.

Both sides of politics support increased training to boost the supply of skilled labour and to get extra workers into the labour force.

A particular focus for the coalition has been the establishment of Australian Training Colleges, which have been promoted as an improvement on the state-based Tafe system.

Federal Labor should spell out clearly what it would do with these colleges.

They have had minimal impact to date, with very small enrolments, but could make an important long-term contribution as an additional training channel.

Both sides of politics are wary about supporting increased skilled migration, particularly temporary migration using the contentious section 457 visas.

Tens of thousands or workers have come into Australia on 457 visas. The scheme has made a huge impact, despite being extremely complex. It certainly isn’t a quick and easy solution for businesses needing extra workers.

The system has checks and balances, such as the need to ensure that pay and conditions for foreign workers match those offered to local workers.

A responsible government would educate the community about the benefits of skilled migration and facilitate improvements to the current system, rather than pandering to the public’s fear about foreign workers.


Balance needed in workplace relations

Labor has tried hard to portray its industrial relations policies as a modest roll-back of what it considers some of the more extreme Howard government reforms.

For his part, Mr Howard has pledged no further changes.

“I regard the current state of WorkChoices and industrial relations legislation as right,” he said this week in an effort to head off the issue.

Recent changes, such as the introduction of the fairness test, seem to have addressed some community concern about WorkChoices but have left the business sector bemoaning the complexity and uncertainty surrounding the current regime.

The failure of many Australian Workplace Agreements to satisfy the legal requirements of the Office of Workplace Relations has left the business sector unconvinced about the merits of the current regime.

Nor does it believe Labor would be an improvement. The union movement will push hard for greater influence, in government, in workplaces and in wage setting, which could erode the flexibility that has become a feature of Australian industry,

Both sides of politics have room to improve.


Fixing finances in federal-state dealings

A perennial sore point in Australian politics has been the feuding between Canberra and the states.

This will never disappear, but there is plenty of scope for improvement.

If we get Labor governments in Canberra and all of the states, it will be fascinating to see if their ideological alignment helps to deliver improvements.

Mr Rudd has made some encouraging steps; for instance agreeing to share some of the royalties from offshore oil and gas projects with the WA government, and proposing innovative changes to health funding.

WA certainly needs the state to have a better relationship with Canberra so that much-needed infrastructure improvements can be delivered.


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