WELL, who would have thought?You can be sure even the Labor Party’s most zealous supporters never expected the landslide result which occurred on Saturday.Most people expected a close result, and I can’t think of too many who picked the impact of One Nation or even the Greens.But that is history and the (celebratory) party is over.Now Dr Geoff Gallop has to muster his forces and put in place an administration which, as he put it, governs for all West Australians.Business is understandably wary of the new government which has promised to make major changes to the industrial relations landscape imposed by the Court regime.Dr Gallop would be wise to listen to the commercial sector before taking any drastic action. Business is not the beast it was 20 years ago.Unlike their portrayal of the past, companies are not mini fiefdoms run by industrialists keen to exploit the working classes.Many of those working classes have evolved into business people, either contracting their labour out or employing others to perform tasks increasingly outsourced by bigger companies and government.Others have decided their bosses can be negotiated with, and they have found the process rewarding.In this skills-focused world, people with knowledge and experience can increasingly command their own price. Those with ambitions should be prepared to take less now to benefit in the future.Certainly, the remainder of the workforce needs to be protected but the new government will have to carefully examine the trade-off between ensuring the security of workers and providing flexibility to employers who effectively underwrite the opportunities that workers need to get ahead.This is where the safety net becomes a tightrope.This may not be what the union movement wants to hear, but the fact is employees’ organisations are much less of a force than they were. Many businesses know their staff better than the shop stewards do.If unions try to flex their muscles with the new administration to revive their power in the workplace, they will be no different than the WA’s misguided One Nation supporters who seem to dream of a past Australia, which no longer exists.It is always dangerous to believe your glory days can be relived.Unionism, like the image of rural prosperity, grew from our nation’s successful ride on the sheep’s back.But Australia is no longer a place where farmers are paid ridiculous prices for wool by rich Europeans, with wharfies taking a generous cut.Dr Gallop knows this and has made obvious efforts to distance WA Labor from the union movement.But what Dr Gallop knows he has to do may be very different from what he is forced to do.The One Nation vote is an appeal by those left behind. Unfortunately, these voters are not asking for help to catch up with the rest of the nation. Instead, they are demanding the return of another Australia, in which they were not a marginalised fringe but a powerful force.Unions want something verysimilar.Between these two constituencies, they could form a big wedge in Dr Gallop’s plans to reinvent the Labor Party’s administration and emulate his British mate Tony Blair in trying to find a middle road between economic rationalism and social reform.The industrial relations front may be the good doctor’s first test in this department.
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