24/04/2007 - 22:00

WA at the heart of WorkChoices fight

24/04/2007 - 22:00


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For those with an eye for politics, the past week’s discussion on Australian Workplace Agreements puts Western Australia at the forefront of the debate.

For those with an eye for politics, the past week’s discussion on Australian Workplace Agreements puts Western Australia at the forefront of the debate.

The past and the present would give each side of politics hope that our state will offer them a positive result in the forthcoming election.

And, if you believe WA is poised to make a difference in the federal election, it makes the debate all the more interesting.

Firstly the past.

In our newspaper this week, we quote Graham Kierath, the former IR czar of WA, who introduced significant changes to the state’s industrial relations landscape during the Court government’s reign in the 1990s.

Many would suggest he was a zealout who went one step too far with his reforms, earning more than the ire of the union movement.

Mr Kierath seemed to single-handedly raise them from their torpor, enough for them to unseat him at the 2001 election when Labor won and immediately rolled back most of his reforms.

Both sides of politics could take heart from that experiment. Labor, for obvious reasons, might think that WA is capable of a backlash against IR reforms.

I, however, believe the Howard government has tempered its own IR reforms to attempt to find a model that doesn’t quite look as fundamentalist as Mr Kierath’s did. A softer version of the same thing, perhaps.

It also can take heart from a period when IR changes really did little to trouble the electorate. Mr Kierath might have lost his job, but the IR changes were not the reason the Liberals lost the election.

In WA, too, the change of government did not end IR reforms. Many employers simply switched to the federal system, a precursor to what we have now.

The numbers back then were quite big; today they are huge.

So what does that huge number really represent? Well, it depends whether you see the jar half empty or half full.

Labor’s Kevin Rudd must be hoping that if employees are fearful of AWAs and resentful of the change, and that a bonanza of disgruntled workers awaits him at the ballot box to sweep away John Howard, just as Geoff Gallop overwhelmed Richard Court in 2001.

Hence the recent need for Labor heavyweights to start visiting WA. It’s such a long trip, it has to be worth it.

The alternative view – the one the prime minister has returned to plugging – is that it’s all about the economy, and WA workers aren’t going to risk anything that will jeopardise the roller coaster they are riding.

The electorate these days is much more tuned into economic messages. Partly, as I’ve stated often enough, it’s because so many of them work for themselves. These people understand an economy is balanced finely and it doesn’t take much to upset it.

They might not be on AWAs but they mix with their mates at their barbecues and colleagues on worksites. Everyone gets the picture, because they are all better off than the days of strikes, inflexible awards and strange people who had the run of the place but never did any work.

We have a story on page four about WA workers getting lazy due to the abundance of work. I reckon the lazy person is the most cunning – he or she won’t want the status quo to change.

That might not be the best of the reasons lined up against Labor on this side of the country, but complacency and fear are big hurdles to overcome.


Franchise sector's broad appeal

Franchising is a significant industry in WA, though it’s often difficult to sift through the sector and see beyond a few large national players.

Beneath the McDonald’s and Jim’s, a host of smaller national and WA-based franchises serve all kinds of markets – some traditional, some evolving.

All in all, it’s a very difficult sector to map because so few of these organisations are public and their appeal is often, though not always, to investors who are stepping into business for the first time.

It also difficult to compare across franchise concepts that range from hundreds of thousands of dollars in commitment – such as many well-known fast food operations – to much smaller outlays where individuals in effect buy themselves a job.

I find it fascinating that this sector is encountering the same issue as many others – a talent shortage.

The mining boom is luring away people who normally have decided that running their own business is where they want to be.

Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by that, everyone can hear the giant sucking sound as the resources sector hoovers up all available talent around the state.

Perhaps those in the best position are franchises from WA seeking growth in other states, where the employment situation is not quite so tight.


Lord mayoral race excites a few

I can never resist a chance to have a dig, especially when the first to grab the shovel was the opposition.

Last week, astute readers may have noticed that we focused our cover story on the forthcoming lord mayoral race at the City of Perth.

The idea for the feature came from months of whispering that the race was wide open and that business people dearly wanted a candidate that represented their needs, one that could really take the city into the 21st century with a grand vision and the operational nous to enact it.

The cover itself featured the three strongest candidates, all existing councillors, and the feature quoted extensive comments from business people suggesting that they’d like to see some fresh talent.

But no matter how much business would like to see one of their own, it seems unlikely. Even the names they loosely bandied about were hardly business types.

One of those names mentioned was Fred Chaney, who failed to comment directly to us on the possibility of being a candidate.

That was enough to get our friends at The West excited. The next morning, the daily took the trouble to attempt to take the mickey out of us with an interview with Mr Chaney denying his interest in a mayoral campaign and seemingly unable to recall who had called him in the first place.

As is often the case at large organisations, perhaps the right hand didn’t know what the left is doing.

While page two was labouring over some trivial point in our story, someone else at The West was preparing to devote a whole page to following up our article for the Saturday edition of the newspaper, complete with the same three pictures and quotes of business leaders desiring – wait for it – someone with vision.

The story then went on to – guess what? – bandy some names about.

Maybe the various reporters failed to coordinate their thinking on this subject because the Saturday article on the City of Perth was written by the newspaper’s Melbourne correspondent.


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