27/11/2007 - 22:00

What's behind WA voters' failure to get in the swing?

27/11/2007 - 22:00

Bookmark

Save articles for future reference.

Last weekend’s federal election was a resounding victory for Labor, which has been given a mandate to introduce significant shifts in key policy areas such as industrial relations, climate change, environmental management and education.

Last weekend’s federal election was a resounding victory for Labor, which has been given a mandate to introduce significant shifts in key policy areas such as industrial relations, climate change, environmental management and education.

It was also a sad end to John Howard’s 11-plus years as prime minister. Clearly he didn’t know when it was time to go, and he also failed to match the union movement’s campaign against the WorkChoices reforms.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the election was the small swing to Labor in Western Australia, compared with every other state and territory.

Western Australians like to think of themselves as being different to the rest of the country, and that seemed to come through in the voting trends.

One obvious difference is that WA is enjoying stronger economic growth than the rest of the country, although it should be noted that Queensland, which is also enjoying very strong resources-led growth, was at the other end of the spectrum on election night, with the biggest swing to Kevin Rudd occurring in his home state.

Another big difference is that WA would be affected more than other states by moves to scrap Australian Workplace Agreements.

The mining industry in WA has led the use of AWAs and it seems clear that employers and many of their employees accept their use.

In many workplaces, individual workers revel in opportunities to be enterprising – a far cry from the old master-servant relationship between employers and their staff.

Mr Rudd attempted to address this by modifying Labor’s industrial relations policy earlier this year, in particular by allowing workers earning more than $100,000 a year to continue using AWAs, but that’s a poor compromise.

A third factor unique to WA was the prominence of militant unionists Kevin Reynolds and Joe McDonald.

Liberal party advertising featured the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union officials as the ugly face of unionism.

However, it’s important to recognise that Reynolds and McDonald are exceptions. They are not representative of the union movement in WA or in any other state.

They are extremists who led a union that was involved in an extraordinary number of industrial disputes.

Other people in the Labor movement seem to have recognised this – and recognised the damage that Reynolds and McDonald have done to their own movement.

The modern face of unionism is represented by the likes of Bill Shorten and Greg Combet, who could become ministers in the first Rudd government.

 

Conservative parties need to rebuild via effective opposition

The departure of John Howard and Peter Costello – and the retirement of the National’s leader, Mark Vaile – has left the conservative side of politics in a dire state.

If the Liberals lose their way Australia will be the worse for it, because governments work best when they are kept under scrutiny by a sharp opposition.

A weak opposition leads to smug, arrogant governments, and Australia can’t afford that.

The optimistic view is that the Liberals have a rare opportunity to take stock, reflect on their philosophies and policies and emerge energised and focused.

The Liberals are at a low ebb and Labor is riding high, but that can change quickly.

Just three years ago, Labor was in disarray after former leader Mark Latham was trounced at the polls.

It was still struggling 18 months ago when John Howard seemed invincible and Kim Beazley was proving ineffective as opposition leader.

Labor’s fortunes turned very quickly when they selected Kevin Rudd as their new leader and the electorate suddenly decided it had had enough of John Howard.

Fortunes could very quickly be reversed.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

Subscription Options