The min­is­ter has declared war on dodgy deals be­tween big busi­ness and labour

The Weekend Australian - - INQUIRER - GRACE COL­LIER

We have fall­ing wages growth com­bined with an in­creas­ing cost of liv­ing. Throw an en­ergy cri­sis into this mix and an­gry vot­ers want some­one to blame.

Nev­er­the­less, de­spite ev­ery­thing, the next fed­eral elec­tion is not nec­es­sar­ily lost for the Coali­tion. On power prices and in­dus­trial re­la­tions, the gov­ern­ment is emerg­ing as the cham­pion of the lit­tle guy. This is its po­lit­i­cal duty, but it also could ger­mi­nate the first green shoots of an elec­toral re­cov­ery.

For many, Bill Shorten is not to be trusted. Peo­ple feel this in their bones. This feel­ing has its ori­gins in com­pelling data.

Us­ing doc­u­mented ma­te­rial, op­po­nents of the Op­po­si­tion Leader can cast him as shifty, as a man who couldn’t lie straight in bed, a man with no morals or scru­ples, a man who would do any dirty deal — even sell his own grand­mother down the river — to get what he wanted.

Shorten’s cur­rent vibe is this: a carp­ing, whinge­ing union rep. This vibe can ex­panded upon — Shorten can­not be trusted with your pay pack­ets — sim­ply by shov­ing cer­tain facts in front of peo­ple’s faces.

Lead­ing up to the elec­tion, a se­ries of ad­ver­tise­ments could go to air with dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect. Here is one draft script beg­ging to be shot.

The cam­era opens on the face of a worker de­scrib­ing in their own words how much money they lost when they were shafted by their union do­ing a dodgy deal with the em­ployer at the time Shorten led it.

The shot cuts to the sig­na­ture of Shorten on an en­ter­prise agree­ment, high­lighted in red. A graph il­lus­trates the union’s in­come sky­rock­et­ing un­der his lead­er­ship.

The nar­ra­tor asks the viewer where this money came from and why. Rolling across the screen next comes wave af­ter wave of shock­ing data — com­pany names next to dol­lar amounts, show­ing hundreds of thou­sands of dol­lars paid to the union by com­pa­nies at the time these agree­ments were in place.

Next, the screen dis­play is a photo of Shorten. The nar­ra­tor asks: “Would you trust this man to go into your boss’s of­fice, shut the door and ne­go­ti­ate your wages?” Three sec­onds of si­lence fol­lows. In that si­lence the viewer will be think­ing, “Uh, no way!” Then the nar­ra­tor asks the fi­nal ques­tion that breaks the si­lence and closes the ad: “Well, then why would you trust him to run Aus­tralia?”

Within gov­ern­ment ranks, the Em­ploy­ment Min­is­ter is do­ing a great deal to dam­age Shorten.

Michaelia Cash and her team con­tinue to cast La­bor as the party of dodgy deals with big busi­ness and sec­tional in­ter­ests. This is the truth, as well as an elec­tion­win­ning for­mula. It is a shame that more mileage isn’t made out of the min­is­ter’s achieve­ments to date.

Cash’s re­forms pro­tect the in­ter­ests of or­di­nary peo­ple and re­veal the hypocrisy of La­bor. The party is a sub­sidiary busi­ness of the wider labour move­ment and un­for­tu­nately cap­tive to its cor­rupt sec­tions.

Cash has dis­man­tled long­stand­ing un­eth­i­cal ar­range­ments be­tween busi­nesses and unions.

Achieve­ments to date in­clude leg­is­la­tion to out­law cor­rupt­ing ben­e­fits, to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble work­ers from un­scrupu­lous em­ploy­ers and to im­prove union gover­nance, and a build­ing code to pre­vent car­tel-like deals be­tween big builders and unions. Still, there is more on the way. Another bill be­fore par­lia­ment will al­low crooked union of­fi­cials to be re­moved from their po­si­tions.

Fur­ther leg­is­la­tion just an­nounced will clean up hid­den in­come streams from un­reg­u­lated funds, which are sup­posed to pro­vide for worker en­ti­tle­ments but in­stead are skimmed by em­ployer groups and unions in cosy back­room ar­range­ments.

In re­sponse to the min­is­ter’s agenda, sev­eral union lead­ers have prac­ti­cally taken up resi-

‘This fear-andsmear cam­paign on any­thing other than the code, as I un­der­stand it, is de­signed to dam­age and de­stroy’

dence in Par­lia­ment House. When­ever par­lia­ment sits, day and night, these peo­ple can be seen walk­ing the halls, hang­ing out in the cafe and knock­ing on doors in the Se­nate wing.

The unions need 38 votes in the Se­nate to block leg­is­la­tion — they bank on 26 from La­bor, nine from the Greens and al­ways Jac­qui Lam­bie, who is on record as hav­ing re­ceived union fund­ing.

The strat­egy the unions use to in­flu­ence other se­na­tors is as fol­lows: • Stage 1: charm them with a “re­la­tion­ship”. Have meet­ings, is­sue in­vi­ta­tions to din­ners, con­fer­ences and events. • Stage 2: buy them. Of­fer do­na­tions or cam­paign sup­port. • Stage 3: threaten to cam­paign against them in their elec­torates, robo­call their vot­ing base, put up bill­boards and take out news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ments. • Stage 4: de­stroy them.

On Au­gust 9, dur­ing a mo­tion to dis­al­low the build­ing code in the Se­nate, here is what Nick Xenophon said: “Even though the CFMEU has pre­vi­ously un­leashed a mas­sive ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign against me, fea­tur­ing gross mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions, out­right lies and a post-truth cam­paign par ex­cel­lence — the bill­boards and the full-page ads said that I didn’t care about safety or about jobs — I have con­tin­ued to talk to them.

“I’ve been told that af­ter to­day in ef­fect Ar­maged­don will be un­leashed against me and that there will be a mas­sive cam­paign, the likes of which I have never seen.

“This fear-and-smear cam­paign on any­thing other than the code, as I un­der­stand it, is de­signed to dam­age and de­stroy, based on lies, dis­tor­tions and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions, but I sug­gest it is counter-pro­duc­tive.”

Xenophon is a very fairminded per­son, not in­clined to ide­ol­ogy. His words in­di­cate a turn­ing point in our pol­i­tics and the Coali­tion should take note.

Cash’s achieve­ments are highly sig­nif­i­cant and could be pro­moted more to lift the gov­ern­ment’s stand­ing.

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