Scott Morrison’s insane plan to take money from workers’ pockets

This week Scott Morrison has proposed “jaw dropping” new laws that will leave you with less money in your pocket – and possibly himself out of a job.

In 2005 John Howard was a political man of steel. Having come to power in 1996, he had scraped to victory on a minority vote in 1998 despite promising a GST he once swore he’d never introduce.

He then slumped again under fire over petrol tax only to stage a staggering comeback in the wake of the Tampa in 2001 and despite the meteoric surge of popularity of Mark Latham he turned weakness into strength and thumped the rogue Labor leader at the ballot box in 2004 after a certain handshake convinced the public that Latham was a bit of a thumper himself.

Not only did Howard win government in a landslide, he was also given the rare gift of a majority in the Senate. It proved to be a Pandora’s box.

With four election wins under his belt, both houses of parliament in his power, and his legacy seemingly assured as the greatest Liberal leader since Menzies himself, Howard reached for forbidden fruit.

Two years later he lost his prime ministership, his government and his seat.

The name of that poisoned apple was WorkChoices and it is a policy that haunts Liberal MPs to this day, so much so that Tony Abbott later swore that it was “dead, buried and cremated” – as though he feared it might rise from the dead if even a corpse was left behind.

It now seems that Abbott’s superstitions were well founded. A phoenix is rising from the ashes of WorkChoices and it is one angry bird.

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Scott Morrison’s IR laws will leave many workers with less money in their pockets. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty Images

Scott Morrison’s IR laws will leave many workers with less money in their pockets.

I was front and centre throughout the WorkChoices saga as both a witness and a player. I was the workplace reporter for The Daily Telegraph – Howard’s favourite newspaper before it too turned against him in the end – and I reported on, opined about and exposed almost every aspect of its impact.

The more I saw, the more I heard and the more I learned the more convinced I was that this was an incredibly dangerous, damaging and toxic set of laws that tore apart the working conditions that Australians had come to take for granted and threatened to tear apart the social fabric of Australia itself.

Basic protections ranging from unfair dismissal to liveable minimum wages were effectively struck out with the stroke of a pen. Australian traditions both secular and spiritual – from weekend barbecues to church on Sunday – were treated as no more special than a weekday coffee.

One business infamously eliminated penalty rates for its workers on Anzac Day and yet still charged its customers a surcharge. Others sacked their employees en masse and attempted to rehire them on lower wages. It was a dog of a policy.

At the centre of it all was the No Disadvantage Test – a guarantee that workers could not be left worse off if they transitioned to another type of agreement.

The WorkChoices legislation cut that protection and in doing so cut off the government’s life support system. The Coalition was dead in the water from that point forward and rightly so. How dare any government – let alone a Liberal one that claims to defend private property and support lifters over leaners – reach into the back pocket of workers and take their hard-earned money away.

It is therefore jaw-droppingly, face-slappingly and spine-chillingly staggering to conceive that the Morrison government would even consider revisiting that catastrophic government-killing idea.

And yet, here we are.

The new legislation allowing the Fair Work Commission to abandon the Better Off Overall Test – which is the No Disadvantage Test’s resurrected incarnation – is nothing short of insane. It is insane for the workers who will have less money to survive, insane for the economy which will have less money injected back into it, and insane for the government which has just signed its own suicide note if it doesn’t reverse it.

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Workers could soon be left with less in their back pockets. Picture: istock

Workers could soon be left with less in their back pockets.

Firstly, it is astonishing that it comes after a massive and highly successful government program that has generated an economic miracle in Australia by pursuing precisely the opposite approach – namely putting more money in the hands of vulnerable workers and welfare recipients who have promptly ploughed it back into other businesses because they have no choice in order to survive.

But even more astonishing is that it is part of a package that also contains some fantastic reforms that workers of all persuasions should welcome, such as tougher penalties for wage theft and a batter pathway for casual workers to become permanent – something critical for financial security and home ownership, both foundation stones for a happy society.

The government deserves big ticks for both of these things but it will get nothing but brickbats if workers fear they could be left worse off at a time when many are already worse off than ever.

The only majority Labor government elected in the last two and a half decades won in a landslide precisely because of this mistake. It is a foolish man who makes political predictions in this day and age but I have no hesitation in saying this: If the Morrison government doesn’t ditch this poison pill and ditch it quickly it will lose the next election and the entire federal cabinet will lose their jobs.

That is my workplace guarantee.

Joe Hildebrand is the summer host of Afternoons on 2GB and 4BC.

 






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