The Great Pretender

Sunday Telegraph, 28/02/2010

Remember Weekend at Bernie’s? That wacky 80’s movie where two blokes drag around a dead guy, pretending he is alive. Bernie goes to parties, plays monopoly and rides in a boat. The charade works and everyone falls for it.

Tony Abbott is also dragging something around – but it’s alive and he is pretending its dead.

You know what I am talking about. Two weeks ago Tony Abbott was caught out. At a private function in Brisbane he told a group of business people that if he was elected Prime Minister he would bring back the worst parts of WorkChoices. Lucky someone had a tape recorder there.

Tony Abbott told them he would bring back AWAs. These were the contracts that saw women, on average, earn $87.40 less a week.

He said he would get rid of unfair dismissal laws for companies with less than 20 workers. This will affect about two million Australians. If you work for a company with less than 20 people this means you could be sacked for no good reason and there is nothing you can do about it – even if you have been working at the same place for 10 or 20 years.

Tony Abbott has also said he will get rid of weekend penalty rates. I know how important penalty rates are. I worked at Sizzler for five years waiting tables and washing dishes. I worked a lot of Saturday nights and Sundays. Penalty rates helped get me through university.

If you work in a café on the weekend losing your penalty rates could cost you more than a $1,000 a year. If you’re a nurse who works nights or weekends it could cost you a lot more than that.

At his first press conference as Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott said “the phrase WorkChoices is dead”. That’s good news for oxymoron haters, but it wasn’t the phrase that was the problem. It was what it did.

I met a woman in Bankstown called Mary a while back. She packages food for a living. She told me before WorkChoices she earned $16 an hour. After WorkChoices she only earned $11 an hour. This is what WorkChoices did, and it happened all around Australia. Giving it a new name won’t make it any better.

The Liberals great love affair with WorkChoices is like Tony Abbott and his budgy smugglers – you just can’t keep them apart. What I can’t understand is why he wants to bring WorkChoices back. Bringing back WorkChoices would be about as popular as bringing back the plague.

More importantly it didn’t work. WorkChoices didn’t increase productivity or economic growth. The last 12 months have also shown you don’t need unfair laws to keep unemployment low. The US labour market is a lot more deregulated than it is here and their unemployment rate is almost double ours.

From here until the election, expect Tony Abbott to try to scare everyone about the cost of tackling climate change. But I’ll tell you what is really scary – having your salary fall by $4,680.

That’s what happened under WorkChoices. More than a million workers had their real wages fall by up to $90 a week – $4,680 a year. And that’s what Tony Abbott wants to bring back.

Is that a risk you really want to take?