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Industrial relations in the spotlight -

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Industrial relations in the spotlight

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN: And the Government, today, sought to return the traditional battleground of
industrial relations to this campaign, but with a twist that's become a common theme.

The Prime Minister says Labor's IR policy is a danger to interest rates and he insists that the
flexibility afforded by the industrial relations reforms under his watch have been the major
contributor to economic growth.

Opposition Leader Mr Latham says those same policies have produced a dog-eat-dog industrial
landscape.

But while the Government's IR policy seems clear cut, the Prime Minister was forced to clarify the
considerable confusion that has swamped his childcare policy.

Political editor Michael Brissenden.

ELECTIONS PRESS REPORTER #1: Can we look at the policy?

ELECTIONS PRESS REPORTER #2: Can we read it while we're waiting?

ELECTIONS PRESS REPORTER #3: Can we look at it so we know what we're talking about?

MICHAEL BRISSENDON: Election campaigns are, by nature, a policy frenzy, but these days the details
don't get much of a public airing before the press conference starts.

In this case - a government industrial relations policy focusing on flexible and productivity in
the work place.

You do have to wonder what all the secrecy was about?

KEVIN ANDREWS, INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS MINISTER The Coalition, if re-elected, will be introducing new
legislation to protect some one million Australians who are independent contractors.

Secondly, we will be introducing a new low-cost system of mediation for small business.

MICHAEL BRISSENDON: No surprises there.

The policy also includes plans for a new network of occupational health and safety advisors for
small business and $12 million set aside to streamline the processing of AWAs, or Australian
Workplace Agreements.

This is aimed squarely at small business - businesses like this removal company in Brisbane.

All but three of its workers are on individual AWAs, and both the managers and the workers here
seem happy enough with the end result.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER (TO MALE WORKER AT REMOVAL COMPANY): What was the biggest difference
you found?

MALE WORKER (TO JOHN HOWARD): Well, like, we didn't have to work as many hours to sort of roughly
get the same money.

So, went from doing what 60 to 70 hours a week to 50 hours a week.

You know, that was a big bonus.

MICHAEL BRISSENDON: Of all the points of difference between the Government and the Opposition,
industrial relations is probably the most stark.

The Government argues that the flexibility provided by AWAs in particular has produced increased
productivity and formed the backbone of economic growth.

JOHN HOWARD: A further emphasis on the role of small business is a reaffirmation of the new order
of the new world, if you like, of industrial relations in this country.

MICHAEL BRISSENDON: The unions say AWAs are only providing one way flexibility.

GREG COMBET, ACTU SECRETARY: They provide flexibility only for the employer, not the employee.

And the employer with one of these things can cut people's pay and employment conditions and
destroy their job security.

MICHAEL BRISSENDON: Labor says it will scrap AWAs but it will continue to allow individual
bargaining through common law contracts.

Labor will also give more support for collective bargaining and boost the role of the Industrial
Relations Commission.

MARK LATHAM, OPPOSITION LEADER: It's about enterprise bargaining.

It's about cooperation.

I mean, the average small business person I talk to says, "Look, Do we want a dog-eat-dog
industrial relations environment?

I've got a small staff entitlement, do I need to go to war with them under Mr Howard's model or can
I work with people?"

MICHAEL BRISSENDON: But these days industrial relations is rarely talked about by the Prime
Minister without a direct reference to interest rates?

This is the dominant the dominant thematic star of his campaign and the one around which all other
policies orbit.

JOHN HOWARD: Labor's industrial relations policy will take productivity out of wage fixing.

That will produce inflationary wage rises and that, in turn, will inevitably provoke the Reserve
Bank into lifting interest rates in order to control inflation.

MICHAEL BRISSENDON: And Labor's response is now repeated just as often - it's the Government's
reckless spending, it says, that will put the most pressure on interest rate.

And round and round it goes.

But interest rates aside, almost the entire political argument today was dominated by work-related
issues of one sort or another.

NEW MOTHER (TO MARK LATHAM): I work as well.

MARK LATHAM (TO NEW MOTHER): Oh, do you?

NEW MOTHER (TO MARK LATHAM): Yeah, so, I can't wait to get back to work.

That's my main priority at the moment.

MICHAEL BRISSENDON: Industrial relations might be complex, but the offerings from each side about
child care are becoming an even bigger maze, or perhaps a sandpit auction is a bit better metaphor
here.

Labor is offering one free day of child care a week and 14,500 extra childcare places.

The Government is offering a 30 per cent rebate for all registered child care.

Or is it?

MARK LATHAM: They need to clarify whether the nannies are in or out.

They're in on Sunday, they're sort of half in and half out today.

It's a sign of real chaos and total confusion in the Coalition's childcare plan.

MICHAEL BRISSENDON: Announcing the policy yesterday, the Prime Minister stated that, providing it
was registered child care and provided the person claiming the tax benefit was in receipt of some
childcare benefit, then the tax free rebate was available.

So what is registered care?

Well, according to the Family Assistance Office: "Registered care is care for work-related purposes
that is provided by grandparents, relatives, friends or nannies who are registered with the Family
Assistance Office."

JOHN HOWARD (TO PRESS ELECTION REPORTERS): I don't think there was any confusion.

PRESS ELECTION REPORTER #4: Larry Anthony told Steve Price's program that nannies would be
applicable under the childcare arrangements.

JOHN HOWARD: Well, they're not.

PRESS ELECTION REPORTER #4: He said that yesterday.

So how is there no confusion?

He's the Family and Community Services Minister.

JOHN HOWARD: I didn't hear his comments.

They're not included.

PRESS ELECTION REPORTER #5: Well, his office told us that in the morning, they changed their minds
at lunchtime and then they changed their minds again at 3:30pm.

So, I mean, is this policy on the run?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, there's never been any confusion in my mind.

PRESS ELECTION REPORTER #5: He's your Minister.

JOHN HOWARD: Yeah, well, there's never been any confusion in my mind about it.

PRESS ELECTION REPORTER #4: MICHAEL BRISSENDON: So no doubt there then.

Well not anymore, anyway.

And there's also no doubt what some of the leading religious figures in the country feel about
Labor's schools policy.

Today, the Catholic and Anglican Archbishops of Sydney and Melbourne put out a joint statement that
said Labor's plan lacked clarity and was potentially divisive, even though the National Catholic
Education Commission welcomed Labor's policy when it was released, and says its position hasn't
changed.

But then, that may say more about the politics of the Catholic Church than the politics on the hill
- but, no, we don't be going there.

Religious politics - that's one ideological battle that really does put party political arguments
in the shade.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Michael Brissenden.

(c) 2006 ABC