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Politicians not standing alone in election di -

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Politicians not standing alone in election divide

Broadcast: 13/06/2007

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

With the Government's seizure of a leaked election strategy manual from the Australian Council of
Trade Unions (ACTU) today, it seems politicians are sharing the election battleground with unions
and big business.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN: WorkChoices has predictably become one of the main political fault lines of our
time, and it's not just politicians standing on opposite sides of the divide. Unions and big
business are also fighting to influence the political debate and the election outcome.

The Government today seized on a leaked strategy manual from the ACTU [Australian Council of Trade
Unions] that detailed a campaign to convince undecided union members in marginal seats to vote
against the Government. But the leaks are coming thick and fast, and they're coming from both
sides.

The 7:30 Report has obtained boardroom papers from the Australian Constructors Association,
representing employers of about 50,000 workers in the construction industry, that details a
strategy to "coerce" Labor Party leaders Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard to water down their
opposition to WorkChoices.

The strategy says the ACA should threaten to unleash a politically damaging campaign if Labor does
not agree to its demands. Political Editor Michael Brissenden reports.

SHARAN BURROW, ACTU PRESIDENT: It's got a secret plan to force more people, two million people on
AWAs [Australian Workplace Agreements] that take away their rights.

DR ANDREW SOUTHCOTT, LIBERAL BACKBENCHER: This is an example of how desperate the union movement
are to get back involved in running the country, in running the economy and in running the
workplace.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It was always going to be one of the big policy battlegrounds of the coming
election. In fact, it has been for months already. But as we get even closer, the campaigns are
becoming more targeted, more sophisticated and subtle as a meat axe.

JULIA GILLARD, OPPOSITION INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS SPOKESWOMAN: Smashing state industrial relations
systems and forcing workers like nurses, teachers, and firefighters under Mr Howard's extreme laws.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER: He is the front man that is being put up by people who are much more
aggressive and much more threatening than him because they want a patsy in the Lodge to run their
agenda.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: In this fight, everyone is looking for advantage; anything that can be used to
boost an argument is being seized upon. The boardrooms of industry, the political tactics meetings
and the cold corners of every union hall in the country are feverish with tacticians poring over
plans, strategies and advertising storyboards.

ADVERTISEMENT: Authorised Greg Combet, ACTU Melbourne.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The unions are spending big. Business has ad plans too. The unions are
formulating political strategies, and perhaps its no surprise business interests have strategies of
their own as well. More of that in a moment.

The election itself is still months off, but the secret strategies are leaking in a big way. Today,
the government pounced on the ACTU's federal election 2007 union political strategy manual. Of
course, the Government has a different title for it.

PETER COSTELLO: The real description of this is this is the dirty tricks manual, Mr Speaker.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The ACTU manual is certainly comprehensive. It details a strategy to lobby
union members in marginal seats directly - to cold call those identified as likely swinging voters,
and to convince them of the need to vote against the Government.

ACTU MANUAL (voiceover): The aim is to have this key group of voters know, better than any group in
the community, the facts about the IR laws, and the potential impact on their rights at work, their
children and grandchildren, and ultimately on Australia.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Hardly surprising really. The unions were always going to campaign in the
marginals. What's new is the detail. The union campaign will ensure members are enrolled to vote.
Undecided voters will be contacted at first by phone and then if necessary in their homes during
the election period. The document says the campaigning should also be conducted in workplaces and
through community, sporting and faith groups - proposals that provided no end of sport for the
Government on the front bench.

PETER COSTELLO: I would warn Australians of this - the next time you hear your doorbell ring on a
Saturday morning, don't answer the door, because it could well be Elder Dean Mighell of the Church
of Latter-Day Unionists, whose come around to knock on your door, to tell you about your rights.

SHARAN BURROW: We're just ringing our members. This is not very sophisticated at all, we are
ringing our members. Of course we know who our members are, we're talking to them. If they want us
to call back with more information, then we're clearly doing that. And their volunteering in droves
to be part of the conversation that's going on in their communities. We want a future where people
have rights at work, it's that simple.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But this is a political strategy, not just an information campaign. And
accordingly, the Prime Minister says there is some information the unions seem happy to leave out.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: After having misrepresented everything about our policy, it then goes
on to say don't read out minimum wage, four weeks annual leave, 10 days sick and carer's leave, 38
hour week and unpaid parental leave. In other words, what this manual does is to exhort the union
canvassers to lie about the Government's policy Mr Speaker.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: All of this feeds into the wider narrative the Government wants voters to take
in. The message that a Labor victory will bring back the ugly face of trade union thuggery.

MALE: Tell them to (bleep) off.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the Opposition leader is paddling as hard as can in the other direction.
Just a week ago he moved against the outspoken ETU (Electrical Trades Union) Secretary, Dean
Mighell with a symbolic sacking from the Labor Party. And Kevin Rudd says the wide union campaigns
are the unions' business.

KEVIN RUDD, OPPOSITION LEADER: That's the unions, that's a matter for their own campaigning.

REPORTER: So, you weren't consulted about any of that?

KEVIN RUDD: Personally, not that I am aware of, but in terms of the handbook that you are talking
about, certainly I'm aware that the unions are out there campaigning as I'm aware that the business
community is out there campaigning. As I said, in a normal healthy democracy you're going to have
business, big business out there arguing its point of view, unions arguing their point of view, the
community sector putting their point of view.

All using their own resources, except one. Mr Howard putting his hand into the pocket of taxpayers
and pulling out hundreds of millions of dollars to fund Party political ads. That's the cancer in
our democracy right now.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: More Government ads are certainly on the way. So, too are ads supporting the
WorkChoices changes from various big business groups. But business is also hoping to change Labor
policy before it gets to a vote, and they seem prepared to go in hard if required. The 7.30 Report
has obtained a briefing paper from the board room of the Australian Constructors Association. It is
a strategy proposal to influence Labor IR policy and maintain what they identify as the five key
pillars that have underpinned the reform of the construction industry.

The board meeting on the 4th of May resolved that Jim Barrett and Stephen Smith - in consultation
with Heather Ridout from the industry umbrella organisation the Australian Industry Group - would
develop a draft strategy for consideration, that would articulate the risks to the industry if the
Opposition's policies were introduced and the Government's industry reforms and WorkChoices
initiatives were abandoned or wound back. The ACA, it says, has determined that any IR system must
meet 10 objectives. They include:

ACA BRIEFING PAPER (voiceover): Six, to outlaw the misuse of OHS [Occupational Health and Safety]
as an industrial weapon against employers. 10, to outlaw coercion.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the ACA board has also engaged the services of Toby Ralph, a pollster and
campaign strategist with long time connections to the Liberal Party. Mr Ralph worked with Liberal
Party pollster Mark Texter in Darwin in the early 1990s, and has been engaged by the Liberal Party
on and off since that time. The ACA board briefing says:

ACA BRIEFING PAPER (voiceover): Toby Ralph's strategy is focused on the tactic of coercing Mr Rudd
and Ms Gillard to secure ACA's desired outcomes, while threatening to unleash a politically
damaging campaign if they do not agree to ACA's demands.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And Mr Ralph says the ACA should:

ACA BRIEFING PAPER (voiceover): Demonstrate unequivocally to Rudd and Gillard that the construction
industry will mount a politically damaging campaign if policy settings are not changed.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The briefing paper also says that direct contact with the Opposition has
achieved some results. It's recommended that the association does not proceed with the more
aggressive communications program proposed by Toby Ralph at this time. Heather Ridout from the
Australian industry group issued a statement this afternoon in response to the leaked documents.
She said the Toby Ralph proposal was firmly rejected.

HEATHER RIDOUT, AUSTRALIAN INDUSTRY GROUP (voiceover): Constructive discussions with the ALP
leadership resulted in significant concessions in terms of their position on the future of the
Australian Building and Construction Commission, and this has been welcomed by the industry. AI
Group will continue to argue long and hard for a sensible and fair workplace relations framework
for Australia, which supports the competitiveness of our industries, and we won't resile from that
argument. However, we are an apolitical organisation, and we have made it clear that we have no
intention of being involved in a paid advertising campaign.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the Construction Association documents make it clear that the construction
industry body still has a targeted campaign on the table as a last resort.

ACA BRIEFING PAPER (voiceover): If we reach the stage where we can make no further progress on
these issues, the association can then look at a more targeted campaign for the period July to
September.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Jim Barrett from Constructors Association has so far not returned our calls,
but no doubt his is not the only business group contemplating how they can influence the political
debate on WorkChoices. We know there will be an ad campaign from some, and don't be surprised if
the ACTU isn't the only group using the telephone as part of their broader communications
strategies.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political Editor Michael Brissenden.