#speech" id="speech">Liberal Party Workplace Relations
Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (1.38 pm)-There is a long and disturbing story in Australian public life, a tale with its origins in a political and economic framework that ignores longstanding Australian values of fairness and opportunity. It is a tale that has unfolded more rapidly since the 2004 election, and the most recent chapter in this story is now before us.
The 2004 federal election saw the Prime Minister's party gain control of this chamber. That was the same election when the Prime Minister promised Australian families that he would keep interest rates at record lows but made no mention of an extreme agenda of stripping away the take-home pay and conditions of hardworking Australians. But, once Mr Howard had control of the parliament after the 2004 election, he used that control to force through the unfair industrial relations laws that later became known as Work Choices. With those laws, the Howard government also introduced two extraordinary programs of promotion: the promotion of these unfair laws and the promotion of the Howard government's re-election hopes.
The first Work Choices advertising program, the one that ran at the time of the introduction of the Work Choices laws, was a monolithic $55 million promotion exercise. It was impossible to turn on a television without seeing the Work Choices ads, and they were brought to the TV screen by the Liberal Party's own ad man, Ted Horton. But their spending program did not end there. In early January 2006, employer organisations were slamming the advertising campaign. The then Chief Executive of Australian Business Ltd, Mr Mark Bethwaite, said:
TV advertisements have not worked ... What we need is practical, solution focused materials which allow employersto apply Work Choices to their workplace.
Within days, in late January 2006, the then Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations announced:
The WorkChoices Employer Advisor Programme (EAP) is only one element of a wider information and education campaign that will ensure all workers, their families and employers are aware of the changes and receive information about how WorkChoices may affect them.
He went on to say:
The aim of the EAP is to ensure that there are advisors around Australia, including rural and regional areas, able to educate and assist employers to implement the reforms on an industry basis.
The two initial stages of the Employer Advisor Program were provided with funding of more than $20 million throughout the 2006 calendar year. A subsequent fund of $20 million has been provided for a further round of the EAP in the 2007 calendar year.
Then we came to another chapter in the Howard government's shameless self-promotion rort. That chapter started in April, when the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications approved the Open Mind Research Group to undertake workplace relations research. These reports were received in late April and have formed the strategy of the government's repositioning in industrial relations over the past four months. Thanks to leaked research detailed in the Australian, we know this research drove the dropping of the title 'Work Choices' from the government's lexicon, the renaming of its IR institutions, the establishment of the so-called 'fairness test' and the use of an 'appropriate figurehead' of the Workplace Authority in advertising.
It also lead to a new blitz of advertising - advertising that started before the full drafting instructions for the legislation had been sent to Parliamentary Counsel. And the cost for this round of advertising is $23 million, and still counting. At that time, a detailed research report by Crosby Textor was leaked to the media. In that research report, the Liberal Party's campaign directors noted:
The arrival of Kevin Rudd into the Labor leadership has also given voters renewed confidence ...to express their reservations about WorkChoices; and especially in the absence of counter claims or information to the anti-IR messages being disseminated by the unions.
But in June, when the Liberal apparatchiks down at Crosby Textor were preparing this report, they were also preparing a second research report for the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry pro-Work Choices campaign. In their research report for the business campaign, they proposed advertising that would be 'a counterpoint to the one-sided ads of the unions' as well as being 'immediate countering of Labor's and the unions' scare campaign'. Sounds familiar? Well, just yesterday, The Age newspaper detailed the fact that VECCI president Richard Holyman wrote to his board supporting the business campaign. The article read:
Holyman tried to convince fellow board members to support the advertisements. He linked the call for a donation to the fact that the Government had given grants to VECCI under the Employer Assistance Program to run Work Choices seminars.
[Holyman wrote] "It is apparent that the key contributors are not wanting a blatant political campaign, but believe that so much effort went into supporting the Work Choices package, we have to help defend it now ... we have had in excess of $600K in grants to help implement Work Choices."
This brings us to the most recent chapter in this story. This chapter concerns the advertising being undertaken by the self-styled Business Coalition for Workplace Reform. This is the group of employer organisations, led by the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, supporting a campaign of television advertising. It is important to acknowledge that only one part of the business community supports this campaign. In fact, many employers and employer organisations do not support this campaign. Many employers and employer organisations present their views in a more mature and appropriate manner. But the Business Coalition for Workplace Reform have a different agenda. They are not running advertisements advocating a specific policy position or providing important information. They are political ads. They use the partisan and pre-election messages, imageries and strategies of the Liberal Party. These organisations have received millions of dollars to promote Work Choices, and now the government calls on them to cough up money for advertising.
We now have media reports of a link between the Employer Advisor Program and the business advertising campaign. We have the role of Crosby Textor - the firm of the Liberal Party and Mr Howard's personal pollster, Mark Textor, and former Liberal Party Federal Director Lynton Crosby. They are the election strategists for the Liberal-National coalition and the advertising campaign strategists for the business coalition, and they advocate the same communication and electoral strategy for both of their clients. This is on top of a $120 million - that is $120 million, and counting - Work Choices campaign by the government, spending the tax dollars of hard-working Australian families.
This is a deeply disturbing development. It is disturbing that the BCA and ACCI have chosen to behave in this way. It is disturbing to suspect that the membership of the BCA and ACCI does not have the full story of what is being done in the name of these organisations. It is disturbing that all three campaigns - the campaigns of the government, of the Liberal Party and of the business coalition - look like they are actually just one campaign. And it is deeply disturbing that this political, partisan advertising campaign is designed to promote and argue for laws that hurt working Australians and their families.
This is just one more example of the Howard government's shameless exploitation of taxpayer funds and resources in a desperate attempt to cling on to office; one more example of shameless rorting by the Howard government; one more aspect of a taxpayer-funded reelection advertising splurge that, between the last election and the upcoming election, will come to between $800 million and $1 billion on advertising alone. Unsurprisingly, Mr Howard will not reveal just how much he will reach into the wallets and pockets and purses of taxpayers - of ordinary working Australians - to fund his re-election epic campaign. That is because after 11 years in office, I think Mr Howard actually believes that taxpayers' money is his own. It has been 11 long years of arrogance and incompetence from the Howard government, and I say again that it is time - it is long past time - that it is brought to an end.