More Assessments Of Shorten’s RC Performance; Opportunities for Abbott

Assessments of Shorten’s performance at the Royal Commission continue and, in response to a request from AFR, mine is published there today as an OpEd (see below).

Examples of additional assessments/reactions are attached  and  most  of these seem along broadly similar lines to mine viz when he was head of AWU Shorten entered dubious deals but does not appear to have committed a  criminal offence or been “corrupt” (although what is and what is not corrupt is open to widely differing interpretations). In his article today and on TV yesterday, Bolt adopts an almost corrupt portrayal and suggests that attacks on the RC could be “a crime punishable by jail”.

But almost all commentators have missed the key point which has emerged from RC questioning not only of Shorten but of other union leaders and which I attempt to make in my article. This is that the various “deals” made between unions and businesses reflect a regulatory system which is dysfunctional and which prevents the operation of a competitive labour market.

Some argue that such deals should be made illegal. But could a no-deals regulatory arrangement administered by the Fair Work Commission  effect any improvement in the labour market? I think not. What is needed is to abandon the (supposed) Fair Work arrangements and start again on the basis that in modern societies there is no intrinsic imbalance of bargaining power between employers and employees. There should still be regulations but they should be based on the right of individuals and bodies which are not unions to negotiate with businesses. Unions would still have the right to operate but their existing quasi-monopoly powers would disappear in a competitive situation.

In an article in Weekend Australian its foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, also misses the arguments for major reform made by The Australian itself and the Fairfax press. He praises some unionists (for one of whom he worked in earlier times) for seeking jobs for their members and being “moderates”. But this is currently occurring in an environment where a quasi-monopoly situation exists to the benefit of union leaders, both financially and politically. There is no reason why those (somewhat questionable) “moderates” cannot operate in competition against others and still help get jobs for their members.       

Where to Now

Today’s AFR front page lead suggests Abbott is thinking of creating a double dissolution test by re-submitting to Parliament when it resumes legislation previously rejected on the present governance arrangements which put unions on a similar basis to businesses and which restore powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission  removed under Labor. Whether or not Abbott pursues a double dissolution, such a strategy would constitute a major test for Labor (and the independents) in Parliament against the background of Shorten’s poor performance at the RC.

But Abbott should not miss the opportunity to publicise more widely the basic reasons for systemic reform. Note here that the Fairfax press seems to support that (see editorial from the Sunday Age). Another initiative might be to arrange for the Productivity Commission  to bring forward its report and to appoint another minister to assist Abetz. The time is ripe to start explaining to the wider community why major changes are needed to the benefit of almost all.

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