The future of the federal industrial relations system may well hang on the outcome of the South Australian election in March.
The new and radical federal WorkChoices industrial relations legislation will not be bedded down until after the next federal election, because of the effects of transitional arrangements and continuing agreements. By 2008 its full effects will start to be felt.
That legislation can only be torn up by Kim Beazley if two things happen. First that he wins in 2007, before the new system is so entrenched that it is difficult to alter; second that he not only wins government in 2007, but that the Coalition loses control of the Senate.
To win in the House of Representatives, Labor has to take seats off the Liberal and National parties. That is possible. What is not possible is for Labor to win enough seats in the Senate to take control from the Coalition.
Only a large cross-bench vote can result in the loss of Coalition control of the Senate.
Only left and centre parties will be interested in tearing up the new industrial relations Act, but only centre parties can harvest enough swinging moderate liberal voters to win back the Senate. Moderate Liberal and National voters who might vote for the cross-benches in the Senate seem unlikely to vote for a party of the Left. That rules out the Greens.
Even if Green Senate seats grow in number, for the Coalition to lose control of the Senate, Labor and the Democrats have to take seats off the Liberal and National parties.
The bottom line therefore is this: if the Democrats don’t win enough Senate seats, the IR legislation cannot be torn up and rewritten.
South Australia was always the strongest Democrats state. In SA many voters voted Liberal in the House of Representatives and Democrats in the Senate.
After the GST deal in 1999 the Democrats still won four Senate seats in 2001. What did them in politically was not the GST but internal conflict fought on the public stage. These issues were the subject of intense media interest.
The attendant circumstances of that conflict and subsequent matters resulted in the decimation of the Democrats and therefore the cross-benches in the Senate, and the loss of control of the Senate to the Coalition government in 2005. Quite something to have achieved, but not something to be proud of.
The Democrats’ Future Directions review was probably the most in depth assessment of the party in its history. It was made absolutely clear by the external observers consulted that the party were goners unless infighting and going “for the man” ceased.
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