Not even Greg Combet could explain away figures released earlier this month that showed yet another sharp drop in union membership. Faced with the fact that only 15 per cent of private-sector employees belonged to a union, the ACTU boss tried to blame the present workplace relations system for the decline. Combet's argument fell flat for two obvious reasons.
First, union bosses had predicted the very same workplace relations reform would yield a bumper crop of new members. Second, and most significantly, union membership has been steadily slipping for the past 30 years.
Combet's spin highlights one of the chief ironies of Kevin Rudd's Labor. While union bosses represent a minority of Australians, their power and influence over the Labor Party is as strong as ever.
Consider the guest list for the weekend's ALP National Conference. More than half the 400 delegates are present or former paid union officials, while 70 per cent of Rudd's frontbench are former union officials.
The cost of not representing the entire community is bad policy. And this is what Rudd is producing in bucketloads.
We have already seen Labor promise to reintroduce the job-destroying unfair dismissal laws for small business. Then we are told Labor will combine every aspect of workplace regulation and enforcement into one centralised government agency, Fair Work Australia.
During the ABC's Lateline on Friday, Julia Gillard made the extraordinary admission that Combet - but not her shadow cabinet - had vetted FWA before it was announced late on Anzac Day. so it's not hard to work out who would control an agency that would act as the workplace policeman, lawmaker, judge, jury and executioner.
Gillard had described FWA as a one-stop shop - a flawed claim that was soon exposed when several legal experts said it would breach the doctrine of separation of powers. Gillard has now backed down on this issue. Buried in the workplace relations policy paper released on Saturday is the admission Labor would create a "separate, independent" body "whenever decisions involve the exercise of judicial power".
This is about the only concession to due process that can be found in Labor's policy, which represents an unprecedented step backwards for workplace relations, economic reform and job creation in this country.
Dressed up as "flexibility", it reeks of old Labor ideology. More regulation and red tape - not less - is Rudd's predictable answer to every challenge working families and employers face in a modern society.
By re-establishing the centralised award system, Labor would limit the ability of employees and employers to negotiate flexible agreements. This centralised system is also the base on which union bosses would wield the power and influence that Labor's policy allows.
Under Labor, "no ticket, no start" is back. There would be no restrictions on union content in agreements, meaning Sharan Burrow could demand that only union members be employed at a business or impose bargaining fees on employees whether they like it or not.
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