REVEALED: Abbott opposed WorkChoices in the Howard Cabinet

abboopposed Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, just one policy that will not be part of the next Coalition government. We will not bring back WorkChoices. WorkChoices is dead. WorkChoices is dead and any suggestion to the contrary is a lie and I want to let you know that there were two members of the Howard Cabinet that spoke against WorkChoices. One of them is sitting in the audience right now, it’s Kevin Andrews, and modesty prevents me from naming the other member of the Cabinet that spoke against it…

Last Saturday, at the Liberal Party National Conference, Tony Abbott, broke the heart of the HR Nicholls Society and would have disappointed John Howard.

Abbott did not just re-announce WorkChoices’ death; he wanted the world to know he was never a true believer in radical labour market reform.

He took the unusual step for a senior member of any Federal Government by departing from Cabinet solidarity to reveal he had spoken against WorkChoices.

Abbott went further and outed the Minister who had carriage of Australia’s most dramatic industrial law reform, Kevin Andrews, as a WorkChoices skeptic.

Isn’t this newsworthy? The Canberra press gallery went into incredible detail about Gillard’s coup de grace on the weekend following Rudd’s removal, while understating Abbott’s own role.

Federal Liberal leader Tony Abbott is a true-blue conservative, but on economics issues he’s no dry. This past weekend, few noticed his stunning revelation that despite being heavily identified with the policy, he opposed WorkChoices in the Howard Cabinet. This says a lot about why he has proven to be such a formidable Opposition Leader…

Certainly the leadership change was a big story but there was plenty of space to report this, not just the Party’s monosyllabic twelve ‘Action Contract’ headline commitments.

In fact, there were many more column inches and broadcast moments dedicated to which outlet had what scoop rather than any analysis of Abbott’s keynote speech.

Prior to Abbott’s leadership, the Opposition was wasting the parliamentary term licking their wounds and sitting around waiting for the electoral cycle to one day turn their way once more. Six months later, with an aggressive approach, and Abbott really was on the verge of a famous victory, according to the Sussex Street polling.

Perhaps this is the high watermark of Abbott’s career. Who knows? But surely, the contest between Abbott and Gillard was just as newsworthy as the contest between Gillard and an unloved, friendless KRudd.

With Gillard foreshadowing a re-run of the anti-WorkChoices campaign of 2007 against an ‘ideological’ Opposition Leader in her first press conference as Prime Minister, this was doubly newsworthy.

VEXNEWS understands that WorkChoices went to Cabinet four times between late 2004 and mid 2005 before there was agreement.

First, let’s breakdown WorkChoices into digestible chunks:

  • Secret ballots for strikes
  • Unfair dismissal law exemptions for enterprises employing up to 100
  • Increased penalties for illegal dismissals
  • Nationalising industrial laws through the Corporations Power
  • Removing the non-disadvantage test from AWAs
  • A statutory authority, the Office of Employment Advocate, to fast-track AWA approvals
  • Legislating for a minimum wage and for the Fair Pay Commission to determine future minimum wage adjustments
  • A set of five minimum pay standards and conditions

(The Australian Building and Construction Commission was not part of the WorkChoices omnibus legislation but a stand-alone reform)

The overall stated aims of WorkChoices was to enhance demand for labour, to assist with international competitiveness and reduce structural unemployment by favouring agreement making over industrial awards and a sclerotic Industrial Relations Commission.

WorkChoices has a strong claim as an economic success story: unemployment troughed at just 3.9 per cent; wage growth increased; there was record low industrial strife and the laws assisted many Australians to stay connected to the labour market during the GFC, through flexible part time arrangements.

But many doubted WorkChoices’ politics, even if it was good economics.

Abbott was among those doubters. In Cabinet, he has now revealed that he argued against passing those bills that had been blocked by a centre-left controlled Senate. A minimalist approach reflecting the perceived Coalition’s 2007 mandate.

Andrews’ position was not a minimalist one. As a centralist, he was comfortable with centralising the IR laws but wanted to knock the edges off WorkChoices by pressing for reducing unfair dismissal exemptions to enterprises with 20 or less employees (Howard’s election promise) and maintaining the no-disadvantage test as part of the pay standards.

Howard, who was convinced Fraser missed an historic opportunity to reform workplace relations in the seventies, was WorkChoices’ first and foremost champion. Peter Costello and Nick Minchin – dry industrial warriors of the eighties and nineties – were also true believers.

In Cabinet, Costello argued against any unfair dismissal laws, no matter the size of the enterprise. Minchin later told the HR Nicholls Society that WorkChoices did not go far enough. This unhelpful intervention was fodder for Rudd and the unions as they mounted the most expensive campaign in Australia’s history.

No formal vote was ever taken on the final Cabinet submission.

Subsequent to the laws being passed, Andrews repeatedly approached Howard to reintroduce the no-disadvantage test.

Hockey won a role in promoting WorkChoices in late 2006. He was initially dismissive of Andrews’ prosecution of the case believing his avuncular style and a better tax-funded communications campaign would cut through – an argument spruiked in the PMO, by Jamie Briggs, WorkChoices’ most fanatical hawker and now the Member for Mayo.

After his promotion to Workplace Relations in early 2007, Hockey came to the same conclusion as Andrews. Howard relented and re-introduced the test in 2007 but continued to pump money into the communications campaign.

Too late: by early 2007, the ACTU’s Your Rights At Work campaign had successfully framed WorkChoices as toxic.

Abbott’s record as Workplace Relations Minister was a ‘law and order’ sheriff. The pugilist was preoccupied with pinning down the union thugs on the construction sites, not the pursuing the readical agenda of the HR Nicholls Society.

This quote from the 2002 HR Nicholls Society Conference sums up his tough-cop-on-the-beat views:

Government ministers, at worst, face parliamentary sniping and the odd demonstration. Workers and managers face commercial suicide and the real risk of physical intimidation when they seek to assert the rights and freedoms which people take for granted beyond the factory gate. They ought to know that the Government is on their side and will do everything in its power not to let them down.

Abbott likes a scrap more than he does ideology.

Reflecting his Catholic ‘neither Adam Smith, nor Karl Marx’ social teaching, Abbott also invested a lot of time in the employee share ownership scheme, but failed to convince Costello for more tax concessions for workers to own equity into their own workplaces.

Safe bets should be placed on Abbott continuing his minimalist IR approach in the 2010 election, which really will deflate the HR Nicholls Society, even if it won’t be believed by union bosses.

Tony Abbott has already demonstrated that he is no big business sycophant by proposing to add a new levy on Australia’s most profitable businesses to pay for a generous parental leave scheme.

In fact, this election will see its first Liberal leader campaigning in favour of a higher corporate tax rate than his Labor opponent.

Many in the Liberal Party are uncomfortable with this development becoming a trend; many others (particularly those who went through the 2007 election) feel the Liberals owe their fickle friends in the corporate sector and employer groups nothing at all.

In all likelihood, Labor will pursue the ‘Abbott will bring back WorkChoices’ campaign; a lie so big it will on occasion be quite difficult to answer.



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41 responses to “REVEALED: Abbott opposed WorkChoices in the Howard Cabinet

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention VEXNEWS 2010© | REVEALED: Abbott opposed WorkChoices in the Howard Cabinet --


    The voters want to vote the ALP out as they did Howard see this ultra- aggressive ALP is always for choice so long as its their choice and we are so sick and tired of it see we are re being totally dominated by only ThEIR POLL_ DRIVEN POINT OF VIEW
    cant the ALP take a look at themsleves we are being trampled upon and its because the new wave ALP lacks the maturity and brainpower of the Hawke/ Keating governments
    see all the pushy women in the Gillard mould are trying to run the show same for Shorten and Conroy see they think they know everything but they dont hey they are all only one vote too so dont forget ALP that you are there to serve and not to run riot over peoples lives!

  3. Oh the labor movement is such a joke! Conroy stooge Pauline Fegan used workchoices to sack three members of staff at the HSU. Maybe the monk is not that mad after all!

  4. Argus Tuft

    A policy by any other name is still work choices.

  5. I agree Argus Tuft, at this present time it’s caller Work Fair,. . . still it’s work choices with a tiny couple of changes.

  6. Homey Pyney

    I would have gone down on the good ship work choices, although ships are always ‘she’ so perhaps I wouldn’t. Are there any shemale ships? I’d be happy to go down on one of them. What about if I just went down on a sailor boy – now that would be nice.

  7. get real. Angus

    Fair Work is all about letting in the IR Club again and intimidating business. Didn’t Abbott originally appoint that clown, Guidice!? The same clown Gillard has heading up the AIRC or what ever it’s called.

  8. screamin mee mees

    Abbott opposed workchoices?

    And this of course was Gospel?

  9. what a load of conveniently timed flower fertilizer

    If readers believe this, then they will believe anything. Gimme a break.
    What is the next revelation about Abbott? He was a union member at one point?
    Fair dinkum, it seems that the person who thought to try and sell this story is dumber than the voters s/he is trying to sell it to.
    ADVICE FOR ASPIRING YOUNG LIBERAL WISHING TO GARANTEE MAXIMUM VOTES. How’s this for a longterm plan for a Liberal wishing to be PM.
    Join the Liberal party, but also be a union member for some years (even if you dont really support them). That way, you can later use it to show that you are an all-rounder, but balanced focused as an economic pragmatist. I think that will get the maximum votes. CYNICAL, that I am.
    That’s what this story amounts to, but at least my suggestion has some longer term substance to back the ‘consideration’ for the worker claim.
    Find me a liberal MP who has been open-minded enough to be a union member and I shall vote for you, otherwise, try these fictional stories on someone else.

  10. freedom of association

    Henry Bolte was a member of the AWU and proud of it!

  11. Anton

    “what a load of conveniently timed flower fertilizer”: Abbot was a member of the journalist union. Didn’t you know that. What a shame.

  12. Tommy Tudehope

    Tony isss nottt verryyyy haaarrddcorrrre, nottt liikke mmyyy ffooorrrrmmmerr bbosssss Mallll. Burppp.

  13. Tommy Tudehope


  14. Little Blonde Choir Boy

    Please Cardinal Pell not tonight it’s the school holidays please don’t make me visit Mr Abbott tonight.

  15. Anonymous

    Kevin Rudd’s nephew to run against Julia Gillard
    From: AAP July 01, 2010 4:57PM Increase Text Size Decrease Text Size Print Email Share Add to Digg Add to Add to Facebook Add to Kwoff Add to Myspace Add to Newsvine What are these? IT’S FAIR to say the Revolutionary Socialist Party doesn’t have a huge presence in Canberra.

    But the party has taken the strategic step of putting up Kevin Rudd’s nephew to run against new prime minister Julia Gillard in her safe Labor seat of Lalor.

    Van Thanh Rudd, 37, hasn’t seen his uncle the former prime minister since he stepped into the top job in November 2007, but says there has been some telephone contact during Kevin Rudd’s “busy” reign.

    The son of Kevin Rudd’s older brother Malcolm and a Vietnamese mother is not afraid of using his close family connection before the federal election campaign.

    “Of course I feel for an uncle who’s had his dream career stopped short,” Mr Rudd said.

    “But my politics isn’t a career move – if anything, it’s a duty, I feel.

    Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.
    End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

    “Part of our duty as a party is to challenge the Labor Party and challenge the coalition and basically the parties that support a capitalist system.”

    Working people, the unemployed and those living below the poverty line are in Mr Rudd’s sight for debate during his campaign.

    The treatment of asylum seekers and racism will also rank as key platforms.

    “Inevitably the power always comes back to those who are at the top,” he says.

    “I guess Lalor is like a microcosm of this.”

    Mr Rudd has come to public attention before.

    On January 26, he walked into the Australian Open precinct wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit in protest against racism in Australia and attacks on Indians.

    And in 2008, the City of Melbourne rejected one of Mr Rudd’s paintings that depicted Ronald McDonald setting fire to an image of outspoken Buddhist monk Thich Quang Durc with the Olympic torch.

    The softly-spoken artist and activist says Kevin Rudd lacks an arts education and he did not agree with his criticism of Bill Henson’s controversial exhibition featuring photographs of a naked teenage girl.

    “I feel like he doesn’t believe in free speech – it shows in the Henson case,” Mr Rudd says.

    “But in my view you can’t have a politician who is aware of everything, it’s impossible.”

    Mr Rudd says it was his uncle who gave him his first set of oil paints at the age of eight.

    “They were good too,” he recalls.

    A visual arts student at Melbourne University, Mr Rudd is adamant artists are also politicians – and sometimes more effective than those spinning lines to the media.

    On his chances of beating Ms Gillard in Melbourne’s western Labor Party heartland, he is more philosophical.
    “Who knows in this global climate?”

    He is even challenging Ms Gillard to a debate about a “big Australia” if she visits the electorate.

    And he wants to see more of Kevin Rudd, following his dramatic departure from the Lodge.

    “I’d love to have more person-to-person contact with him now,” he says.

    “We’ll see what happens after the dust settles.”

    Read more:

  16. Who cares about Rudd's nephew running for a spot..zzzz

    Why doesnt he make a name for himself rather than riding off his uncle’s name and fame — reputational freeloader….
    Reading the bits of the interview, I am already bored by the ‘philosophical’ blah blah blah self-centredness, arrogance and attention-seeking of this character.
    Have mercy– spare me and don’t bore me by giving him anymore attention please. His uncle was enough.
    Gillard is genuine and worked hard to get to where she is.
    Why doesn’t this ‘quietly’ cocky clown go and paint his face.

  17. Anon

    Tony Abbott is totally in favour of WorkChoices. He is only upset that it lost them the election. He is just trying to use some marginal difference around the edges in Cabinet to reinvent himself as opposing WorkChoices. Since being elected as leader he has said that the word “WorkChoices” is dead but he has THREE TIMES committed the Liberals to bring back individual contracts and strip back unfair dismissal laws. What aspects of WorkChoices were the voters so upset about? – individual contracts and stripping back unfair dismissals

  18. sniffing too much paint?

    On his chances of beating Ms Gillard in Melbourne’s western Labor Party heartland, he is more philosophical.
    “Who knows in this global climate?”

    … “global climate” has nothing to do with it mate. It is only Australian citizens that can vote.

    “But in my view you can’t have a politician who is aware of everything, it’s impossible.”

    …. a genius in the making? I am so glad that he pointed out what is obvious to any person with a pulse.

    “I feel like he doesn’t believe in free speech – it shows in the Henson case,” Mr Rudd says.

    … ehem, no mate, I think you mean freedom of ‘expression’.

    its just blah blah blah again, with little thought…

  19. driven by the hand of 'god' complex

    one has to wonder if KRudd had anything to do with his nephew’s decision to run in Gillard’s seat.

  20. I believe Abbott

    I believe Abbott’s claim that he didn’t support WorkChoices. I think it is fairer to see him as someone who more accurately supported “two choices”…the bosses’ way or the highway.

  21. abbott is a communist

    If you don’t support the HR Nicholls Society, you are a communist!!!!

  22. awa fan

    AWAs predated Workchoices and were introduced by Reith with the support of the Democrats. WC was different in that AWAs no longer had the no disadvantaged test. AWAs don’t necessarily equal WorkChoices … but I miss them …

  23. person

    How is this news? abbott came and said as much last week. this isn’t
    ‘revealing’ anything.

    good to see the ol’ vex plugging for the right.


    Not reported elsewhere = news.

    Plugging for truth, always.

  25. Mitchell Observer

    Abbott will engender alot of support from small business if he is prepared to lift the burden of ‘Unfair Dismissal’ from their shoulders.
    The Trade Union Movement is in steady decline, and this Labor government has moved to grant them a degree of influence, in the work place, that they are unable to command through popular appeal.
    You have only to look at the manner in which the political ‘execution’ of Kevin Rudd took place, to see that the Unions currently exercise an influence disproportionate to their popular appeal.
    Bill Ludwig, Paul Howes and Bill Shorten, all current, or past, Union heavies, applauded, approvingly, the dispatch of the elected PM.
    The popular will of the people untested or ignored, while the unelected Union boys did the dirty work.
    What was that old song,” You dont get me, I’m part of the Union…”.

  26. Another Observor

    Mitchell Observor, the burden of unfair dismissal for small business is a mythical burden. If someone deserves to be sacked, and it is done properly, then unfair dismissal is not a problem. I won’t bore readers with further legal detail, but this is a fact.

    I have heard the lamentations of small business in this regard, and their lament is usually based on their ignorance of unfair dismissal process. Such ignorance is usually derived from the advice of employer representatives milking them of their money.

    I also point out that even in China there is legal recourse for workers who have been illegally sacked.

  27. Alexia Hork

    I didn’t like work choices when I was stacking shelves at Woolies. The stress made me stack slower and I was then paid at the disabled rate. That is why I like being with Scott Farlow – he makes me feel smart and sexy

  28. Lord Snooty

    His Grace Tony Abbott, peace be upon him, the most Australian of Saints.

  29. Liberal Twerp

    Tony wouldn’t remember if he had favoured Workchoices or not. He couldn’t remember the Cardinal Pell visit a couple of elections ago, nor whether he had fathered a son. The mad monk’s memory is pretty buggered.

  30. a space for all --abbott is a communist ???

    To the person who wrote:
    “If you don’t support the HR Nicholls Society, you are a communist”
    It is nice to see that vexnews is such an inclusive site for discussion. In particular, that the parents or guardians of the intellectually disadvantged help them log on and them participate in political discussion.
    However, last time I checked, the contested defintion of ‘communist’, did not include one who fails to support the HR Nicholls society.
    How about you go and get yourself either a basic education for starters, or see a psych. I cannot work out if you haven’t been to school yet, or if you are just a scatterbrain nutter incapable of rational thought.

  31. Tommy Tudehope

    Tonnnyyy isss jusssttt a jessuuitttt, nott opusss deii like my Daddd anddd DDDCCCC

  32. Mad Dog, mad dog,
    What you gonna do?
    What you gonna do when we come for you?

  33. Alexei Hawkovsky

    Sorry I couldn’t make it to the ball last night guys.

    I was feeling a little tired.

  34. abbott and 'a space for all' are communists

    free and open labour market equals freedom

  35. cynic

    Truth is stranger than fiction & in this case oh so true.

    As one who knew what happened at that time the over view is concise & correct.

    Howard rammed through his ideas over more pragmatic arguments on the ir front. Costello was no help either.

  36. Non Factional

    If you dont like the soft right you indeed are a communist.

  37. are we communists or targets for your issues?

    Re: ‘free & open labour market = freedom’ 10:09

    What an amazingly simple mind you have, and probably a simple life to match. All the anticipation and sense of any identity revolve around party functions??

    That is what your simpleton thought seems to reveal about you — bitter little boy who wants to lord unchecked power over every worker in order to make up for how inadequate and powerless he feels.
    You’re probably the guy who yells the most extreme right comments at functions in order to get attention/make an impression. And, I am sure you do, but for all of the wrong reasons.
    I guess every party needs uncritical, narrow, robotic-in-thought, socially switched off foot soldiers.

  38. Non Factional

    My name is Graeme Asbestos. I’m a virgin, and I can’t make good jokes. Derr……….

  39. Anon

    Andrews definitely did oppose it, he famously warned Howard their would be winners and losers. As for Tony, if he did oppose it, he certainly did not speak up in the cabinet.

  40. Graeme Asbestos

    I’m a virgin like the very first time.

  41. DC

    What a crock of shite. No where in this piece does it actually provide ANY proof that Tony Abbott was against Work Choices.

    I can however provide proof where Tony Abbott speaks up for Work Choices.

    Heck, even in his book Battlelines, Tony Abbott states “Work Choices wasn’t all that bad”.


    But if that doesn’t convince you, how about this statement from Tony Abbott about Work Choices: “The Howard government’s industrial legislation was good for wages, it was good for jobs and it was good for workers and let’s never forget that.”

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