Chance for genuine industrial relations reform thrown under the omnibus




David Peetz, Griffith University

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the formation of five working groups of employers, unions and government officials in June 2020, he signalled an unexpected twist to industrial relations reform.

Some observers anticipated a new politics of consensus — or even an Accord 2.0. The working groups met over several months.

They need not have bothered. The newly-released “omnibus” bill was mostly as partisan as if the working parties had never existed. To some, the omnibus looks old, oddly familiar and somewhat shady. Real reform is as distant as ever.

When an agreement over one issue was reached between the unions and the body representing large employers, it was quickly scuttled by other employers and the federal government itself.

The bill that the government released last week was organised along the five themes of the working parties.




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Casual employment

Employers wanted to overturn two Federal Court decisions that gave a legal entitlement to annual leave to many long-term leave-deprived employees. Employers wanted a definition of casuals that avoided any possibility of a leave entitlement, and retrospective voiding of any previous entitlement.

To unions, these court decisions had ended a long-standing rort enabling employers to avoid their legal responsibilities. Unions wanted the chronic insecurity facing casuals to be reduced.

The bill meets employer demands. It enables employers to define any employee as a casual, with no leave entitlements or job security, at the time employment commences, provided certain conditions were met. This is more about power than genuine flexibility in work. Existing casuals lose any previous entitlement to leave if they received the casual loading.




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Award flexibilities

Employers’ initial agenda had been for simplification of awards, by reducing or removing penalty rates, overtime pay, or other payments. But the government was unwilling to face the political problems with this. It was haunted by the loss of the 2007 “WorkChoices” election. So the focus switched to award “flexibilities”.

The bill enables hours for part-time employees to be increased without any overtime premium. Part-time employees take on the hours flexibility that casuals currently have, but at lower pay rates.

The main effect, though, may be to minimise employers’ incentive to take on additional workers, as they could cheaply increase hours for existing workers.

The bill also allows employers to give “flexible work directions” to employees to perform new types of work, or at new locations, if it is reasonable to “assist in the revival of the employer’s enterprise”. As “revival” is not defined, there is a lot of scope for discretion by members of the Fair Work Commission to interpret this. This matters as some say that, since 2013, the notion of “balance” in appointments to the commission has “been abandoned”, with most appointments coming from the employer side of the table.

The Fair Work Commission will have a lot of scope for discretion.
AAP/James Ross

Enterprise bargaining

Both unions and employers claimed the enterprise bargaining system was too complex, but without any agreement over how to simplify it.

Some employers had called for the “better off overall test” (BOOT) to be abolished. The BOOT meant an agreement had to make any worker better off compared to under their award.

The bill tries to override it for a specific, albeit large, group (workers in firms that could claim they were affected by COVID-19) and for a specific time (agreements must be made within two years, though their effects could last many more). It has provoked so much opposition that the minister has appeared to back away from it — possibly throwing that idea under the omnibus.

The bill would reduce scrutiny of agreements, allowing only short periods before approval, cutting opportunities for employees to consider them and restricting the ability for unions to comment on non-union agreements. While non-union agreements cover only a small proportion of employees, they have lower average wage increases, are less likely to be genuinely negotiated. They are also more susceptible to loss of award conditions. This means they are more vulnerable to exploitation.

The main complexity in the enterprise bargaining system is the barriers put to unions seeking agreements. The bill addresses none of these, instead aiming to make non-union agreements easier to make. Nor does it address how an agreement with a few employees can deny the rights of a whole workforce, employed later. They lose all rights to negotiate through industrial action. Ironically, in other industrialised countries, non-union agreements are impossible anyway.

Greenfields agreements

Greenfields agreements are agreements that cover a new project, usually in construction, but also (less commonly) outsourced services, new ventures and, rarely, theatrical shows. The main employer objective here was to increase the duration of agreements on large construction sites. On this, the bill delivered.

For up to eight years, any employees recruited to a new “major” project initially approved by a chosen union will be unable to negotiate better conditions through industrial action. A major project is anything worth above $250 million that the minister declares to be “major”. That’s about the size of a motorsport entertainment complex in Toowoomba or a medicinal cannabis plant in South Australia. That’s a lot of employees denied the right to negotiate over a long period.

Compliance

Unions have long complained about systematic underpayment and “wage theft” by many employers (heightened since the loss of union rights of entry) and about business models, such as franchising and sub-contracting, that encourage it.

The bill partly addresses this by criminalising certain deliberate instances of this behaviour. It would override laws some states have.

These provisions are uncontroversial and indeed welcomed by unions.

However, the biggest problem is not that the maximum penalty is too low. Already the maximum is rarely used, and many offences are ignored. Not many are caught, and punishments are light.

True, increasing the threatened punishment for the most egregious offences might discourage wage theft. But the assertiveness of administrative action seems to be the main factor shaping employer behaviour. If you think you won’t be caught, let alone punished, you’ll keep on doing what you’re doing.

Employers win … again

Every industrial relations reform is proclaimed by its proponents as being “commonsense” and “practical”. This bill is no different.

Like most industrial relations reforms, though, it is principally about affecting who gains income and power in the workplace. The wage theft provisions purport to favour the most disadvantaged, though with uncertain effects. The remainder, more simply, favour employers over employees.

The most important changes that could be made to simplify enterprise bargaining — removing the many obstacles facing employee representatives — have been thrown under the omnibus.The Conversation

David Peetz, Professor of Employment Relations, Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

So much for consensus: Morrison government’s industrial relations bill is a business wish list


Jim Stanford, University of Sydney

“We are all in this together,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison solemnly intoned in April – and for a brief few months, in the face of the economic crisis wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s industrial relations protagonists agreed.

Business groups, unions and governments put aside their usual differences and worked together to minimise job losses.

They quickly negotiated alterations to dozens of awards and enterprise agreements, adjusting rules and rosters to help keep Australians on the job.

Then, in late May, seeing opportunity in that spirit of cooperation, Morrison heralded a new consensus-based approach to industrial relations.

The federal government set aside its effort to impose more legal restrictions on unions and established new “industrial relations reform roundtables” for employer groups, unions and government officials to work together on reforming workplace laws Morrison said were “not fit for purpose”.

“We’ve got to put down our weapons,” he declared. The change in approach was even compared to the historic Accords of the 1980s, in which the Hawke-Keating Labor government convinced unions to accept wage freezes in return for enhanced social benefits (like Medicare and superannuation).




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Well, the Kumbaya moment didn’t last long.

Within weeks the parties retreated to their corners and their standard speaking points. No meaningful consensus emerged on any issue from any table.

Even tentative proposals – like an idea supported by unions and the Business Council of Australia to combine fast-track approval of union-negotiated enterprise agreements with greater flexibility in determining their suitability – were shot down in partisan gunfire by more strident business lobbyists.




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Now, in the absence of consensus, the government has picked up its traditional hymn book and is once again singing the praises of “flexibility”.

Today federal industrial relations minister Christian Porter revealed the rotten fruit of the roundtable process, the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020.

If passed, it will further skew the already lopsided balance of power towards employers.

The bill doesn’t just take the employers’ side in the five issues debated at those roundtables (award simplification, enterprise agreements, casual work, compliance and enforcement, and “greenfields agreements” for new enterprises).

One of its biggest changes is to suspend rules that prevent enterprise agreements from undercutting minimum award standards. This proposal wasn’t even discussed at the roundtables.

This confirms the gloves are off once again in Australia’s interminable IR wars.

Here are the most significant ways the bill will weight the scales further to the disadvantage of workers.

Suspending the BOOT

As the law now stands, enterprise agreements cannot undercut minimum standards in industry awards. This is known as the “better off overall test” – or BOOT. The new bill instructs the Fair Work Commission to approve agreements even if they fail this test, so long as the deal is nominally supported by affected workers (more on this below) and deemed to be in the “public interest”.

Australia is unique among wealthy nations in allowing employers to unilaterally implement enterprise agreements, without involvement by a union. The BOOT is thus necessary to prevent enterprise agreements from undermining award rights.

The bill proposes suspending BOOT for two years. But even if it were restored after that (which is uncertain), agreements approved during that window would remain in effect (enterprise agreements typically last four years). Even after they expire, under Australian law they remain in effect until replaced by a new agreement, or terminated by the FWC – neither of which is likely in a non-unionised workplace.

Apparently in anticipation that unions will actively oppose non-BOOT-compliant agreements, the bill also includes measures to speed their approval by the Fair Work Commission. The process must be completed within 21 days (with some exceptions). This will limit the ability of affected workers to learn about and resist their loss of benefits and conditions. Unions will be restricted from intervening around agreements they were not directly involved in negotiating (including intervening against agreements that had no union involvement at all).

Broadening the definition of casual work

The growing use of “casual” employment provisions was a hot topic at the IR reform tables. The new bill clarifies the definition of casual work in the most expansive way possible: a casual job is any position deemed casual by the employer, and accepted by the worker, for which there is no promise of regular continuing employment.

In other words, any job can be casual, so long as workers are desperate enough to accept it. This will foster the further spread of insecure employment without paid leave entitlements. Most importantly, it removes a big potential liability faced by employers as a result of recent court decisions, under which they might have owed back pay for holidays and sick leave to employees improperly treated as casual workers.




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Casualising part-time workers

Further casualisation will be attained through new rules regarding rosters and hours for permanent part-time workers. The bill extends flexibility provisions originally implemented earlier this year – during that brief moment of pandemic-induced cooperation. The rules allow employers to alter hours for regular part-timers without incurring overtime penalties or other costs (currently required under some awards). This will allow employers to effectively use part-time workers as yet another form of casual, just-in-time labour.

Doubling new project agreement times

Finally, the bill grants one more big wish from the business list.

It allows super-long enterprise agreements at major new projects. Agreements can last for up to eight years – double the time now allowed – and be signed, sealed and delivered before any workers start on the job (thus denying them any input into the process).

Under revised BOOT provisions, they could also undercut the minimum standards of any industry awards.

Back to business as usual

These changes are being advertised as a spur for post-pandemic job creation. But this claim is hollow.

In reality, the changes in part-time and casual rules will actually discourage new hiring. Since existing workers can be costlessly “flexed” in line with employer needs, there is no need to hire anyone else.

Weaker BOOT protections will spur a wave of new enterprise agreements, most union-free, and aimed at reducing (not raising) compensation and standards. This makes a mockery of the goals of collective bargaining, and grants employers further opportunity to suppress labour costs (already tracking at their slowest pace in postwar history).

So what to make of that short-lived spirit of togetherness that purportedly sparked this whole process? In retrospect, it seems to have been just an opportunity for the Coalition government to pose as visionary statesmen during a time of crisis.

Now, mere months later, the government is back to its old ways – and the pandemic is just another excuse to scapegoat unions, drive down wages and fatten business profits.The Conversation

Jim Stanford, Economist and Director, Centre for Future Work, Australia Institute; Honorary Professor of Political Economy, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison remains very popular in Newspoll as the Coalition easily retains Groom in byelection



James Ross/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll will presumably be the final one for 2020. It gives the Coalition a 51-49% two-party-preferred lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 2% One Nation (down one).

This is One Nation’s worst result in a federal Newspoll since before the 2019 federal election. It comes after the party slumped by 6.6 percentage points at the recent Queensland state election.

Newspoll figures are from The Poll Bludger. This poll was conducted November 25-28 from a sample of 1,511 people.

Two-thirds of respondents said they were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (up two points) and 30% were dissatisfied (down two), for a net approval of +36. Morrison’s approval rating has consistently been over 60% since April, following the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese recorded a net approval of +3, down one point. Morrison led as better PM by 60-28% (58-29% previously).




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Coronavirus may be the only important issue for many voters at the moment, and Morrison is perceived to have handled that well. In normal times, issues less favourable to the Coalition would likely have gained traction, undermining Morrison’s ratings, but these times are not normal.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has enjoyed a similar polling boost in her state as well, due to her handling of the pandemic.

In a NSW YouGov poll taken after revelations of her affair with former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire, she still had a 68-26% approval rating.

LNP easily retains Groom at federal byelection

There was very little media attention on Saturday’s byelection for the safe Coalition seat of Groom in Queensland.

Only four candidates ran, representing the Coalition, Labor, Sustainable Australia and the Liberal Democrats.

The LNP won by 66.6-33.4%, a 3.9% swing to Labor since the 2019 federal election.




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Primary votes were 59.0% for the LNP (up 5.6%), 27.8% for Labor (up 9.1%), 8.0% for Sustainable Australia and 5.3% for the Liberal Democrats. The major parties benefited from the absence of One Nation and the Greens, which respectively won 13.1% and 8.0% in 2019.

Analyst Kevin Bonham says the average swing against a government at byelections in its own seats is 6%, so this is not a great result for Labor.

Furthermore, there was a 5.2% swing to the Coalition in Groom in the 2019 election, as it romped to a 58.4-41.6% drubbing of Labor in Queensland.

If federal Labor had recovered support in Queensland since then, a much bigger swing would have been expected.

While Labor easily won the recent Queensland state election, state and federal voting can be very different.

Biden’s popular vote lead stretches

In the Cook Political Report tracker of the national popular vote in the US presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden leads incumbent Donald Trump by 51.1-47.1%.

Biden’s four-point lead is up from 3.1 percentage points on November 8 when the states of Pennsylvania and Nevada were called for him, making him the presumptive winner. Many mail votes are still be counted in New York, which will heavily favour Biden as well.

Biden came out on top in the Electoral College vote count, 306-232.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Biden’s popular vote margin now exceeds Barack Obama’s margin of 3.9 percentage points in 2012. But Obama won the “tipping-point” state that put him over the magic 270 electoral college votes by 5.4 points, while Biden won his tipping-point state (Wisconsin) by just 0.6 percentage points.

Trump performed 3.4 percentage points better in the tipping-point state in 2020 than in the national popular vote and this difference will increase further as more New York votes are counted. In the 2016 election, the difference was 2.9 points.




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In the House of Representatives, the Democrats lead the Republicans 222-206 in seats, with seven races uncalled.

Republicans lead in all seven of these uncalled races. If they hold their leads, Democrats will win the House by just 222-213. That’s a net gain of 13 seats for Republicans from the 2018 midterm election.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison government commits $1 billion over 12 years for new vaccine manufacturing supply



PMO, Author provided

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government has concluded a $1 billion agreement, funded over 12 years, with Seqirus to secure supply from a new high-tech manufacturing facility in Melbourne which would produce pandemic influenza vaccines as well as antivenoms.

This would boost Australia’s sovereignty when the country was faced with a future pandemic, and make for quick responses.

Seqirus, a subsidiary of CSL Ltd, will invest $800 million in the facility, which will be built at Tullamarine, near Melbourne airport. It will replace Seqirus’ facility in the inner Melbourne suburb of Parkville which is more than 60 years old. The Victorian government has supported the procurement of the land for the new operation.

Seqirus says the complex will be the only cell-based influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in the southern hemisphere, producing seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines, Seqirus’ proprietary adjuvant MF59 ®, Australian antivenoms and Q-Fever vaccine.

Work on construction will begin next year; the project will provide some 520 construction jobs. The facility is due to be fully operating by 2026, with the contract for supply of its products running to 2036.

The present agreement between the federal government and Seqirus is due to end in 2024-25.

Seqirus is presently the only company making influenza and Q fever vaccine in Australia, and the only one in the world making life-saving antivenom products against 11 poisonous Australian creatures, including snakes, marine creatures and spiders.

Scott Morrison said that “while we are rightly focused on both the health and economic challenges of COVID-19, we must also guard against future threats.

“This agreement cements Australia’s long-term sovereign medical capabilities, giving us the ability to develop vaccines when we need them.

“Just as major defence equipment must be ordered well in advance, this is an investment in our national health security against future pandemics,” he said.

Stressing the importance of domestic production capability, the government says when there is a global pandemic, countries with onshore capabilities have priority access to vaccines.

Health minister Greg Hunt said: “This new facility will guarantee Australian health security against pandemic influenza for the next two decades”.

Seqirus General Manager Stephen Marlow said: “While the facility is located in Australia, it will have a truly global role. Demand for flu vaccines continues to grow each year, in recognition of the importance of influenza vaccination programs. This investment will boost our capacity to ensure as many people as possible – right across the world – can access flu vaccines in the future.”

To deal with the present pandemic, the government has earlier announced $3.2 billion to secure access to over 134.8 million doses of potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates developed by the University of Oxford-Astra Zeneca and the University of Queensland, Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What’s in the ‘public interest’? Why the ABC is right to cover allegations of inappropriate ministerial conduct



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Alexandra Wake, RMIT University

Immediately after ABC’s Four Corners aired allegations about the conduct of government ministers Alan Tudge and Christian Porter, questions were raised about whether the report was in the “public interest”.

The Australian’s editor-at-large, Paul Kelly, said on Q&A that Porter was “trashed” by the program, adding

What the ABC has done tonight is that it’s crashed through some media barriers and created new media barriers. How far do we go in terms of our definition of the public interest?

We need to be very careful about the damage we do to people’s reputations here and ask ourselves is that an accurate portrait or was it a caricature?

Asked about the story in a Senate committee before the story aired, ABC managing director David Anderson defended it as “absolutely” being in the public interest.

It goes to conduct of ministers, ministers of the Crown, to be held to the highest standard in society. That’s the nature of the story.

Porter has denied the claims made against against him. He had earlier discussed considering legal options against the ABC, but played that down in an interview yesterday.




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Even tawdry stories are in the public interest

Despite Porter’s protestations, the ABC clearly had an obligation to air a story that contained allegations of ministerial misconduct (however tawdry).

News reports about politicians, sex and booze are as old as time and have brought shame to many a politician, from the former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to Deputy Labor Leader Gareth Evans and the UK Secretary of War John Profumo.

The one clear duty of journalism is to hold those in power to account, and that appears to have been lost on those members of government as they reportedly attempted to pressure the ABC, its managers and journalists, over the broadcast.

Barnaby Joyce became embroiled in a scandal over his affair with his former media adviser.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Standards for those in government

Many ethical issues arise from the broadcast, the attempt to pressure the ABC and the legal threats that have followed.

Even before the program had made it to air, the ABC’s management found themselves under attack, with an excruciating Senate Estimates Committee hearing a couple of hours before the broadcast.

But it certainly wasn’t a quick piece of “gotcha” journalism with a blurry photo at its centre. The Four Corners team have an exacting process to their work. For this story, the ABC said they interviewed 200 people over several months. They also contextualised the story beyond the two central politicians to raise real concerns about the place and safety of women who work in Parliament House.

Anderson also said the allegations had been thoroughly sourced and checked legally. Those named in the story were given “ample” opportunity to respond.

Moreover, while the so-called “bonk ban” on ministers having sexual relations with their staff was only introduced by Prime Minister Malcolom Turnbull in 2018, Cabinet ministers have had rules governing their behaviour since John Howard first established a public ministerial code in 1996.

Turnbull says he warned Porter about ‘unacceptable’ behaviour with a young female staffer.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Members of the Morrison Cabinet now sign up to a code of conduct which says they will “act with integrity” and be “open to public scrutiny and explanation”.

Specifically, there is no grey area in these ministerial standards on the point of sexual relationships with staff:

2.24. Ministers must not engage in sexual relations with their staff. Doing so will constitute a breach of this code.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison pointedly said this week that neither Porter nor Tudge were in breach of his code of conduct.

But allegations of sexual misconduct and power imbalances, even historic ones, are still clearly a cause for community concern, and cannot not be ignored by journalists or political leaders. Such matters are no longer private affairs between consenting adults.

Just ask the complainants at AMP, the former CEO of Seven in WA, or even former US president Bill Clinton.




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Action should be taken

Regardless of the salacious allegations made on the Four Corners program, there is also a point to be made about the hypocrisy of politicians who market themselves as having “family values” and demand others follow “Australian values”.

Certainly, it is not edifying to watch details of alleged impropriety by politicians broadcast on television, and it’s uncomfortable that such stories inevitably impact those who are innocently caught up in the furore (particularly partners and children).

Tudge did issue a statement saying he regretted his actions “and the hurt it has caused my family”.




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But with this story, Four Corners has not only produced a program that has interest from the public, it is also in the public’s interest.

There are many questions to be answered from the ministers named in the story and also those who knew about the allegations and did nothing (or even worse, promoted them).

The real outcome of this program should not be a defamation case, but rather action from Morrison. Questions over ministerial conduct are important. This is certainly a matter of public interest.The Conversation

Alexandra Wake, Program Manager, Journalism, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is Canberra having a #metoo moment? It will take more than reports of MPs behaving badly for parliament to change



Lukas Coch/AAP

Marija Taflaga, Australian National University

Sex and politics is a well-established theme of political life.

Often the debate comes back to whether or not politicians deserve private lives. The short answer is yes, of course. But this question is also misleading.

Too often the scandals arise out of political workplaces. While it might be Liberal Party ministers in the spotlight this time, this is not a problem exclusive to the Coalition. It is pervasive across political systems in Australia and worldwide.

Amid fresh allegations of MPs behaving badly, we need to look past the personal drama of each individual story and consider what they tell us about the wider structures in which politicians and their staff operate.

Minister-staff dynamics

Political staff are not public servants. They are employed under separate legislation and are hired and fired at the discretion of their boss — the minister, shadow minister or MP.

Staffers’ duties are poorly defined, and can range from emotional support to high level policy work. Their employment can be terminated with no notice (although this is currently under review in the latest enterprise bargaining agreement).




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There is little oversight over who MPs appoint, with involvement from party leaders typically viewed as interference. Indeed, there is little oversight of the work of political advisers generally — they cannot be summoned to appear before parliamentary committees.

Theoretically, ministers are responsible for their staff, but as we increasingly see, advisers can also be shields for their ministers, resigning when things go wrong.

While it may not be illegal or even immoral, the issue at stake here is a power imbalance. It is hard to argue sexual relations within this work environment could meet our modern standard of a mutually consensual relationship. Even if things start well, what happens if they end badly?

Political advisers turn into politicians

What happens in political offices matters for many reasons. Beyond creating safe workplaces, it also has an impact on who rises through the political ranks.

Evidence from across Westminster systems shows politicians increasingly have a background in political advising before they are elected.

Young businesswoman looking out window.
Many MPs do time as political advisers before they are elected.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Emerging evidence also suggests a stint as an adviser is increasingly associated with the probability of selection to safe seats and, later, ministerial office.

Why? Because politics is a networks game. And as politics has become more professionalised, the skills political staff obtain are seen as more important than skills gained via community organising or pathways through party membership.

We already know this has a disproportionate impact on women. Women were less likely to gain experience via their party machines and are less likely to be promoted to the most senior ranks of political offices.




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The type of work they do in political offices tends to be of a lower status, less strategic and with less access to ministers. Put another way, they are less likely to get the valuable experience they require to move forward in their careers and less likely to have seniority and power in the office.

Adding any unwanted sexual advances, or relationships which fail, place yet another barrier for young female staff. This was reflected in the case of two Liberal staffers who came forward with claims of sexual assault in 2019.

Parliament House is a workplace

It is true federal parliament is an atypical work environment: it is more intense than most and is more likely to breed a dimension of co-dependence with support staff than most other professions.

But parliament’s status as the seat of government does not make it “special” and therefore, beyond community standards.

House of Representatives chamber
Parliament House is an atypical work environment, but it still needs to meet community standards.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

If anything, public expectations suggest politicians are held to a higher standard than most managers. This is because there is a recognition politicians are disproportionately powerful and influential. MPs regularly affirm their legitimacy by claiming to represent everyday Australians. This means they need to reflect community standards.

This trade-off between ministers’ privileges and responsibilities are reflected in the Statement of Ministerial Standards which begins with two principles:

The ethical standards required of Ministers in Australia’s system of government reflect the fact that, as holders of public office, Ministers are entrusted with considerable privilege and wide discretionary power.

In recognition that public office is a public trust, therefore, the people of Australia are entitled to expect that, as a matter of principle, Ministers will act with due regard for integrity, fairness, accountability, responsibility, and the public interest, as required by these Standards.

Importantly, the same dynamics that may result in sexual harassment for some staff, may also result in bullying for others. This is because the core issue is the asymmetry of power in the ministerial-staffing relationship, compounded by the intensity of the work environment and complicated by gender relations. All staff deserve better.

Currently, an inadequate complaints process, run by the Department of Finance, makes it difficult for staff to come forward if they feel they have been mistreated at work. It has only recently added sexual harassment and the complaints procedures are opaque.

There needs to be clearer and more effective mechanisms for all staff to seek support and redress.

What could we learn from around the world?

Both the United Kingdom and Canada have introduced new complaints mechanisms. The Canadian parliament has adopted a code of conduct and a complaints procedure. The UK Parliament has a behaviour code and complaints hotline.

However, both schemes have come in for criticism, ultimately because they do not fully address the imbalance between MPs and complainants.

This points to the fact that too much of the emphasis is on women (and junior staff) to cope, adapt or seek out resolutions after something has already happened.

Really, what is required is a deeper cultural change that sees parliament treated like any other workplace.

What happens now?

Is this Canberra’s #metoo moment? We should not get our hopes up.




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Without effective enforcement of the current ministerial code of conduct, which prohibits relationships with their staff, an adequate complaints process that does not disadvantage complainants and clear leadership that signals the need to shift the culture within parliament, it may not be.

After all, can Australians trust their politicians if there appears to be one rule for some and a different rule for others? Everyone needs to abide by, and be seen to abide by, the same rules and standards.The Conversation

Marija Taflaga, Lecturer, School of Political Science and International Relations, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: When Australia’s first law officer is in the dock of public opinion


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It’s quite a moment, when the country’s first law officer is asked on his home town radio station, “So you don’t think you’re a sleazebag or womaniser or someone who’s drunk in public too much now?”

Overnight, Christian Porter had been reduced from high-flying attorney-general to a man forced to publicly confront a nightmare episode of “This is Your Life” delivered by Monday’s Four Corners.

“No, it’s definitely not indicative of who I am now,” he told interviewer Gareth Parker.

Parker did not resile from going to some of the worst of the confronting claims in the program. “Did you ever say you wouldn’t date a woman who weighed over 50 kilograms and preferred that they had big breasts?‘

“Absolutely not. I mean, like, give me a break.”

But Porter – who’s having to turn up on the House of Representatives frontbench all week under the eye of colleagues and opponents – was given no breaks in this long-distance grilling. His regular Perth 6PR spot became akin to a courtroom, with him in the dock.

First up: had he ever had an intimate relationship with a staffer?

Well, certainly not the staffer he’d been seen drinking with at Canberra’s Public Bar in December 2017, in the (details disputed) incident that led to then-PM Malcolm Turnbull telling him to watch his ways.

Indeed, Porter said, the woman in question had categorically denied to Four Corners (which said she worked for another cabinet minister) the slant put on the story or that it indicated any relationship. But (unfortunately for him) her denial had been “off the record,” he said. It was not reported.

Porter was lawyerly when quizzed about whether he’d ever had a relationship with any other staffer. He wasn’t going to be pushed down byways. “Is there another allegation?” he countered.

With the nose of the experienced prosecutor he once was, Porter smells political payback.

The program’s biggest punch was delivered by Turnbull, with whom Porter had a major falling out just before the former PM lost the leadership.

In a heated dispute Turnbull argued the governor-general should refuse to commission Peter Dutton, if he won the leadership, because he might be constitutionally ineligible to sit in parliament. But Porter insisted Turnbull’s suggested course would be “wrong in law” and threatened to repudiate his position if he advanced it publicly.

“I often suspected that there would be some consequences for that,” Porter said in the 6PR interview.

“I don’t think that Malcolm is a great fan of mine, I’d say that much,” he told Parker, when asked whether he was suggesting Turnbull was motivated by revenge.

Porter’s strategy is to own and regret his distant past – “I’m no orphan in looking back on things that I wrote and did 25-30 years ago that make me cringe” – but strongly contest the construction put on his more recent life.

He’s threatened legal action, but his Tuesday tone suggested he’s more likely to suck up the damage rather than take the distracting, expensive and risky course of going to a real court.

He and fellow cabinet minister Alan Tudge – whose affair with his then staffer the program exposed – retain the support of Scott Morrison.

Morrison relies on the “BBB” defence. That is, these incidents were Before the Bonk Ban – specifying no sex allowed between ministers and their staff – imposed by Turnbull early 2018 in response to the Barnaby Joyce affair.

Morrison was at the time, and is now, an enthusiastic supporter of the prohibition. He’d like to see it embraced by Labor, who’d “mocked” it when it was announced. (One of the government’s many gripes about the Four Corner’s program is that it didn’t poke around to find Labor’s dirty washing.)

“I take that code very seriously and my ministers are in no doubt about what my expectations are of them,” Morrison told a news conference.

But please, can people keep the language more delicate? Terms matter to this PM, who once lectured the media against using “lockdown”.

When minister Anne Ruston was asked (at their joint news conference on another matter) to reflect as a woman on whether the parliament house culture had become better or worse since the “bonk ban”, Morrison interrupted her.

“How this ban is referred to I think is quite dismissive of the seriousness of the issue,” he said.

“I would ask media to stop referring to it in that way. We took it very seriously and I think constantly referring to it in that way dismisses the seriousness of this issue, it’s a very serious issue.”

We can’t know whether the Porter story will fade or there’ll be some fresh spark.

Porter was asked if he could “go to bed tonight, comfortable in the knowledge that there isn’t a woman out there who’s going to come forward and give a truthful account of her interactions with Christian Porter that would further embarrass you or damage the government”.

Porter said: “I haven’t conducted myself in a way that I think would lead people to provide that sort of complaint about me”.

Whether the story goes somewhere or nowhere, one thing seems clear. The hopes of 50-year old Porter – who switched to federal politics after an impressive state career – of ever reaching prime minister are in the mud.

In under an hour on Monday night, a red line was likely struck through his name on the list of future Liberal leadership prospects.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Morrison says he wants to run full term, and there are good reasons to believe him


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

We don’t have to credit Scott Morrison’s claim at Tuesday’s Coalition joint party room meeting that an election is the furthest thing from his mind, but we can take at face value his indication he wants to run full term.

Politics and the electoral implications of what he does are never out of Morrison’s thinking. But on the question of election timing, he didn’t have to be as categorical in his remarks, and what he said makes sense.

“I’m a full-termer, elections are too hard to win. I cherish every day – we’ll do it for the time we said we would,” he told his troops.

It’s always possible he flips his position (or is dissembling). But, as things stand, he probably means what he says because there are strong arguments for having the election when it’s due, in early 2022, rather than prematurely.

In recent weeks many in the media have been saying, publicly and privately, that we will likely have a late 2021 election.

But it’s clear from the polls and other evidence that the public don’t want to see too much political fractiousness now – and that might still be the position in a year’s time. One reason Labor is having so much trouble cutting through at the moment is that its attacks (inevitably) reintroduce partisanship.

Currently, it’s a period for incumbent leaders, even those under fire, as this week’s Essential poll again underlines. Despite Victoria’s slow emergence from lockdown, and the multiple problems of Dan Andrews’ government, 54% of Victorians approve of the job Andrews is doing as premier.

The Queensland election on October 31 will be a tangible test of the benefit of incumbency during COVID, but it’s accepted that the pandemic has put premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in a better position than she would have been in without it.

Even in ordinary times, people don’t like early elections. And, as Morrison says, he does “cherish every day” of power. An election late next year would mean most of 2021 would be in campaign mode, reducing what he could achieve.

Labor is apprehensive that the election might be held next year – in theory, a later date should advantage it. In practice, that wouldn’t necessarily be the case.

Elections are (with obvious qualifications) two-horse races and Labor faces an uphill task to present a convincing alternative whenever the poll is held.

Anthony Albanese is coming across as a trier, and his post budget pitch highlighting child care chose an issue of strong concern to many families. But colleagues continue to worry he and the opposition are not making an impact.

Switching leaders would be difficult and traumatic for Labor and not necessarily put it in a better position (and could burn a successor to no purpose).

Hard as it would be for Labor to accept, it may be a case of the COVID times simply not suiting it.

Having said that, we also know how quickly things can change in politics.

Morrison’s fate will rest on whether he has managed to get the country, and in particular its economy, convincingly on the road to “normality”. A 2022 election gives him more time to do that.

We don’t yet have any idea how 2021 will play out. It could be a rough year, easier to handle without the distraction of an election. And, who knows, by early 2022, we might even have people vaccinated.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Gladys Berejiklian has governed well but failed an ethical test


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If any other Australian leader had given the sort of evidence Gladys Berejiklian did to the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday, they’d probably have been out of their position by the end of the day.

The NSW premier was protected, in the immediate term, in part because the disclosures about her five-year secret relationship with the disgraced former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire seemed so bizarrely out of character with her unsullied past and apparent conservatism in her private life.




Read more:
Gladys Berejiklian determined to tough out scandal of secret relationship with disgraced former MP


Also, she has been a highly competent premier, especially during COVID. The pandemic fireproofed her.

Her political performance this year is certainly one reason the prime minister is standing with her. As Scott Morrison has said repeatedly, NSW has set the “gold standard” during the coronavirus crisis.

But Berejiklian’s personal and political reputation should not obscure the seriousness of her actions, or rather her inactions, in relation to Maguire.

She didn’t just make a bad judgment about a sub-optimal boyfriend which can be written off as having “stuffed up” her personal life. She made a series of decisions that were inappropriate.

When in 2015 she changed the nature of her relationship with the then member for Wagga Wagga from friendship to a “close personal” one, she failed to disclose this to colleagues.




Read more:
Brand Gladys: how ICAC revelations hurt Berejiklian’s ‘school captain’ image


Her supporters say her private life was no one else’s business. If her relationship had been with the plumber down the street who was unconnected with government, that would be absolutely correct. It’s another matter when those involved are a senior minister, who then became premier, and one of her party’s MPs.

The premier could affect the fortunes of the MP; the MP could use the relationship, even if undeclared, to further his own interests by suggesting he could deliver access.

As Berejiklian has said, there is nothing wrong per se with two members of parliament having a personal relationship. But, given the position of one of them, in this case it should have been put on the record – at least to cabinet colleagues.

When Maguire fell foul of ICAC in 2018, Berejiklian should have belatedly admitted to the relationship, informing senior colleagues, so there would be no time bombs. Certainly she should immediately have broken off the connection with Maguire, rather than continue it until this year, when he was back in ICAC’s sights.

Most compromising, however, is the material captured by phone taps of Maguire’s conversations with Berejiklian.

Maguire told her of his lobbying for developers. The activities referred to might not have been illegal – Berejiklian makes the point MPs are allowed to engage in business – but for any premier they would be very uncomfortable.

Berejiklian certainly seemed uncomfortable and on two occasions said “I don’t need to know”.

She explains her apparent dismissiveness of what Maguire was saying as boredom with his big-noting. It sounded, however, more like she did not want him to give her information she preferred not to receive. She had a deaf ear to clues she should have picked up.

Imagine the reaction if Morrison had given such evidence, or been embarrassed by such tapes. People would not be looking for reasons to excuse him.

The line that everyone makes mistakes in their private life – “people have all made personal decisions I’m sure they regret, that’s human”, Morrison says – won’t wash.

Berejiklian can be forgiven for initially being taken in by Maguire. But persisting with the relationship after he was found out is surely harder, if not impossible, to justify, regardless of her explanation he was in a “very dark place”. After all, she removed him from the Liberal Party and pushed for his resignation from parliament in 2018.

To maintain that different, tougher standards are applied to women leaders may often be true, but it doesn’t fit this instance. If anything she is being given a softer run.

Morrison has said “it would be a bit of a numpty of a decision” to replace her.




Read more:
Scott Morrison pledges ‘absolute support’ for Gladys Berejiklian


Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull praised her integrity and said: “Her leadership of this state has been tried and tested in the toughest circumstances this year, from the bush fires to now the pandemic and she has excelled.” And, he pointed out, “Let’s be frank – leaders of her calibre are not easily found.”

If the point is that the alternatives on offer – and it is not clear who would become leader if she went – wouldn’t do as good a job, that might be a valid argument on strictly utilitarian grounds (although if she survives, this scandal will make it much more difficult for her to govern effectively).

When you compare the way the NSW and Victorian governments have handled the pandemic, NSW has been way ahead (the Ruby Princess debacle notwithstanding).

Yes, she would be hard to replace. But this should not be confused with a clear-eyed view about the ethical shortcomings in her behaviour over Maguire.

In recent decades we’ve seen declining trust in political institutions. The pandemic has led people to reattach to these institutions and all Australian leaders – Morrison and the premiers – saw their ratings rise.

What we don’t yet know is whether trust in general will again plummet when the pandemic subsides.

If politicians seem to be holding their noses when there’s the whiff of impropriety or corruption in the air, they are trifling with the public’s trust in them and in the political system. They are treating the electorate with disdain.

The ICAC hearings this week have reinforced the case for a federal integrity body. But the reactions of Liberal politicians show why they want it to be relatively toothless.

It is not being suggested Berejiklian, whose leadership hangs by a thread, has personally engaged in wrongdoing; her appearance at ICAC was as a witness in an investigation into Maguire’s alleged wrongdoing.

But on what we have heard this week, she has fallen short of the standards that should be expected of a premier. Federal and state colleagues who are defending her are being tribal or expedient or both.




Read more:
The long history of political corruption in NSW — and the downfall of MPs, ministers and premiers


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scott Morrison pledges ‘absolute support’ for Gladys Berejiklian



Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has thrown his weight behind the embattled Gladys Berejiklian, ahead of Wednesday’s evidence to the Independent Commission Against Corruption from disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire, with whom she had a “close personal relationship” for five years.

Morrison said Berejiklian, who had been “a tremendous premier”, had his “absolute support”.

Maguire, former Liberal member for Wagga Wagga, is due to give evidence over two days.

Berejiklian was grilled for several hours on Monday at ICAC, which is investigating whether Maguire misused his parliamentary position for financial gain. Tapped phone conversations were played in which he talked to her about his efforts to broker deals for property developers, notably a sale of land owned by Louise Waterhouse near Badgerys Creek, from which he hoped to get a huge commission.

Berejiklian, who says she did nothing wrong and is not being investigated, told a news conference after her ICAC appearance that she had “stuffed up” her personal life.

She only severed her secret relationship with Maguire recently, despite his resignation from state parliament in 2018, after his property activities came to light in an earlier ICAC inquiry.

Morrison said Berejiklian had shown “a lot of courage” on Monday.

“But I also thought she showed a lot of humility, which is the Gladys I know.

“We’re all human. And particularly in those areas of our lives, and Gladys is an extremely private person, and a person of tremendous integrity. She’s a great friend. And I know she’s been getting many messages of support from her friends and colleagues and including from me … and Jenny.”

Morrison thanked state ministers “Dom Perrottet and Brad Hazzard and the whole team down there in the New South Wales government” for “getting in behind her.”

The last thing Morrison would want at the moment would be the removal of Berejiklian – he has repeatedly praised her government’s performance as the “gold standard” in handling the pandemic and highlighted NSW’s economic progress. So far there has been no sign of a move against her by colleagues and she has indicated her determination to tough out the scandal.

At ICAC on Tuesday Maggie Wang, a former business associate of Maguire, related what he had told her after his appearance at the earlier ICAC investigation. He had said words to the effect, “There’s been an unfortunate accident where my phones and iPad have been run over by a tractor”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.