A different audience, a different tune

The front lead in today’s Sydney Morning Herald is “Rudd ready to backflip on AWAs”. In the Australian Financial Review it’s “Rudd holds hard line on IR reform”. Whatever.

So I tutor a course called ‘Economics as a Social Science’. Today the topic for discussion is ‘Power in the economy’, an introduction to the institutionalists. I could not have come up with a better hypothetical case study. My question: How (the hell), when at last count 59% of people oppose WorkChoices (24% support), and when the party’s standing in the polls is largely a product of that opposition, is the Australian Labor Party having so much trouble committing to getting rid of it?

I think Rick Kuhn and Tom Bramble give a pretty good answer over at MR Zine:

The megaphoned message about fairness is directed at white and blue collar workers who make up about two thirds of the labour force.  Most are worried by the Howard Government’s industrial relations regime.  The electoral explanation of this tune is valid, but insufficient.

The tune that puts union officials in their place was played on the dog whistle because it might have alienated too many workers if broadcast at a lower pitch.  But Rudd, Gillard and their advisers hope that its shrill notes can be heard, despite the competing megaphone message, by small business owners worried about changes to unfair dismissal rules and the abolition of individual workplace agreements.  The logic here is electoral, but it reveals something deeper about the forces acting on and in the ALP.

The majestic cadences that convey the contribution of Labor’s approach to industrial relations to the national interest contain the specifics of the policy.  It cannot be understood in purely electoral terms.  Despite its inclusion of the megaphone theme, Rudd’s policies on relations between employers and employees reduced the impact of Labor’s best issue and damaged the ALP’s electoral prospects.  The Party’s popularity fell in the poll immediately following the announcement of the policy because it is WorkChoices Lite.

The other dayRudd refused to repeat on the radio statements he had made at the anti-Work Choices rally. Different tunes for different audiences. Now it seems Gillard and Rudd are playing good cop-bad cop. One message per speaker so as to avoid that embarrassment. Thus the mixed messages from this morning’s papers.

Published in: on 14 May, 2007 at 3:00 pm  Comments (10)