26 April 2007

Labor will replace the century-old Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) with a new body called Fair Work Australia if elected into government.

Since the workplace reforms took effect last year, the powers of the IRC have been greatly diminished according to Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd.

The new body will have the power to resolve industrial disputes and set the minimum wage, Rudd said, after having accused the Prime Minister of Americanising the IR laws.

Rudd condemned the present system, referring to it as an "alphabet soup of organisations." He claimed that Fair Work Australia will be a "one-stop shop, which actually establishes a fair and independent umpire."

The plan has the backing from the ACTU.

The ACTU's endorsement has angered the Prime Minister. There is an assumption, Howard said, "that the union movement has some pre-eminent right to determine policy in this area."

Labor's plan, according to Howard, "is a political device to give the impression of modernity but in reality it will hand back even greater power to union bosses in a centralised body."

Howard has support from Chief Executive Peter Hendy of the Australian chamber of commerce and industry who suggested that Labor's Fair Work Australia could be unconstitutional.

23 April 2007

There was some comforting news for the Prime Minsiter today as he began the first of his series of speeches on his vision for 2020.

The Coalition has gained ground in the latest ACNielsen poll.

On a two-party preferred vote, Labor slipped 2 points to 58 per cent, with the Coalition up 3 points to 42 per cent.

The approval rating for the Opposition Leader is down 1 point to 66 per cent, with the approval rating of the Prime Minister up 3 points to 49 per cent.

Would the results differ significantly if the Treasure was at the helm of the Coalition?

Not according to the voters.

If Costello was the current PM, Labor would be up 2 points to 61 per cent, with the Coalition down 3 points to 39 per cent on a two-party preferred basis.

Costello has again, however, ruled out a challenge. He will be fiddling with his ticker for some time yet.

Labor ministers are anticipating a showdown at the national ALP conference this weekend.

Shadow Minister for the Environment Peter Garrett has said that he will tackle the Labor leader's motion to overturn Labor’s 25-year opposition to new uranium mines.

"It's clear that there's a strong feeling amongst Labor party members, particularly amongst the rank and file, and also frankly amongst the public, that they don't want to see a change in this policy," Garrett said.

Rudd, who has recently returned from his rendezvous in the United States, has said that he is looking forward to debate the issue with Garrett.

21 April 2007

Health Minister Tony Abbott says that recent criticisms of the coalition by the international medical community cannot be taken seriously.

A highly respected international medical journal, The Lancet, has condemned the Howard Government in an article, titled, ‘The Politics of Fear and Neglect’.

The Prime Minister’s recent suggestion that immigrants with HIV should be banned from entering the country, the editorial says, is evidence of Howard’s indifference to the medical research community.

In no uncertain terms the editorial calls for a change of government.

It describes Howard as profoundly intolerant and complacent, and accuses him of inciting cynical politics.

“To any visitor, Australian culture feels progressive and inclusive,” the editorial says. “This attractive exterior belies a strong undercurrent of political conservatism, which Howard is ruthlessly tapping into.”

It points to a political commentator’s observation that a conservative coalition has ruled for 42 of 58 years.

Tony Abbott was also criticised for saying those who spoke up for Indigenous health were “simply establishing politically and morally correct credentials.”

Abbott is the only minister so far to respond to the editorial’s criticism:

“I mean, if Lancet were to say that we still have a long way to go in Indigenous health, sure, I'd be the first to agree, but they have engaged in a bit of gratuitous slag and bag.”

“And this is not a medical judgment they're making, it's a political judgment,” he said.

20 April 2007

The federal Government has warned that farmers from the Murray-Darling Basin will have their water rights taken away and that there will be significant vegetable and fruit price rises if it does not rain heavily soon.

The 60, 000 farmers from the Murray-Darling Basin contribute 40 per cent to the nation’s agriculture industry.

There is disagreement, however, between Prime Minister John Howard and Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the $10 billion national water plan.

Howard contradicted his environment minister, declaring that a national water plan cannot work without Victoria.

According to Turnbull, the Government will go ahead with the plan if Victoria refuses to sign-up, even though it may not work as well.

In this case Victoria will not get any of the $10 billion funding.

"It will be a very bitter blow to Victorian irrigators to see so much investment on the other side of the border." he said.

Scientists and farmers are critical of the recent media attention on the Murray-Darling Basin, claiming that government authorities have known for 20 years about the serious water problems facing its farmers but have done little to prevent it.

13 April 2007

Prime Minister John Howard has claimed that IR laws contributed significantly to the latest low unemployment figures.

"It can fairly be asserted that the removal of the unfair dismissal laws has made a very positive contribution to a reduction in unemployment.”

“Pigs might fly,” was Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd’s response when asked for his thoughts on Howard's claim.

Rudd said that the reduction in the unemployment rate was due to the mining boon in the economy.

Many remain sceptical of unemployment figures, however, believing them to be grossly misleading.

Under the current (ABS) definition, those who work for one hour in any given week are counted as employed, regardless of whether or not that work is continuous.

12 April 2007

The Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has had great difficulty convincing state and territory counterparts that performance-based pay will improve the standard of teacher quality across the nation.

State ministers are generally in agreement with Shadow Minister for Education Stephen Smith who called her proposal for performance-based pay "narrow and simplistic."

Smith also made reference to a new study by the Australian Council for Education Research which found that performance-based systems have not worked overseas. According to the report the schemes were vulnerable to bias and cronyism.

Teacher unions have raised similar concerns about parents and students being able to set a teacher's level of pay.

Under Labor’s plan trainee teachers will sit literacy and numeracy tests and existing teachers will have ongoing professional development training.

Bishop has threatened to withhold $3 billion in commonwealth education funding if the states refuse to accept her plan.