Tony Abbott is at it again, with a wicked plan to cut research funding
to universities that do not put their workforce onto individual contracts.
We've long argued that Australian Workplace Agreements were a dangerous
experiment, but Abbott's play on university funding will see ideology
undermine our national interest in a way we have never previously
It follows on the heels of his aborted attempt to dictate the
employment conditions on the MCG redevelopment - a move that prompted the
Bracks Government to suggest where he could stick his federal funding.
But the university salvo shows the Mad Monk is on the warpath:
frustrated by his failure to push nasties through the Senate, he is using
federal funding as the vehicle for promoting his preferred model of
While his particular focus is obnoxious, the actual tactic demands
closer scrutiny for those of us interested in imposing industrial decency
at a time when governments are increasingly loath to regulate.
Indeed, the late-20th century penchant for contracting out government
services means there are more businesses than ever relying, at least in
part, on government contracts to maintain their growth and profits.
Short of the sort of regulation that spooks the markets, this public
purchasing power could be the most effective tool in changing the way
companies treat their workers.
If Abbott can withhold public money on the grounds of ugly industrial
relations policies, why shouldn't Labor Governments do the opposite, and
The first step is to develop codes of conduct, such as the one
negotiated between the Labor Council of NSW and the Carr Government -
where the Department of Public Works must have regard to a company's
industrial relations policies when considering tenders.
Most would agree that a company should comply with the law when
performing public work; but why shouldn't we impose additional standards
that can be applied to ALL its projects.
And let's not stop at work relations - let's also add corporate
governance and environmental standards. Why should public money prop up a
company that's paying its executives multi-million dollar salaries? Why
should our taxes go to contracts that deliver sustenance to serial
And what about government employees flying on an airline that is
prepared to take massive profits and pay their executives big bonuses
while slashing staff?
If we are serious about setting new rules within society, we should be
asking our elected representatives to consider our massive purchasing
power. Let's use the excesses of contracting out to strike a new deal
between the people and the corporate world, with the State as our
Abbott a force for positive change? Hardly. But his bullyboy tactics
may set a template for progressive governments fighting the growing power
of corporates who suck at the public teat.
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