The period since Kevin Rudd became Labor leader reminds me somewhat of the phoney war in the early stages of World War II. The government has relied mostly on attacks over trivia (the dispute over the exact circumstances in which Rudd’s family was evicted from their home, the dinner with Brian Burke, the Anzac day predawn dawn service and so on) most of which have had little impact, and some of which have backfired.
There have been some substantive issues of disagreement, including the broadband plan, the Iraq war and Kyoto, but the government’s position on all these issues is one of disarray. They have no idea how we’ll get a proper broadband rollout, how to extricate us from Iraq or how to do anything substantive about climate change while still refusing to sign Kyoto. Particularly on the second and third of these issues, they’re happened by the fact that much of their activist base, which is by now taking its views directly from US Republicans, still clings to delusional beliefs that victory in Iraq/demolition of the global warming conspiracy is just around the corner.
With the release of Labor’s IR policy we’ll presumably see some real action. This is an issue Labor has to get right and one where the government strongly believes in the rightness of its own position. They’ve got some impressive employment numbers to back them up, but they haven’t managed to get over the fact that their policies are centrally based on “managements’ right to manage” which, from the perspective of the average employee looks more like “bosses’ right to be bossy”. Nor have they given any explanation as to how we are going to avoid the situation that has emerged in the US, where incomes at the top have soared while wages for many workers have been stagnant for decades.
Obviously, the government will be hoping for conflict between Labor and the unions over the concessions to business in Rudd’s policy, most obviously the requirement for secret ballots for strikes. I doubt that we’ll see much of this. It must be obvious to all that another couple of terms of Howard or Costello government could break the union movement once and for all. Now that Rudd’s policy is out there, the unions have no real alternative but to support it.