By David Bates

It takes great courage and conviction to stand up to vested interests and challenge the status quo. So given all that’s at stake in federal politics, it’s hardly surprising our commonwealth ministers rarely rock the boat too much in their respective portfolios.

Take Australia’s recent ministers for employment. Ever since the ‘Workchoices’ debacle of the Howard era, the employment relations portfolio has been a poisoned chalice. Ministers from both sides of politics have come and gone in the years since Workchoices, but has anything really changed?

Australia’s businesses are still stifled by an outdated (and at times completely bizarre) system of Awards

Unions still dominate the industrial relations arena, despite the fact their membership has been shrinking for decades, and

Our national employment relations tribunal remains unrepresentative and in need of reform (though to be fair, its name has been changed three times!)

Yes, ministers such as Julia Gillard, Chris Evans, and even the Coalition’s Eric Abetz have come and gone, but no outstanding courage or conviction has really been shown in this portfolio…until now.

PM Turnbull’s decision to promote WA Senator Michaelia Cash to this portfolio disappointed a few, surprised many, but exhilarated those of us who genuinely care about industrial relations reform. Why? Because, put simply, the Senator doesn’t just have a little courage or a bit of conviction – she has both…in spades.

Since her appointment, we have witnessed a consistent, steely determination to bring real reform to Australia’s hopelessly complex employment laws and the outdated industrial relations ‘boys club’:

When the (incredibly damning) Royal Commission report into trade union governance and corruption was published, the Minister fronted the cameras to say enough was enough

She has rightly (and cleverly) avoided becoming entwined in Labor’s cynical scare campaign around the long overdue reform of weekend penalty rates

She’s consistently stood her ground on the urgent need to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), and hasn’t batted an eyelid while staring-down CFMEU thuggery

Put simply, this is a minister who seems to genuinely ‘get it’. 

 

In this election year – when vested interests will once again bleat on about Workchoices or demand special rights for partisan, corrupt, and ineffective unions – there’s a real chance we’ll finally see a minister achieve what so many before her have failed to do: reform Australia’s employment relations laws and institutions to make them fit for purpose and work for all of us.