Why WorkChoices was the fall guy

by 22 Jan 2008

By Craig Donaldson

WorkChoices was the fall guy for the Coalition’s loss at last year’s federal election. Shortly after the change of government at last year’s federal election, I met with an IR strategist who is well connected in union, business and government circles. He was talking about the election, the resulting fallout of WorkChoices and what went wrong with the former government in the first place.

There are a lot of similarities between what happened with the Coalition and a dysfunctional company when it comes to WorkChoices. In a dysfunctional company, the CEO is often unaware of or blind to looming problems, while communication between the CEO, executive team and the rest of the company is often poor or non-existent. A disconnection often exists between the leadership and employee base in a dysfunctional company, while inexperienced leaders and failure to listen to advice from more experienced peers often plagues such companies.

Former prime minister John Howard believed he had a mandate for WorkChoices following his win in the 2004 election. Shortly after he re-shuffled his Cabinet and appointed former minister for ageing Kevin Andrews to the role of minister for employment and workplace relations. With no experience in this field, Andrews was charged with getting WorkChoices drawn up in a record amount of time. There was often a lack of communication between the large law firms who drafted WorkChoices, which led to a significant amount of inconsistencies in and confusion about the end result.

When the Coalition took WorkChoices to the masses, it failed to communicate to the Australian public about its new legislation, and in the ensuing vacuum, the unions took maximum advantage through an emotive advertising campaign and began hammering the nails into the Coalition’s coffin.

From there the Coalition struggled to take control of messages about WorkChoices and it never really recovered. While it is early days for Rudd, it appears that he has learned from some of the former government’s mistakes and is doing a better job with the communication so far.