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November 29, 2022

Thus Spake Mungo: olive branches and doves

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Scott Morrison’s press club speech last week was almost drowned out by the rustling of olive branches and the cooing of doves.

If he is to be believed, he is willing, even eager, for everyone to put down the weapons, to lay down his sword and shield, down by the riverside, and study war no more. A new era of peace will be ushered through the economy, throughout the country, and we will all live happily ever after.

But even at his most evangelical, ScoMo must know that it doesn’t work like that. The distribution of power, the demarcation of rights and responsibilities, are inherently adversarial in their nature; if they weren’t, there would be no need for politics in the first place. At the end of every contest, there has to be a winner and a loser, and while the combatants may shake hands in a civilised manner and declare a temporary armed truce, this will not lead to eternal harmony.

But of course this does not mean that last week’s initiative is not worth pursuing, and the amenable, but somewhat wary acceptance of it, by a union movement that has been berated and attacked for years, decades by the conservatives, is encouraging.

However, it is not wise to get over-excited about it.

The commentators have correctly pointed out that this is not like the deal Bob Hawke implemented in 1983; a comprehensive deal in which wage increases were traded off for the social wage, public spending in areas like health, education, infrastructure and welfare. And the differences were far more extensive than the pundits seem to remember.

Morrison is reacting to an emergency, taking some advantage of a situation in which some kind of a reset will be inevitable, as the economy staggers back to its feet

Morrison is reacting to an emergency, taking some advantage of a situation in which some kind of a reset will be inevitable, as the economy staggers back to its feet. And he is smart enough to realise that he can use his success in leading an agenda of inclusion – we’re all in this together – as the way to go.

He is, and always has been, a partisan player, a fierce and compromising (and frequently unscrupulous) political warrior of the right. This is why he is trying to shore up his credentials as a good faith mediator by dropping his union-busting Ensuring Integrity bill. His direct appeal to the unions, and in particular to the canny, but accommodating ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, is at least as much about his own self-interest as it is about a desire to produce some kind of industrial utopia.

Hawke, by contrast, was the great negotiator; respected by both sides, and chummy with at least some employers – too much so – according to some of his union colleagues. One of his successors, Martin Ferguson, said pointedly that the idea should be not just to settle disputes, but to win them.

Hawke was always determined to produce an outcome, to be able to walk away with a deal. His modus operandi was to bring the parties together and tell them they would not be leaving the room until they hammered out some kind of agreement

But Hawke was always determined to produce an outcome, to be able to walk away with a deal. His modus operandi was to bring the parties together and tell them they would not be leaving the room until they hammered out some kind of agreement. This, essentially, was the way he approached his 1983 summit.

And he had an agenda ready. While Morrison is making a virtue of not offering his own shopping list, Hawke arrived with the guts of his accord already agreed by the unions. Long before he became prime minister, he had gone past the three-word slogan of Recovery, Reconciliation and Reconstruction. He and the highly regarded union leader, Bill Kelty, had devised the formula which was put to the meeting.

Some of the employers felt they had been ambushed – but they could hardly walk away – although, over drinks, one group talked about forming an escape committee; and nominated the militant maverick Builders Labourers supremo Norm Gallagher as its president.

And if they attempted flight, Hawke was there to keep them on the job. Even when he was not physically in the chair (and he usually was) his presence, his authority, was all-pervasive.

The four working groups proposed will be serially chaired by the Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter, who will take the fall if the whole idea collapses

This won’t happen to Morrison, partly because he will not be there. The four working groups proposed will be serially chaired by the Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter, who will take the fall if the whole idea collapses.

Which it easily may; having declared universal disarmament, Morrison has thrown away the big sticks, and is essentially relying on the goodwill of the protagonists to do the same. This involves a leap of faith, touching in a Pentacostalist, but seriously risky for a hardened politician. Morrison may not have a shopping list, but both business and the unions have already prepared recipes of their own. Whether these will admit to compromise will be the big question when the exercise wraps up in September.

This will entail something of a headlong rush to produce concrete results in time for the budget in October. The pressure is on, but there are advantages in the rushed timetable, and Morrison has at least hinted that if consensus, or something like it, cannot be achieved, then his government will reluctantly go it alone, and try to bulldoze what it calls reform through the parliament.

That may well fail too, but he could say that he tried, and if the antagonists refused to co-operate, that was hardly his fault, and he did his best, offering concessions and conciliation. Then, he will just have to revert to his default position of relentless union bashing.

Morrison has finally built a store of political credit through his deft and lucky handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and obviously believes that as long as he keeps moving, there is a fair chance that the punters will forgive him for a few mishaps.

Whether the electorate will buy that is problematical, but Morrison has finally built a store of political credit through his deft and lucky handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and obviously believes that as long as he keeps moving, there is a fair chance that the punters will forgive him for a few mishaps.

And if he stumbles, at least he has the wherewithal to buy his way out of trouble. The JobKeeper miscalculation may have been unfortunate, but any innumerate marketer can make a numerical error. And look on the bright side: $60 billion will buy you a shitload of doves and olive branches.


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9 COMMENTS

  1. Either way, $60 billion means a lot……. although
    I’d prefer ‘little things’ like truth, care & reliability
    for starters. I can’t [& won’t] get excited because
    trust in this government is near impossible – as
    is its leader. Winners are grinners it’s said. We
    will see soon enough. Meantime, why is it that
    I smell a rat!

  2. There is ONE word we must ALL watch out for in all of this. It is a favoured word introduced by Howard-FLEXIBILITY. Howard used this to casualise the workforce, destroy the union movement and erode wages and working conditions.It has never been the same since, resulting in the lowest wages growth in 20years. Morrisson is a paid up member of the IPA, as are many Liberals and their back patters in the Murder media. I hold a dim view. My memory goes back to the Arbitration days when for years and years Howard and the Looters objected to every attempt to give even low paid workers a few dollars a week.

  3. That is right Mungo,
    “(sic) a shitload of doves and olive branches.” would be just the ticket, because although Scumo has been ‘blessed’ with numerous distractions from his underhanded attacks on any sense of decency and social security ( in it’s broadest meaning ) and in particular any hint of collective bargaining, from the workers side.
    Beam me up Scotty, has only offered to stop kicking Wage-earners and GiG- slaves in the proverbials for the duration of the negotiations, which is of course is a political necessity as ” his union-busting Ensuring Integrity bill”. and the manifestly inadequate social security payments have been shown to be the cruel and inhuman policies of a dictator and even in his attempt to ameliorate the effects of the millions unemployed due to government edict, they make an accounting error in the order of the decried Labor “Spending Spree” which saved Australia from the Global financial Crisis.
    However, it is not hard to see how this evangelical campaigner wishes to emulate the success of the
    “Wage Accord “, which not only destroyed the momentum of the union movement but resulted in accolades for Hawk. I see the real danger that he will then set his sights on following the lead of Keeting who was so successful at selling out the accumulated capital of all Australians, he was lorded by the overseas investment bankers. Nobody has twigged yet apparently.
    Cheers, G”)

  4. Ray,
    Did John Howard say that word “flexibility” to Peter Costello when he was bending over backward to become the next PM before the 2007 election?

  5. Morrisons Comparisons to the Great Bob Hawke !
    Well is this admittance that Morrison is Actually
    Better than the left are giving credit for ?
    And yes 60 Billion a Numerical Error ?
    Well who knows , not a good look for the
    For the Conservatives at all !!! However who really
    Cares anyway, its not just some Surplus thats
    Magically has turned up out of thin air from some
    Magician with a big Box full of cash . Its Borrowed
    Funds . And if if could go anywhere apart from back from whence it came . The Government should direct that 60 billion to first home buyers
    To move Construction in the right direction.
    The saying is when Contruction is robust
    So is the Economy !! Mungo give The Prime Ministers Religious beliefs a rest ! If he were a
    Muslim or a Buddhist would that be a Concern?
    Better than that mate !!

  6. Some times you really have to spell it out for those pushing the same old ideology.
    I don’t come to praise Morrison …….but merely put him in the same conniving, false and destructive company of those priministers intent on acting in the same way as those worst examples of the Liberal/National minority coalition governments, All of whom adept at proving beyond doubt, two things, power corrupts and that scum rises to the surface.
    The second point you seem to have missed entirely, is that it is immaterial of either the origin or the destination of the $60,000,000,000, it is the FACT that these paragons of finance, can’t be trusted to account accurately for sums of even this magnitude, nor apparently for the millions criminally coerced from the unemployed.

  7. Barrow old son, love your defence that the JobKeeper discrepancies of $60billions and 3.5millions people just a ‘Numerical error’. I guess Sports Rorts was just a ‘Numerical Error’ as well. I guess Angus Taylor and his Documentgate forgery was just a ‘Numerical Error’ as well. I guess that announced 2019 Budget Surplus was just a ‘Numerical Error’ as well. You getting the drift, yeah. Morrison and crew can’t be trusted with numbers, can’t be trusted full stop.

  8. I cannot believe the stupidity — the ineptitude — of
    our wrought-thought leaders. Do they breathe
    the same air as the rest of us… Who do they
    think they are? Will someone give ’em an IQ test
    for starters so we can tell them to go & get lost.
    On medical grounds.

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