Monday, May 25, 2009

Kevin Rudd's Unfinished Business

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has unfinished business. Specifically he has two formerly independent bodies determining wages, that are not independent.

In 2005, John Howard effectively sidelined the Federal Industrial Relations Commission, which had been presided over by Judges, and established his own "Fair Pay Commission", using Federal Corporations Law to do so. In October 2005, then PM Howard announced Melbourne Professor Ian Harper as the first Fair Pay Commissioner. Far from being independent, the Fair Pay Commission, and Prof. Harper, sat as a unit within the Dept of Employment and Workplace Relations, under the control of Minister Kevin Andrews, and Prime Minister Howard. It was always subject to political interference: that was one way that Howard could lower the wages of Australians in real terms. As an example, witness the extended delay in announcing the Fair Pay Commissioner, that the Commissioner was a political appointment by Howard, and the extended delay in announcing considerably-less-than-CPI wage increases.

The Australian Fair Pay Commission still sits within the Ministry (Dept of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations) where the current (Deputy Prime) Minister Julia Gillard, and PM Kevin Rudd can still exercise considerable political influence. It is the political interference and the policy of using the Commission to lower the wages of the lower paid workers that so rankled the union movement, and many other Australians. Under the current structure, kept by Kevin Rudd, that can happen again. The Australian Fair Pay Commission is NOT as independent as was the Federal IR court. It is no wonder, then, that the states & territories have not signed up to Kevin Rudd's proposed industrial relations takeover. Only Victoria has signed up. The states, with some historical justification, given the history behind John Howard's partial takeover, with the political objective of lowering average wages, have a distrust of the intentions of this and future Federal Governments.

The second unfinished business concerns the Remuneration Tribunal. In 2001, John Howard made Tony Abbott "responsible for" the Remuneration Tribunal. It had once been a statutory independent body that reported to Parliament, not to a Minister or Prime Minister. Every pay rise was justified because the "Remuneration Tribunal is an independent body". Politicians of all parties made similar announcements, knowing that it is patently untrue. It reports to the Minister, and indirectly to the Prime Minister. Malcolm Turnbull said it on 2o-May-09; Kevin Rudd said it though a 'spokesman' on 28-Apr-09.

I believe it is a good idea to debate the Federal politicians' salaries, their allowances and associated auditing requirements, and how they are determined. Not surprisingly, the pollies don't want any auditing of how they spend their allowances, or how frequent flier points earned from Government business might be used for personal travel of family & friends. But for politicians to continually refer to "the independent remuneration tribunal" is specious at best, and more likely, deceptive, on their part.

Kevin Rudd has unfinished business with both the politically abused 'Fair Pay Commission' and the less-than-independent Remuneration Tribunal.


Further Reading:,com_remository/Itemid,26/func,fileinfo/id,37/