The 'Ayatollahs' of IR

Sunday Age
31st October 2004

NOTE: Words in square brackets deleted, words in italics added, by editor.

Paul Heinrich reports an address by Bob Hawke pleading that Prime Minister Howard discuss IR reforms with the ACTU and avoid taking a confrontationist road (Let's Talk about IR, Hawke begs PM, 24/10). He also reports Justice Michael Kirby's provocative remarks to the same conference that "there is no room in this nation for industrial ayatollahs who wanted a radical overhaul of workplace relations laws".

[My historical research reveals that] The AIRC's establishment in 1904 almost certainly contributed to Australia's subsequent high rate of industrial disputation. [, including when Mr Hawke was President of the ACTU. Industrial disputation has since fallen but remains high internationally.]

[Further, the AIRC's] And its minimum wage edicts do not, as [Justice] Kirby claims, provide a "fair go"; rather, they make it more difficult to obtain work for the 2 million people currently looking for it, while providing disproportionate benefit to higher income households.

[In his address, Justice] Kirby also accuses me of living in "a remote world of fantasy" for wanting to abolish the commission. [AIRC But] My proposal is that it should become an advisory, mediatory body along [similar] the lines of Britain's [ to the successful UK] Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service[That body], which is widely used by both employees and employers. [and] Unlike the commission [AIRC], it encourages the conclusion of mutually beneficial arrangements between employers and employees rather than [instead of] issuing ayatollah-like behavioural edicts.