I was reading Tim Colebatch’s column on IR reform thinking it was a bit overblown. He argues that IR reform could be a lingering threat to the Coalition’s electoral prospects. My own thinking was that it would be more like the GST – something for an Opposition to conjour with for as long as it didn’t exist, and then something that fades into insignificance once it’s enacted – as people realise that regulatory frameworks are much less important than their respective strengths and weaknesses in the market.
But of course if there’s an economic turndown, which I think is quite likely, I think Colebatch’s argument starts to look pretty sound. Ironically, if there is an economic downturn, labour market deregulation would, in my opinion be a good thing, because to some extent it would ease the path for firms to spread the burden of pain amongst their workforce, rather than line ten percent of their workforce against the wall and shoot them.
But with all that agro going down in the labour market, the IR changes would become an easy target and a scapegoat. People will feel as if it’s the IR changes that have brought about their difficulties, not the economy. And of course there’s form on this stuff. Previously the great scapegoat has been tariff reform which Malcolm Fraser managed to seize upon so successfully in 1974 and 1975. His slogan was “jobs not dogma” – a slogan he no-doubt still holds by. He ended up giving us the worst of both worlds at least as far as economic management is concerned. Plenty of dogma, but not many jobs.