It must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop to front the media in her capacity as Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations and finally kill off Australian Workplace Agreements. Ms Bishop had until that point been fighting tooth and nail to preserve the contracts, despite the government’s determination to abolish them along with Work Choices. Just days ago there was talk of blocking legislation until that distinction was recognized, and the response from the government of a threat to bring on a double dissolution early election. All of that has now fizzled out.
Minister Bishop insists that the Liberal party still wants a system of individual contracts as part of the I.R. landscape, and is now satisfied with the government’s plan to rely on common law contracts for that purpose. This is a complete reversal of her previous position, and represents a moment of epiphany. Not the realization that AWAs had become the instruments of undermining pay, conditions and living standards, but that defending them was not politically sustainable.
Despite the fact that AWAs did exist before Work Choices, they had become the symbol of everything that was wrong about the Howard government workplace relations policy. The new Prime Minister promised a fresh start and that’s what the electorate expects. For the opposition to cling to the malodorous debris of a failed policy would be sheer stupidity.
Still, it must have been difficult for Julie Bishop to smile at the press conference, rather than grit her teeth.