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News News Can Mr Barnett really call himself a straight talker?
By Dave Kelly, LHMU WA
The Premier Colin Barnett likes to portray himself as a straight talking sort of guy; an honest politician that can be trusted. He said as much when he spoke to 300 LHMU workplace delegates at our convention in June.  He said, “Go back on my history in public life. What I say, I do.”

Saying you are a straight talker is clearly a positive to put to voters. But for the premier is it a line with substance?  Or is it just nice sounding fluff that is wheeled out when it sounds good and ignored when it is politically expedient?

Let’s look at the Premier’s handling of the state’s industrial relations laws...
During the 2008 state election campaign, Mr Barnett was asked if he planned changes to the state’s employment laws. He repeatedly said that employment law was now largely a federal issue.

And he bent over backwards to leave voters with the impression that with him as Premier there would be little or no change. Definitely no mention of a wide-ranging review of the state’s employment laws and definitely nothing akin to a return to WorkChoices.

However, soon after being elected the Premier did what he led us to believe wouldn’t happen.

He approved a wide-ranging review into the state’s employment laws. Troy Buswell, as Industrial Relations Minister, appointed Steven Amendola, a Melbourne lawyer with Blake Dawson – with a history of working for the Howard government – to do the job.  Was he appointed to clean up the grammar in the legislation and turn it into plain English? Not a chance.

My meeting with Mr Amendola (as part of his consultation with unions) made it clear to me that he had a very wide agenda.  And he made it clear that individual contracts (one of the worst aspects of WorkChoices) were on his “to do” list.

I went through with him how individual contracts were used in industries like childcare, aged care, cleaning, security and hospitality to remove penalty payments for shift and weekend work, how they were used to turn permanent staff into casuals and how they were offered on a take it or find another job basis. None of this seemed to worry Mr Amendola who was adamant individual contracts were fair.

In October 2009 ($850,000 later), Mr Amendola handed his report to the state government, then nothing. An expensive report on an important issue but no response from the government.

Ten months later and still nothing. The new minister Bill Marmion will only say that the report will be released before the end of the year. That’s a long time to sit on a report. Unless of course Mr Barnett is planning major change that he knows will be unpopular.

I think everyone in WA knows that the report is being withheld by Mr Barnett because of the federal election. A return to WorkChoices or anything like it would be a clanger for the Liberals in the middle of the election campaign.

But does straight-talking Mr Barnett fess up to his real motivation? No he just says they are still looking at the report and it will be released by Christmas.

Come on Mr Barnett, we all know what’s going on here. Before the state election you didn’t want to be honest with voters about your plans to change WA’s employment laws and now two years later you don’t want to be honest about your plans in the middle of a federal election.

Top marks Mr Barnett for being a clever politician. You are managing a potentially unpopular agenda with skill. But next time you say “What I say I do” you will have to excuse me if I don’t nod appreciatively.

Dave Kelly is the State Secretary of the Liquor, Hospitality & Miscellaneous Workers Union WA.


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