A breakdown of how minor party policies might affect the major parties’ legislative agenda after the election.
Australia has not shown overwhelming confidence in either major political party for a long time. Turnbull won the last election with only a one-seat majority, in 2010 Gillard had to form a minority government, and the last time there was a senate majority was also the last time the person elected Prime Minister made it through a full term – 2004, with John Howard’s Coalition victory.
With current polls only projecting a slight Labor victory, it’s quite possible we’ll once again end up with one of the major parties having to negotiate with a third party to form government, giving those crossbenchers outsized power. And it’s extremely likely that the winner will have to deal with crossbenchers in the Senate (giving them typical-sized power).
So it’s worth taking a look at the workplace and industrial relations policies of the minor parties to see how they might interact with the agenda of the winner.
A recent Senate prediction from The Australia Institute (TAI) think tank shows that the most likely outcome is Labor holding 28-29 seats, the Coalition keeping 30-32, and the Greens netting eight-to-nine. So Labor would need every Greens senator to vote with them to get close to a majority (though it seems there’s almost no chance of the Greens being enough on their own).
The Greens’ workplace policies are:
- Vote against trade deals that “undercut labour laws” (they specifically mention the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP)
- Support a way for casuals to get more permanent work. Their policy is in line with Labor’s (which HRM has written about)
- Lift the minimum wage to 60 per cent of the median wage (phased introduction, and would still be set through the FWC)
- Review workplace laws with a view to improving the bargaining power of unions (including repealing legislation that bans “secondary boycotts and strike action”)
- Review the same to give Unions more powerful right of entry provisions for the purpose of talking to workers and inspecting workplace safety breaches
- Reforms aimed at eliminating the gender pay gap
- Reforms aimed at helping small businesses, including doubling the GST registration threshold and ‘prompt payment’ legislation that will penalise big companies ($25 million or more in turnover) that don’t pay small businesses ($10 million or less) on time
- Paid domestic violence leave
Another policy of interest is the creation of a ‘Future of Work Commission’ that would look for ways to overcome the challenges of things such as automation and the “threat of insecure work”. It would also “model a four day work week without loss of pay” (HRM has written about a NZ company that does this).
Greens vs Labor
As you might expect, there is crossover between the Greens and Labor on workplace policy. Both parties have signalled support for a lot of the union-run ‘Change The Rules’ campaign and both will look to strengthen union power and look at multi-employer bargaining.
Like the Greens, Labor also wants to change how the FWC assesses the minimum wage, but its policy is less specific and prescriptive. It plans to change the framing so the FWC instead calculates a ‘Living Wage’ rather than a minimum. Labor leaves it up to the Commission to take submissions and determine what that precisely entails (the Conversation has an informative piece on this policy).
The parties also differ a little on trade. Labor has said it would prohibit the signing of agreements that would “waive labour market testing” and “include Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions” amongst other things, but the party, unlike the Greens, dropped its opposition to the TPP.
One area of difference might be on immigration. The Greens seem fairly silent on skilled migration visas, but their much more generous principles around humanitarian intakes seem to cut against Labor’s policies that aim to reduce the number of foreign workers coming to Australia. Labor hopes to, amongst other things, lift the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold to $65,000 with annual indexing and introduce an ‘Australian Jobs Test’ that will prevent “labour agreements being entered into unless they support or create jobs for Australian workers.”
But overall you can imagine a pretty robust relationship between the parties. When they differ on IR and workplace issues, there’s likely to be scope for compromise.
If current projections are accurate, Labor will need at least one non-Greens vote to help pass their legislation.
A possible source is the Centre Alliance (formerly known as the Nick Xenophon Team) which describes itself as having a “common sense centrist approach” – its likely to have 2-3 senators according to the TAI projection.
Their election promises are less detailed than the larger parties, but from what can be gleaned from their policy page it seems they might be willing to work with the Greens and Labor on:
- The minimum wage. Specifically, they want the “standard of living maintained”. Which certainly sounds like the ‘Living Wage’ framework would be on the table.
- Penalty rates restoration. The party is completely on-board here.
- Industrial relations reform. In their outlined policies, the Centre Alliance fails to mention the interests of larger businesses. But it does “acknowledge and respect the role of responsible unions in the workplace to give a voice to workers who otherwise would face an unlevel playing field.”
However, if the party holds true to form, it will likely be something of a right wing drag on Labor’s workplace policies.
Pauline Hanson’s party is associated with the global turn towards nationalism, which actually makes it something of an ally for at least a chunk of Labor’s workplace agenda. One Nation’s immigration stances suggest they would support Labor on any legislation that makes it tougher to hire foreign workers, or which requires companies that hire foreign workers to invest locally.
And it goes beyond immigration. Nationalism is not conservatism, and while small businesswoman Hanson was once fervently against penalty rates she did flip and come out against them being cut. One Nation voters also support a minimum wage increase; the populist streak in nationalism demands help for (locally born) battlers.
Shared goals aside, Opposition leader Bill Shorten has denounced One Nation as extremists and insisted the party be placed beneath even the Coalition in Labor how-to-vote cards. The politics of their mutual interests will be interesting to watch, should Labor win.
If the Coalition beats predictions and secures victory, it will hope for similar deals to those it makes with minor parties now. They will see support from Cory Bernardi from the Australian Conservatives (his seat is not up for grabs this election) but will no longer have Liberal Democratic party member David Leyonhjelm.
What new policies the Coalition has announced are fairly low-key. A recent example is the Mid-Career Checkpoint initiative, which is essentially a government-funded single session mentoring program “targeted at women” but open to men aged 30 to 45 who have either:
- Taken two years off of work to care for family; or
- Have been back at work for 18 months or less and want a mentoring session to help them “step up their career”
As a quick aside, you have to question the utility of a single session. Mentoring becomes a lot more useful once a relationship has been developed. And while these people returning to work might be facing a lack of knowledge, the larger issue is that the time off work means their skills can be rusty or a few years out-of-date. Even more of a challenge is the bias against career gaps.
But the policy will cost a relatively minor sum – $75 million. So it and similar micro-targeted workplace policies will not be too hard to sell to other parties, even to Labor. The truth is unless the Coalition makes a huge last announcement, their workplace agenda doesn’t need votes. It’s already in place.