Choices that work
While AWAs are being signed nobody is sticking their neck out and lauding them in principle. There is no groundswell of public support for the government can point to, and while it's unpopular it's not being modified, so as you'd expect Howard has given a key sales role with no resources to a moderate. Notice how, in the Health portfolio, Senator Patterson looked weak as she stood fast as directed by Howard; when the heat got too much he replaced her with Aboott, who backed down furiously and had resources galore that were denied to Patterson; yet Abbott has the reputation for firm resolution and Patterson is political roadkill. Loyalty, eh!
With his current portfolio Joe Hockey will either have the moderation leached from him, like Ruddock; he'll collapse intenally, like Vanstone; or he'll cop the blame from the right for failing to defend the indefensible. Hockey has a key role to play in pulling the Liberals together when they next go into Opposition, but none of that matters to Howard loyalists and their post-Howard Götterdämmerung fantasies.
WorkChoices was an idle piece of work slapped together by a government that had not expected to have a fifth term, it's too late to back down on it (but those aspects that really jar with teh focus groups will be watered down between now and the election). It is the first piece of IR legislation in which major employer groups and unions were not closely consulted in the development process.
The reason why the employer groups have not rallied behind WorkChoices is because they have no skin in the game, it is a monument to their irrelevance. When was the last time the Australian Industry Group (which has the silly abbreviation of Ai, the greeting made famous by Ali G), the National Farmers' Federation, Australian Business Ltd or VECCI actually drove some reform? They are being ignored on infrastructure and tax reform and pretty much everything else. The glory days of leading reform and careful consideration about policy in the 1980s are well behind us. Employers' First (the old NSW Employers' Federation) only makes an appearance to complain about lost productivity over public holidays - mean and irrelevant.
A Rudd Government will almost certainly replace WorkChoices with legislation developed in close consultation with unions and employer bodies. This will bury the issue politically for the rest of the next term of government, but beyond that dissatisfaction will emerge with legislation drawn up by orgajnisations increasingly irrelevant to the working lives of most people, what with declining membership and a move away from corporatism. It will be interesting to see how much of WorkChoices (or, for that matter, Jobsback!) is fished out of the bin, dressed up and wedged back into the statute books in order to regulate working relationships into the second decade of this century.