Discussion paper

Your right to work: the employment policy of a truly Liberal government

Employment Labour force Labour market Industrial relations Liberal Party of Australia Australia
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In September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull was elected leader of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, thereby becoming Australia’s twenty-ninth Prime Minister. In his first press conference as Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull pledged that ‘this will be a thoroughly Liberal Government. It will be a thoroughly Liberal Government committed to freedom, the individual and the market’.

The Turnbull Government’s Minister for Employment, Michaelia Cash has fatally undermined that part of the Prime Minister’s position that relates to labour market policy, limiting her ambition to ‘an industrial relations policy that will get through the Senate’ of the 44th Parliament.

In May 2016, the Prime Minister wrote to the Governor General advising that the Senate had twice rejected two parcels of proposed legislation - the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013; the Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013; and the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014. The July 2016 election triggered by the subsequent double dissolution was signifcant in that there was a complete and abject failure by the Coalition to enunciate any clear policy position, let alone provide a convincing narrative dealing with the need for the ABCC and Registered Organisations reforms.

This essay explores how well the liberal tradition has been served by the Australian labour market regulatory system, and outlines some of the changes that need to be considered if we are to truly embrace liberal values in relation to the regulation of relationships between workers and employers. It concludes, contra Ms Cash, that much of the workplace regulatory framework has not served Australia well and that there is a need for a comprehensive and systemic overhaul of the system; one that must be firmly anchored in the liberal tradition and implemented over the lives of several Parliaments. 

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