The world according to Maurice Newman

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Maurice Newman and Tony Abbott (Images via businessday.com.au and guardian.co.uk)

Tony Abbott's hand-picked business advisor, Maurice Newman, has wasted no time outlining the hardline cuts he believes his boss should make​. Matthew N. Donovan explains.

WELCOME TO Tony Abbott's Australia.

Big business and vested interests are back in the drivers seat. The recent speech by former chairman of the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Maurice Newman to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) makes that crystal clear.

Mr. Newman was at pains to state his extreme and politically motivated comments were his and his alone.

However, listening to him one couldn't help feeling there was an obvious reason he was appointed as chair of the Abbott Government's Business Advisory Council. If you closed your eyes you could almost hear Tony Abbott or even the anti-union and fellow B.A. Santamaria acolyte Eric Abetz droning on about their inner thoughts and desires.

The former ABC boss "openly declared" his support for the Coalition and their agenda at the 2013 Federal Election.

His refrain about the previous administration and its apparently:

"reckless spending, economic waste, class warfare, particularly aimed at business and, the mindless destruction of Australia's international competitiveness and, the reintroduction of workplace rigidities"

might as well have been written by one of Tony Abbott's staffers. Indeed he couldn't help himself, quoting the words of his idol several times.

By "workplace rigidities" one may assume he means that favourite term of "flexibility".

This brings us to the policy that shall not be named by conservatives: Work Choices — that unpopular overreaching policy that turfed the Howard Government out of office, which Tony Abbott famously said was "dead, buried and cremated".

Abbott signed a so called "contract" in 2010 on the Neil Mitchell show on 3AW:
He went on to say:

"But let's, I mean, Work Choices, it's dead, it's buried, it's cremated now and forever. But obviously I can't give an absolute guarantee about every single aspect of workplace relations legislation. But Work Choices is gone now and forever."

This inability to make an "absolute guarantee" was of little consequence in 2010, but should now send a chill down our spines.

Mr Newman bemoans regulation and "red tape" and scoffs at the idea of the stimulus being needed and working during the Global Financial Crisis. This, despite the plaudits of the OECD, IMF, the World Bank and the economist Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz among others. This despite the fact they all point to the success and effectiveness of the package that brought us through the worst scenario since the Great Depression.

He makes a bet each way, saying the Better Schools Program and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) are without merit at this time but refuses to call for their scrapping. Where's your courage of your convictions Maurice?

His excitement for the outcome of the National Commission of Audit, headed by a government mate at the Business Council of Australia, is palpable.

Like so many extremely wealthy men, his fervent desire is to see the minimum wage – the wage paid to Australia's most vulnerable people – decrease, rather than increase.

"Canada, our closest competitor has a minimum wage of US$22,766, for a 44 hour week. The European minimum is around $US 22,000, New Zealand is US$ 23,000 and the United States, US$15,000, all rounded and for 40 hour weeks."

This compares to Australia's US$33,355 for a 38 hours.

Effectively he encourages the new government to take steps to supposedly increase our international competitiveness by taking an axe to the wages of the least well off amongst us.

He continues:

"On top of our minimum awards Australian employers must pay 10 per cent of their payroll in workers compensation insurance premiums, a 9.25 per cent compulsory superannuation surcharge, sick leave, overtime penalty rates and holiday loadings."

What an outrage!? How dare workers have these rights! Think of the poor employers!

This is the bizarro world people. The twisted world conservatives lives in. The idea of what's good for the employer is good for the worker.

History has categorically repudiated this idea. "Trickle down economics" doesn't work.

You only need one word to prove that: "America".

The enemy has stormed the gates. Given yesterday's effort in Question Time, they seem to be relishing gloating about unwinding the idea of a progressive and fair Australia. Instead, they favour preaching and piously moralising and lecturing while returning us to the nirvana that was the Menzies era. What ambition. What vision.

It should be a warning sign that the Abbott Government and his Business Advisory Council are so in step with each other. His speech reads like a fawning endorsement.

A climate change denialist and anti-windfarm advocate, while chair of the ABC in 2010 Maurice Newman lectured senior ABC staff about the so-called "myth" of climate change (Image via Walkleys.com)

This is obviously not welcome and it can only be assumed Abbott will be told what he wants to hear. This is one of the greatest dangers in government. The loss of "frank and fearless" advice. The same kind of advice Mr. Newman in his delusion believes he will provide his hero.

What is the only protection the workers of Australia have left? That's right — the union movement. There is a reason why Tony Abbott will be mounting a full frontal attack loyally followed by the uninspiring hero of yesteryear, Eric Abetz.

Nobody in their right mind, even big business, thinks employers would have decided out of the goodness of their hearts to offer employees:

  • sick leave,
  • paid annual leave,
  • penalty rates,
  • worker's compensation,
  • the 38 hour working week and
  • compulsory superannuation

amongst other entitlements.

These rights were hard fought for over many years of struggle and they will not be given up easily.

If Mr Newman and his mates in Government believe the wider community will cop any movement towards Work Choices, no matter how sneakily, I have news for them — you will not get your way.

You can take that to the bank.

(Matthew N. Donovan is an Australian Labor Party member and former Australian Labor Party candidate.)

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