The Guardian 10 August, 2005

Taxpayer-funded PR orgy on IR

A jittery federal government is contemplating throwing $100 million at spruiking its controversial workplace agenda. The possibility of a five-fold increase in the projected cost came after big business insisted it move to counter public opposition.

Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, is drawing up new workplace laws based on wish lists submitted by the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

At their heart are secret individual contracts that will be used to undermine negotiated collective contracts. Other key elements include green-lighting unfair dismissals, eliminating guaranteed access to a range of entitlements, and a hostile takeover of state IR systems.

Spooked business spokespeople demanded that the government raid taxpayers' funds after its announcement by the Prime Minister sparked a public backlash. Andrews initially resisted, saying an advertising blitz could wait until the legislation was drafted.

But, after successive polls revealed big slumps in government popularity, the Prime Minister returned from holidays and fast-forwarded the "information campaign".

Analysts expected taxpayers to foot a bill of between $20 million and $25 million for glossy brochures, newspaper, television and radio advertising. But the head of the government taskforce charged with selling the agenda revealed last week the bill could be much larger.

Former Liberal Party president, Andrew Robb, told Melbourne's Age newspaper that workplace advertising could match the controversial GST spend.

"I expect it to be consistent with similar other major policy changes like the GST", Robb said.

GST advertising costs have been put at more than $100 million.

ACTU secretary, Greg Combet, said leaks of the advertising specs proved the government was out to "con" Australians.

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