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Election 2007, 4 days to go: Joyce will back Labor IR changes

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The big issue that has underpinned much of the campaign politics of the past two weeks, industrial relations, has come roaring back on to the top of the election agenda today.

First, National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce says he will vote for Labor’s industrial relations laws if it wins Saturday’s federal election, even if that means defying Liberal attempts to block the legislation.

Joyce says he sees few significant differences between the IR policies of the two major parties and would prefer to avoid the risk of a double dissolution election if one of Labor’s key policy platforms was blocked.

“I really am struggling now to work out how Labor’s stance is that different from WorkChoices,” Joyce told The Australian. “Either way, you’ve got individual contracts and the protection of some basic rights for workers.”

Joyce’s declaration means that it is now almost certain that Labor will be able to pass new industrial relations laws through parliament if it wins Saturday’s election – for more on how the IR changes could play out if Labor wins, read today’s story What will the workplace be like on Monday?

Today Labor is also attempting to make a big deal out of the Government’s refusal to make public a report prepared by the public service in 2005 canvassing various options for IR reform and their consequences.

Labor deputy Julia Gillard says the refusal to release the report indicates the Coalition is hiding its intention to introduce further industrial relations reforms if it is re-elected. Given that the report was prepared before the introduction of WorkChoices, it appears unlikely such a report would continue to underpin the Coalition’s policy agenda – particularly given its unexpected introduction of the fairness test earlier this year.

Howard this morning has denied there is any cover-up. “Those documents were ‘advice to Cabinet’ documents in relation to the decisions taken in 2005,” Howard says. “Those sort of documents are not normally released because they’re part of the Cabinet process – there’s nothing conspiratorial about that.”

And a new SmartCompany Election 2007 poll released today reveals that industrial relations continues to be a vote-changing issue for many small business owners – see today’s story Small business changes its mind.

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