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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08CANBERRA114 2008-02-08 06:23:00 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Embassy Canberra
Cable title:  

NEW PARLIAMENT TO MEET: LEADERS FACE SCRUTINY

Tags:   AS PGOV 
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P 080623Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY CANBERRA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8952
INFO AMCONSUL MELBOURNE 
AMCONSUL PERTH 
AMCONSUL SYDNEY
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L CANBERRA 000114 

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/08/2018
TAGS: AS PGOV
SUBJECT: NEW PARLIAMENT TO MEET: LEADERS FACE SCRUTINY


Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR JAMES F. COLE. REASON: 1.4 (b)
and (C)



1. (C/NF) SUMMARY: The ALP and Coalition will be under the
media spotlight next week when the new Parliament sits for
the first time. In Question Time, the Opposition will seek
to put the Rudd Government on the defensive, particularly on
the key issue of the economy. The performance of Liberal
leader Brendan Nelson, who some observers here believe will
be deposed before the next election, will be heavily
scrutinized following a less than convincing start. An
apology by the government to those in the Aboriginal
community who were affected by the removal of indigenous
children from their parents in the mid 20th century will be
the Government's first item of parliamentary business. After
much internal debate, the Coalition has finally given - in
principle - support for the apology. The other big item of
parliamentary business is the Rudd Government's winding back
of the previous government's "WorkChoices" laws - arguably
the biggest factor in the ALP's election victory. The
Coalition's position on this will become clearer when the
Government introduces the legislation. Coalition MPs are
divided on the extent to which WorkChoices should be rolled
back. With the Coalition holding a majority in the Senate
until July, the Government may not get its way on this issue,
but the Coalition will be on dangerous political ground if
the public believes it still supports WorkChoices. END SUMMARY

OPENING OF PARLIAMENT



2. (U) At 3:00 pm on Tuesday February 12, the 42nd Parliament
of Australia will assemble. There will be a joint sitting of
Parliament in the House of Representatives which will include
the swearing in of MPs, the election of the House of
Representatives Speaker (it will be ALP MP Harry Jenkins) and
a speech by the Governor-General outlining the Government's
legislative program. For the first time, the opening of
parliament will include an Aboriginal ceremony on the floor
of the Parliament.

HOW NELSON CAME TO BE SORRY



3. (SBU) On February 13, Rudd will move a motion apologizing
to those affected by the forcible removal, decades ago, of
indigenous children from their parents - the "Stolen
Generation." This was an election commitment by the ALP.
Former Prime Minister John Howard was strongly opposed to an
apology, believing one generation shouldn't have to apologize
for the actions of another. However, in 1999 he moved a
motion of "deep and sincere" regret for what had happened and
said "it was the most blemished chapter in the history of our
country". Right-wing opponents of an apology have posited
that: some of the removals were justified, that it would open
up the Australian Government to compensation claims and that
it was another example of the Left's obsession with
"symbolism" and the "rights agenda". When Rudd announced on
January 28 that the Government would apologize during the
first parliamentary sitting week, Nelson and Indigenous
Affairs Spokesman Tony Abbott virtually reaffirmed Howard's
position against an apology.



4. (SBU) However, as media pressure mounted and as Liberal
MPs revealed their support for an apology, Abbott and Nelson
gradually shifted their position to one of "possible" support
for an apology if the wording was right. Nelson said he would
not reveal whether he supported an apology until after he had
consulted his MPs. On February 6, Rudd presented Nelson with
seven points that would be included in the apology, but did
not provide the text of the apology which apparently has not
Qnot provide the text of the apology which apparently has not
been finalized. After a four hour meeting of Coalition MPs
that day, Nelson met the media to announce that the Coalition
had approved - in principle - support for the apology. "We
believe that it's morally and practically important in terms
of understanding and addressing the way that many Aboriginal
people feel about this issue," Nelson said. A small number
of Liberal MPs opposed to an apology are considering
abstaining from voting, rather than undermining Nelson's
authority by voting against the apology motion.

COALITION DEBATES IT'S INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS POSITION



5. (SBD) On February 7, Coalition MPs met in Canberra with
industrial relations at the top of the agenda. Some MPs said
the Coalition should stand by Australian Workplace Agreements
(individual contracts), which the Rudd government is
committed to abolishing. AWA supporters point out that AWAs
were introduced in 1996, some 10 years before the highly
unpopular Work Choices legislation (which reduced the number
of minimum standards for work contracts to just five) enacted
by Howard's government. Others in the Coalition argued,
however, that the ALP and the unions have successfully linked
WorkChoices to AWAs in the public perception, making support
for AWA untenable. One solution would be a name change.
Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop stated on February 7 that
"the Coalition reaffirmed its support for the right of an
employee to directly negotiate their employment contract with
their employer, subject to a no-disadvantage test." In other
words, the Coalition has reaffirmed its pre - WorkChoices
industrial relations policy, but have dropped the detested
AWA title. Holding a majority in the Senate until July, the
Coalition is likely to refer the Government's legislation to
scrap the previous government's IR laws to a Senate
committee, which would anger both the Government and the
unions. Any delay to the passage of the legislation will be
used the ALP to claim that the Coalition still supports
WorkChoices.

NELSON NEEDS TO STEP UP



6. (C/NF) COMMENT: Facing Rudd in Parliament for the first
time, Nelson needs to put in a strong performance to improve
his credibility. The media has accused him of procrastination
and "flip-flopping" on the "Stolen Generation" issue. His
critics say that Nelson has yet to demonstrate the gravitas
and authority needed in a leader. However, Tony Abbott and
Senate leader Nick Minchin, senior colleagues who supported
him in the leadership ballot, have publicly praised his
"consultative" style. There will be opportunities for Nelson
to score points against Rudd on the Parliament floor. Rudd's
"working families" have been hit with another interest rate
rise, the Government is cutting spending and the Treasurer
has ruled out tax cuts as part of the fight against
inflation. But Rudd remains popular and is performing
strongly, deflecting the blame for economic circumstances
back to the previous government. While Rudd has quickly
established himself as a leader, the jury appears still out
on Nelson. END COMMENT.