Tinkering at the edges while teetering on the brink

History has provided us with a wonderful mental image of a leader who has lost grip on reality and sinks ever deeper into the mire of their own twisted mind. That image is of Nero who is said to have fiddled while Rome burned. Our own ‘emperor’, Julia Gillard, increasingly brings Nero to mind as her antics become ever more inexplicable.

The parallels of Nero killing his own mother (Gillard deposing Kevin Rudd) and Nero persecuting Christians (Gillard demonising skilled migrants) give pause for thought. She hasn’t yet started burning migrants at the stake in the gardens of The Lodge as ‘night lights’ but let’s keep an eye out for flames, just in case.

Gillard’s latest weird stunt is to meddle in commerce and the practice of working from home. This concept of flexible working arrangements was initially greeted with substantial enthusiasm as most us dislike the drudgery of daily office commute and the sometimes more stringent working conditions than we can have at home.

Public sector workers, in particular, liked the idea but once government employers decreed that workplace health and safety conditions at home had to be exemplary and mandated full compliance strictures at often substantial cost, the concept lost a lot of appeal.

Opinion on the efficacy of home-work is divided with Richard Branson very much in favour but companies like Yahoo! ordering all staff to front the office each work day. Gillard’s penchant for meddling has her creating a fight with the private sector by foreshadowing new laws to give lots of workers the right to stay at home. In particular, she wants over-55s and those with caring responsibility to be able to opt out of the office grind.

Employers would only be allowed to refuse requests to work at home “on reasonable business grounds”. Under the rather oxymoronically titled Fair Work Act, bosses must give a worker a written explanation within 21 days if they refuse a request to work at home. If they don’t specify reasons, they have broken the law.

If an employee gets narky, they can sue their boss claiming discrimination or seek a dispute hearting under the Fair Work Act.

Both employers and employees have plenty of latitude currently to negotiate a fair and reasonable deal that suits both parties. As Institute of Public Affairs director, John Roskam, asks: why would this government want to second-guess business and jeopardise profitability when conditions are already notoriously difficult? As he pragmatically puts it: there should not be a law requiring an employer to justify themselves to a worker, the government or anyone else.

The longer this Prime Minister fiddles, the more our economy gets burned. She should bear in mind how history will judge her.


Acknowledgement: John Roskam, Institute of Public Affairs, in The Australian Financial Review