The good, the bad and the ugly

The good, bad and the ugly

commentary "People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election," said Otto von Bismarck, architect of the German Empire ... but that was in the 19th century.

On October 9, 2004, Australia gave John Howard and Co the mandate to lead for a fourth term following the Coalition's crushing victory at the polls.

The Coalition's proposed post-election spending spree will hopefully yield a good crop for the IT and communications community. One immediate opportunity lies in national security, where billions have been pledged on infrastructure upgrades and the like.

IT professionals and businesses can expect to reap rewards from increased government funding in new technologies to combat terrorism, including measures to tackle the threat of biological, chemical, and nuclear attacks.

During the next four years, AU$13.9 million is expected to be spent to equip Customs with new technology to detect chemical substances and explosives, and over AU$9.2 million will be allocated for state-of-the-art technology at international mail centres. These investments form only a small part of the AU$39 million border protection package -- which is itself just a drop in the ocean in the overall scheme of things.

If you lose your job, don't count on your retrenchment package to pay off that home loan.
In the area of research and development -- especially life sciences -- the Government has pledged to create a more conducive environment to attract the world's best talents, but it will have to fend off competition from countries such as Singapore. Our Asian neighbour has attracted the biggest players in the healthcare business -- the most recent coup in the form of British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, which chose to invest AU$51 million to build a research centre on the island-state.

New jobs will be created in selected pockets of industry but there will be one major downside on the employment front: the Coalition's industrial relations reforms will raise the spectre of insecurity, especially for employees of small businesses.

For some time now the Howard Government has harboured the desire to exempt small businesses from unfair dismissal laws but the Labor Party blocked this motion on 41 occasions. If and when the laws are amended, redundancy packages will be a thing of the past -- if you lose your job, don't count on your retrenchment package to pay off that home loan.

If employees at large companies think they're safe, they'd better think again. This is only the tip of the iceberg. The Coalition's grand plan is to "simplify" the industrial relations system so employees should expect to see a vigorous campaign to overhaul federal and state employment laws.

Any move to quash workers' compensation and limit their rights should benefit some employers in the short term but it may well lead to a decrepit working environment.

For software developers, in particular, it seems a one-two blow is in the offing -- a rise in casual employment due to reduced full-time positions, and a shrinking job market as a result of offshoring. The Coalition has fallen short on providing definitive plans to counter the impact of offshoring, largely leaving the IT industry to its own devices.

Over the next three years, the public will hold the government to account on its election promises. There will be winners and losers but one thing's for sure -- equitable working arrangements are set to be a thing of the past and workers will have to adjust or lose out.

Fran Foo is a Technology & Business magazine contributing editor. The writer is not a member of any political party.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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