This paper sets out the history of the philosophical understanding held by the major political parties towards the governance of the Australian industrial relations system. In so doing it notes there has been a long legacy of socialist and conservative political and ideological support for mediating industrial conflict through the institutional agencies provided by conciliation and arbitration tribunals. The discussion notes the erosion of this legacy under the recent ascendancy of neo-liberal political and neo-classical economic thought, an ascendancy that has seen a significant retreat of state responsibility for mediating relations between the two sides of industry in the name of improving business productivity and national economic outcomes. The passing of the Workplace Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 is the latest legislative manifestation of this thinking. This paper challenges the labour market assumptions and expectations of the Bill by arguing that equality in bargaining power between the two sides of industry in the manner afforded by conciliation and arbitration tribunals is essential for any genuine and lasting prosperity to exist between labour and capital.
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