Wrapped in a red tape tangle

Flexibility from Fair Work Australia is essential if we are to avoid much higher unemployment in non-mining sectors. Unfortunately there are signs it, and the government, just don't get it.

Those at Port Douglas on Good Friday this year discovered one reason why unemployment in Australia is going to rise a lot further, and why further interest rate cuts (which are likely) will not help.

Port Douglas on April 6 was crowded with visitors who saw for themselves a fascinating display of one of the great problems facing our business community – an overzealousness in parts of the public sector which loves to wrap businesses up in red tape.

The events at Port Douglas indicate that overzealousness may have captured Fair Work Australia.

There are few towns that have had a harder time than Port Douglas. The traders have been battered by weather; they have been battered by the currency; and they have been battered by the reduction of local tourism as it went offshore. Somehow or other they have held it together.

One of their biggest days of the year is Good Friday and all the shops opened with the town full of tourists. It wasn’t quite up to the old days but it was exciting and there were smiles all around.

Amongst the crowds were two officials from Fair Work Australia, who were on holidays. They suspended their holiday and donned the proverbial jackboots and began entering store after store, instructing startled shop keepers that they should not be open on Good Friday.

Tourists were amazed. Some even thought they made a mistake and they were in the depths of bureaucratic China or Russia. But no, one by one the jackbooted Fair Work people took down the names of store keepers and warned: don’t ever do this again or you will be subject to heavy fines!

Of course, the inspectors were right. Only certain sorts of Port Douglas stores can open on Good Friday and no doubt the inspectors got much commendation from their superiors for being prepared to don the jackboots on Good Friday. But what an absolute lot of nonsense it is when capital city rules are applied to international tourist resorts.

That incident on its own is minor. What it tells us is that the mentality of Fair Work Australia may cause it to use rules established by the parliament in a different economic environment to do great harm to the employment of Australians.

I hope that is the wrong conclusion but I am getting a number of anecdotal reports about the anti-business way Fair Work Australia it tackling its mandate. In most cases the officials will be playing the game by the letter of the law. But times have changed. Unemployment is rising in non-mining Australia so this is a time where flexibility is vital if we are to avoid much higher unemployment.

What happened at Port Douglas on Good Friday showed how some Fair Work Australia officials simply don’t understand the new environment in which they are operating. But in defence of the officials – neither does the government.

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