November 25, 2005

Australia’s Howard pushes anti-terror laws

By Michelle Nichols

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard
faces opposition from all sides but is still expected to
succeed in pushing through contentious workplace reforms and
tough anti-terror laws starting next week.

While Howard holds the most powerful government mandate in
nearly 25 years, his government's popularity is falling and he
is facing a revolt from his backbench on Australia's effective
ban on the abortion drug RU486.

He is also under public pressure over his failed bid to
persuade Singapore to spare the life of an Australian drug
smuggler due to be hanged next Friday.

"I suspect the end of the year will be a welcome
termination for the government," Australian National University
political analyst Michael McKinley said.

"The problem is that around this time of year governments
frequently get away with being arrogant and careless, which is
sad ... There's a lot of legislation to go through in just two
weeks and that suggests that things are being done on the run."

The last session of parliament starts next Monday, when it
will sit for two weeks.

The government's controversial workplace reforms and tough
new anti-terror laws have already passed the lower House of
Representatives and are due to be voted on by the upper house
Senate, where the government holds a one seat majority.

The government's anti-terror laws, proposed by a review
after the July 7 London bombings, are generally supported by
opposition Labor, but government politicians, Labor and the
media are concerned over the plan to broaden the definition of

Howard wants the laws passed before Christmas so they are
in place for the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne next March.


The new workplace laws are designed to encourage more
workers to sign contracts with employers, rather than work
under umbrella awards, and will make it easier for small firms
to sack workers.

But they are disliked by voters with the government
suffering a major popularity slump in two key opinion polls
this week and several hundred thousand people rallying in the
biggest union protests in seven years earlier this month.

A rookie National Party Senator holds the key in any vote.
Although aligned to the coalition government, Barnaby Joyce has
proved an irritant to Howard.

He has refused to say if he will back the workplace reforms
and has said he is concerned workers will lose penalty rates
for working key public holidays such as Christmas Day.

The abortion drug RU486 is also under the spotlight after a
government backbencher asked for a review of the drug's
effective ban because women in rural areas have difficulty
accessing surgical abortions.

"Whenever there's clearly an issue related to something
like abortion than the only fair, sensible, right thing to do
is to allow a free vote," Howard has told reporters.