TONY ABBOTT has again been forced to promise changes to industrial relations policy after his former boss and Work Choices architect, John Howard, suggested that at least two elements of Labor's Fair Work Act be unwound.
Mr Howard said yesterday it was a ''tragedy'' the workplace relations system had been re-regulated by Labor and he would like to see the removal of unfair dismissal protections for small business employees, a move that would re-embrace an element of Work Choices.
Appearing on the ABC's Insiders program, the former prime minister recommended the reintroduction of individual workplace agreements, but said they should be underpinned by a no-disadvantage test.
The Howard government introduced the agreements, known as Australian Workplace Agreements, in 1996, but they became politically poisonous when Work Choices stripped away the no-disadvantage test which underpinned them in 2006.
Mr Howard said yesterday there was nothing wrong with the original AWAs.
''We made a mistake in 2006 in taking away the no-disadvantage test,'' he said.
Work Choices also abolished unfair dismissal protections. Labor reintroduced them but with a probation period.
''I want to go back to the pre-Work Choices position and then add to that something on unfair dismissal,'' Mr Howard said.
Asked repeatedly about the advice yesterday, Mr Abbott said he would take an industrial relations policy to the next election and it would be based on solving problems with the current laws, ''not ideology''. It is the standard response he developed after coming under pressure recently from his former ministerial colleague Peter Reith to reform industrial relations.
Mr Abbott has eschewed internal and external debate on industrial relations to avoid giving Labor a chance to resurrect its anti-Work Choices campaign. But there is a growing push among the backbench and some shadow ministers for the opposition to advocate some change on behalf of its small business constituency.
Mr Howard stressed that it was up to Mr Abbott what he decided to do and pointed out Mr Abbott was no ideologue.
When cabinet debated Work Choices, Mr Abbott ''was less enthusiastic about change than any of the others''.
Mr Howard advised the federal Liberal Party to follow its Victorian counterpart and preference the Greens last at the next election. The Greens would always side with Labor but their policies were ''much worse'', Mr Howard said.
After a term of a hung Parliament, Mr Howard predicted the public would vote ''very heavily one way or the other'' at the next election. While the Coalition was in the box seat, Mr Howard cautioned against taking a landslide for granted. ''There can be huge turnarounds,'' he said.