The Morrison government is considering launching an advertising campaign to sell its changes to workplace relations laws, after signing a new $200,000 contract for market research.
The attorney general’s department told Guardian Australia the research would “assess what employers and workers currently know and understand about the industrial relations system” and pave the way for a decision on a potential campaign.
The government insists any communications campaign would be launched only after the legislation passed parliament – but Labor accused Scott Morrison of wasting taxpayers’ money trying to convince Australian workers to take a pay cut.
The bill, introduced to parliament just before the Christmas break, contains a raft of changes to industrial relations laws, including removing rights to backpay from misclassified casual workers and increasing the flexibility of part-time work.
The most politically contentious element is a plan to suspend the “better off overall test” for two years to allow the industrial umpire to consider the impact of Covid-19 on businesses trying to cut workers’ pay and conditions. Unions have vowed to fight the omnibus industrial relations bill, labelling it the “worst since WorkChoices”.
A contract notice posted online on Friday revealed Christian Porter’s department will pay $198,000 for nearly three months of market research by Whereto Research Based Consulting. It is due to be completed by 31 March.
When approached by Guardian Australia for further details, the attorney general’s department confirmed the research was related to the industrial relations changes and would “inform decisions about the potential format and mode of any communication, including if a communications campaign is required”.
“As the reforms will apply to employers and employees, it is important people know how these industrial relations changes are relevant to them, including where to seek out further information,” the spokesperson said.
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“For example, the bill will change requirements relating to casual work through a new ability to convert to permanent employment. For that to be effective, it needs to be properly understood by employers and employees.”
The spokesperson said the market research would investigate how employers and workers currently access information about the workplace system.
“This is to ensure any campaign is justified and undertaken in an efficient, effective and relevant manner, as per the Australian government’s campaign principles,” the spokesperson said.
“Decisions on any potential communications campaign will be influenced by the findings of the research. If the research supports the need for a communication campaign, this would commence after the bill receives royal assent.”
Labor’s industrial relations spokesperson, Tony Burke, said Morrison was “spending $200,000 of taxpayers’ money to see how much he can get away with”.
“How many penalty rates can he have scrapped? How many shift loadings can he have abolished? How much money can he take from workers’ pockets?”
Burke said workers could lose take-home pay “under Mr Morrison’s nasty scheme” and more “spin and marketing won’t change that”.
“Now he’s planning to spend even more money on yet another marketing campaign to try and convince Australian workers they should take a pay cut,” Burke said.
The comments build on Labor’s repeated accusations that the government is more interested in photo opportunities and marketing than practical delivery.
Figures show the government spent $128m on advertising last financial year, including $5.2m on market research for the ad campaigns.
Morrison’s department and his political office recently rejected freedom of information requests for access to taxpayer-funded research undertaken by Jim Reed, a long-term researcher for Liberal party pollster Crosby Textor.
Guardian Australia revealed earlier this month that a former senior Howard government media adviser, Richard Forbes, had been awarded a $190,000 public relations contract with Australia’s bushfire recovery agency without a full tender process.
On Wednesday the federal opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, queried $1.8m worth of communications contracts given to a firm with Liberal links and whose staff are registered as federal lobbyists.