The Howard Government faces a political backlash this year over its attack on basic Australian rights and community values developed over the last century, ACTU President Sharan Burrow said today.

In a Centenary of Federation address to the Federal Conference of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History at the Australian National University in Canberra, Ms Burrow accused Prime Minister John Howard of undermining key social rights established since the Federation of Australia in 1901.

‘With more than 100 years of history behind us we know Australia’s working families embrace these fundamental national values and will toss out governments which seek to wreck the industrial and social fabric on which this nation is built,’ Ms Burrow said.

Collective bargaining, wage justice, social security, family welfare and equal rights for women were among the key social values emerging from the last century of nation-building, she said.

‘We would assume that John Howard and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott would put their ideological baggage to one side and support unions in their campaign to lift wages for Australia’s 1.7 million low-paid workers,’ Ms Burrow said.

‘Not so, a position which is simply further evidence that their side of politics is content to have Australia become an increasingly divided community. Thus, 100 years on, in one of the richest countries in the world, working people are still struggling for fundamental wage justice.’

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission is expected to rule next month on the ACTU’s Living Wage application for a $28 a week wage rise for the low-paid. The Federal Government has opposed the application.