Here's Mr Turnbull's comment in context - taken from this affable, even flirtatious chat with Leigh Sales on the ABC's 730 program last night.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, the industrial relations reform, which is - labour market reform, is a - has been a very vexed one. It's been a - it's obviously been a pitched battle in some respects between the Government and the unions and business and the unions. I think the important thing is to seek to explore ways in which we can achieve more flexibility, higher levels of employment, higher levels of business activity and do so in a way that reassures Australians, Australian workers in particular, that this is not threatening their conditions. In other words - in other words, a - the challenge for us is not to wage war with unions or the workers that they - that they seek to represent, but really to explain what the challenges are and then lay out some reform options. Now, you know, as to specifics, well, we're a cabinet government, so specific policies will be resolved by the cabinet, and in any event, we're only - we're barely a week old.
Mr Turnbull's language signals a de-escalation of hostilities with the unions, he says it's been a "pitched battle" between unions and the government - from now on his government is "not going to wage war" with the unions.
It's very disappointing he didn't take the opportunity to talk about the CFMEU in particular and to support the TURC in general. I hope Mr Turnbull has not been influenced by the commentariat's "Abbott's Witch Hunt" and the bias allegations against Commissioner Heydon.
If ever there was a time to wage war with the CFMEU it's now. It's certainly not the time for the government to signal a de-escalation in its pursuit of corruption and blatant crime involving unions. That would be like police in the midst of a spate of deadly armed robberies deciding that "we don't want to wage war on the crooks - we need to de-escalate our responses".
Mr Turnbull needs to differentiate the interests of workers from the self-interest of corrupt union leaders. His language should routinely make that clear and he should take every opportunity to endorse the work of the Heydon Royal Commission. The other side of politics will continue its strategy of trying to discredit the Commission's work - to counter that campaign the good guys should give unequivocal and informed support to Commissioner Heydon and his Commission.
I hope Mr Turnbull will be one of the good guys.
The Guardian sees Mr Turnbull as a softer touch than Mr Abbott.
Malcolm Turnbull plans 'more flexible' industrial relations, but without union war
New PM flags a less combative approach to the union movement and a ‘more rational’ debate on tax reform during interview on the ABC’s 7.30 program
Malcolm Turnbull says he will try to create a “more flexible” industrial relations system without “waging war with unions” in another sharp difference in tone from the Abbott government.
Turnbull has announced no detailed new policies – the new prime minister’s Cabinet met for the first time after being sworn in Monday – but he is differentiating himself from his predecessor in style and approach.
Tony Abbott repeatedly attacked the union movement but was himself criticised by business for not pursuing more ambitious industrial relations reform.
Turnbull, in an interview with the ABC’s 7.30 report, said his aim was to reassure workers that any changes proposed would not threaten their conditions.
“The industrial relations reform which is labour market reform has been a very vexed one … The important thing is to seek to explore ways in which we can achieve more flexibility, higher levels of employment, higher levels of business activity and do so in a way that reassures Australians, Australian workers in particular, that this is not threatening their conditions,” he said.
“In other words, the challenge for us is not to wage war with unions or the workers that they seek to represent, but really to explain what the challenges are and then lay out some reform options.”
A less combative approach isn't likely to deliver you a win if the other side is at all-out war with you. That sounds discouragingly like surrender to me.