House debates

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Workplace Relations

4:01 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I think there's nothing more important in the social compact that we have in this country—in fact, in any society—than to make sure that our economic growth is shared between capital and labour; that is to say, as our economy is growing, wages are growing as much as profits are increasing. That's fundamental in this country. Members on this side of the House and, hopefully, all of us in this House agree that we want to see wages growing and we want them to be growing because the economy's growing. Equally, we obviously want return on investment and profit to grow. So the fundamental principles of IR reform should always be that we're doing everything we can so employers and employees can work together to improve the businesses that they are equally involved in, that employees are achieving wage growth because of their part and that, at the same time, business owners and investors are achieving higher profits. That's really going to come through fundamental principles of growing productivity and flexibility.

What this government wants to do is exactly that: increase productivity in our economy at the business level and economy-wide, and also increase flexibility and live in the 21st century and provide more flexibility to workers. One of the previous contributors to this discussion, a member on the opposite side of the chamber, indicated that flexibility was the other F-word. I haven't met too many new mothers who would like more flexibility and the ability to negotiate with their employer to change the existing structure of their hours et cetera in the business where they work to accommodate new family arrangements. There are many other examples that I can think of. I know that, as a member of parliament, I come across examples of people seeking that all the time. Productivity and flexibility combined is good for both employers and employees. The problem is that it also leads to simplicity, and something simplicity is not good for is the union movement. The union movement basically exists to make things as complicated as possible so that things are so confusing that workers are convinced and required to give part of their salary to the union movement to help them navigate the extreme complexity of the current system.

The only thing that would be achieved by introducing simplicity, of course, would be to break the business model of the union movement. That would also destroy the capital lifeline to the Labor Party, which is opposing this kind of reform that brings flexibility, productivity and simplicity and allows good employers and good employees to work together to talk about the kinds of conditions they may find mutually beneficial in the future. The Labor Party aren't engaging in this debate at all. They're not putting up alternatives to reform. They're not talking with us or talking about their alternative position, because they're not about reform. They're about the politics and running a scare campaign, because in frightening workers they see there could be potential to create a political advantage for themselves. How disgusting! How absolutely disgusting to think that your political objectives are more important than the interests of working people in this country and an opportunity for reform that will actually provide benefit to working people in this country. But this is nothing new when it comes to the Labor Party. Frankly, we know it's the union movement that is telling the Labor Party what they need to do on this topic anyway.

We need reform, and I think the COVID pandemic in the last 12 months have shown that we have a system that needs to be brought into the 21st century. I agree that there are new categories of work that have almost no security whatsoever. They weren't envisaged decades ago when some of the structures that we operate under right now were first developed. The fact that Labor don't want to talk about reform and engage in reform is appalling to people in the categories that actually need reform. They deserve to be captured in the enterprise system, in this country's industrial relations system, like anyone else. There's an opportunity for that here. There's an opportunity to empower businesses to work with their employees, to talk together about how they jointly want to help grow the business. That's going to lead to wages growth, it's going to improve the profitability of businesses and it's going to grow our economy. That simplicity, flexibility and productivity would be great for employees and great for employers. It would take this country forward of course; it would bring us into the 21st century. But we won't get support from those opposite, because it makes the overly burdensome model of the union movement completely redundant. That's why they won't support it.


No comments