House debates

Wednesday, 9 August 2006

Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) (Consequential Amendments) Amendment Regulations 2006 (No 1)


9:01 am

Photo of Stephen SmithStephen Smith (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) (Consequential Amendments) Amendment Regulations 2006 (No 1), as contained in Select Legislative Instrument 2006 No. 50 and made under the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Act 2005, the Bankruptcy Act 1966, the Federal Magistrates Act 1999, the Public Service Act 1999, and the Public Employment (Consequential and Transitional) Amendment Act 1999, be disallowed.

This is the last occasion on which the House will formally have the opportunity to tear up the government’s extreme industrial relations legislation. This is the last opportunity for this House formally to vote on the adverse repercussions of the government’s so-called Work Choices legislation. We had the legislation and the consequential legislation in November-December last year, we had the attempt by Labor to disallow the regulations made under the main act earlier this year and now there is a final opportunity for the House to reject and tear up the government’s extreme industrial relations legislation.

I suspect that that will not happen. What I suspect will happen is that every Liberal and National Party member in this place will again handcuff themselves to John Howard’s extreme industrial relations legislation. In division after division we have seen every Liberal and National Party member of this place handcuff themselves to the government’s legislation. This is not necessarily how they conduct themselves in their electorates. This is effectively the first occasion since the six-week winter recess that Labor has had the opportunity to debate industrial relations.

What do we often find about Liberal and National Party members in their electorates in a recess or generally? They are lions in their electorates and chickens in Canberra. Over the course of the winter recess they have quietly expressed to the Prime Minister that there are a few problems out there: people think this legislation is extreme; people think this legislation is unfair; people think this legislation attacks their wages, their penalty rates and their leave loadings. They have quietly whispered that to him—not with the same voice that they have whispered or shouted, ‘Petrol prices up and interest rates up.’ How has the Prime Minister responded? He has responded by saying: ‘I’m not for turning. I’ve been ideologically and politically committed to these changes for 20 or 30 years of my public life and I’m not for turning.’ So what do we find those Liberal and National Party members doing? We find them being lions in their electorates and chickens in Canberra.

Speaking of chickens, what attitude does the Treasurer have on these matters? John Howard summarised it nicely—

Photo of David HawkerDavid Hawker (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member will refer to the Prime Minister by his title.

Photo of Stephen SmithStephen Smith (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

The Prime Minister summarised it nicely on the Insiders program in the middle of July. That was about the time when the Treasurer was trailing his coat, suggesting that he ought to be the Leader of the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister. John Howard, never one to miss a trick when it comes to the internal operations of the Liberal Party, wanted to make sure that the Treasurer could not whisper in any Liberal Party backbench member’s ear and say, ‘I’ll be softer on IR than Johnny, so you can vote for me in the caucus.’ John Howard said—

Photo of David HawkerDavid Hawker (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Again—

Photo of Stephen SmithStephen Smith (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

The Prime Minister said this of the Treasurer, ‘Well, I think that:

... commitment to industrial relations reform is an article of faith of many people. Peter Costello to his credit has been a warrior for industrial relations reform. He was after all, involved in the Dollar Sweets case. He was a founding member of the HR Nicholls Society. Peter is no wilting violet when it comes to a tough position on industrial relations reform. He believes in it very strongly. So it is not just me, although it is true that I am very passionate about it.

So there we have the Treasurer handcuffed to the Prime Minister and every Liberal and National Party member handcuffed to the Prime Minister’s extreme industrial relations approach. What do we know about this legislation? We know it is extreme, we know it is unfair, we know it is an attack upon wages and we know it is an attack upon conditions.

What is the context of this disallowance motion? The context of this disallowance motion is that we return to the parliament and what do we see? We see that, courtesy of the Liberal Party, interest rates and petrol prices are up, and wages and penalty rates are down. We also see, courtesy of the Liberal and National parties, that the cost of living is up and wages are down. There is only one way in which, in the end, these laws will be thrown out, and that is to elect a Labor government—and that is the choice the Australian people will have in the last quarter of next year. Do they want 15 years of John Howard and Peter Costello and extreme industrial relations changes or do they want a fair industrial relations system under a Labor government? That is the choice that is now staring the Australian people in the face.

Let us have a look at a couple of those aspects. Interest rates are up and wages are down. What did the government say about those issues? What did the Prime Minister have to say about those issues in the run-up to the last election, the 2004 election? We know that, on interest rates, there he was with his little banner across every lectern saying that interest rates would be kept at record lows. Millions of dollars were spent on Liberal Party adverts giving an election commitment that interest rates would be kept at record lows. But what do we find the Prime Minister saying in question time when that breach of faith, that breach of promise, is put to him? He says, ‘They weren’t the words that I used.’ We find the Prime Minister using weasel words to avoid a clear breach of promise and breach of faith on interest rates.

What do we know about what the Prime Minister had to say about industrial relations changes in the run-up to the last election? On 28 September 2004, at the Liberal Party’s industrial relations policy launch in Brisbane, the Prime Minister was asked a question about a single national system. The Prime Minister replied:

Well, we’re not setting ourselves that goal ...

He was also asked:

Prime Minister, on industrial relations, the 20 allowable matters that are currently in federal awards. Do you think in the interest of workplace flexibility the Government would consider reducing the number of allowable matters ...

The Prime Minister replied:

Well, we don’t at this stage.

Not only did we hear nothing about these changes in the run-up to the last election, but on two occasions the Prime Minister positively said that he would not do things that are contained in the Work Choices legislation, particularly the attack on allowable matters. So we have a breach of promise, a breach of faith and a breach of trust on interest rates and a breach of promise, a breach of trust and a breach of faith on industrial relations.

When did we first hear about the government’s extreme industrial relations changes? The first occasion was when the government realised arrogantly that it had all power under the sun. It realised arrogantly that it was now in a position to govern for itself and not for the Australian people, that it was now in a position to do the things it had long wanted to do on industrial relations but had been constrained and restrained from doing either by a balance of power in the Senate or because, as the Prime Minister knew in 1996 when he was first elected, he had to hide these things from the Australian public—he had to hide his real intentions from the Australian public. So what do we know about the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, and the Liberal and National parties? They do anything and say anything to get themselves elected or re-elected.

What is the substance or the heart of these proposals and why do these regulations need to be disallowed? At the substance and heart of these proposals is, firstly, an attack upon living standards and, secondly, an attack upon the Australian way of life and Australian values and virtues. From where does that attack upon living standards come? Firstly, the attack upon living standards comes from an attack upon wages through an attack upon the minimum wage and, secondly, through an attack upon take-home pay by attacking penalty rates, leave loadings, shift allowances and the like—the traditional take-home pay basket of entitlements that very many working Australian families have become used to to enable them to make ends meet. Where is it an attack upon our values and virtues? Where is it an attack upon the Australian way of life? It is an attack upon our values and virtues because it removes fairness from the industrial relations system. It expressly removes the requirement, for example, that the minimum wage, when it is calculated, has to be fair. It removes a strong independent umpire, the Industrial Relations Commission. It removes sensible notions of a safety net or decent minimum standards.

The fact that at the heart of these proposals is unfairness is shown no better than in the question I raised with the Prime Minister yesterday at question time when I asked whether he had seen last week’s Catholic Weekly and the article titled ‘Bishop brands IR law unjust, unfair’. We have Bishop Manning branding these laws as unjust and unfair in the Catholic Weekly. I do not think you could get a better summary than that. It is interesting to refer to some of the references made by Bishop Manning in the Catholic Weekly. He is reported as saying:

The Work Choices legislation is “manifestly unjust” and unfair and the Government has failed in its duty to promote the common good”.

Bishop Manning said, ‘Employees cannot be treated as commodities.’ He also said that the legislation was weighted too heavily in favour of the employer and that the legislation stacks the scales in favour of the employer, particularly to the disadvantage of vulnerable groups. The message from Bishop Manning, which is a message that we have seen earlier, for example, from Cardinal Pell in respect of the minimum wage, is that central to these proposals is the notion of unfairness. At question time the Prime Minister said, ‘There’s not one Catholic view.’ I am sure the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has referred the Prime Minister to the compendiums of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church to clarify that point, but I will leave that as a matter between the Prime Minister and the minister.

But we have a new example today of unfairness. We have an AWA presented to employees from a subsidiary of the airline Lufthansa—global telesales. That AWA reduces the base rate of pay anywhere from three per cent to 10 per cent and reduces Sunday and public holiday penalty rates. It does not allow any loading for working before or after 7 pm and provides for no guaranteed pay increase during the life of the AWA. The calculations that are made are in terms of a reduction in the base rate of pay, or a reduction anywhere between three and 10 per cent. In terms of the take-home components with those penalty rates, the calculation is on average a 4.9 per cent decrease in the take-home pay. This AWA has been examined by the Victorian workplace rights advocate, and the conclusion of the Victorian workplace rights advocate, in a report which I have made public and which is dated yesterday, says effectively that this AWA is consistent with the legal requirement of the Howard government but is (a) unfair and (b) potentially in breach of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act. So we have a classic example of fairness not flying with the Howard government. It is not fair but it is legal.

Under John Howard, unfairness in industrial relations is legal. So we have a damning report by the Victorian workplace rights advocate on a Lufthansa AWA which essentially says, ‘You can have your base rate of pay reduced by anything from three per cent to 10 per cent, and you can have your take-home pay component reduced on average by 4.9 per cent.’ That might be unfair but it is legal. It might be unfair because of a so-called performance bonus arrangement, and it might be in breach of the state based Equal Opportunity Act. It might be unfair, but it is legal.

That is the latest example of AWAs: wages down. The wages drive is to the bottom. I am sure members will recall that before the winter recess we drew attention to the now infamous Spotlight 2c an hour AWA, where, for the princely increase of 2c an hour, from $14.28 to $14.30 an hour, all of these so-called protected conditions—penalty rates, leave loadings, shift allowances—were removed. And the calculation showed that a full-time employee who worked on Saturdays and Thursday nights would effectively lose $90 a week for the princely sum of 2c an hour. Over the break we actually discovered a zero cents an hour Spotlight AWA. All of those conditions were shredded for no increase.

That is not to say that I will necessarily put my 2c away, but it does make the point that all of these take-home pay components—penalty rates, leave loadings, shift allowances and the like—can be removed at the stroke of a pen for no compensation. That is the point. The point which the Victorian Workplace Advocate makes today is that it might be unfair but it is entirely legal under the Prime Minister’s law.

It is not as if the Lufthansa or the Spotlight examples are the only ones floating around. In the most recent quarterly statistics published by the Office of the Employment Advocate we discovered that since the government’s legislation came into effect on 27 March there have been over 41,000 AWAs. Rounding the figures, there were 6,000 AWAs in April, the first month; 13,000 AWAs in the second month of operation, May; and 21,000 during June. We also know, from evidence given at Senate estimates, that in the sample taken by the Office of the Employment Advocate, 100 per cent of the AWAs excluded at least one protected award condition, 64 per cent removed leave loadings, 63 per cent removed penalty rates, 52 per cent removed shiftwork loadings, 41 per cent did not contain gazetted public holidays, 22 per cent did not provide for a pay increase over the life of the agreement and 16 per cent excluded all award conditions. We also know from the advice of Freehills—the government’s lawyer of choice—that all of this can be done at the stroke of a pen for minimal compensation, such as 2c an hour, or, more importantly, for no compensation, as is made clear by the zero cents an hour Spotlight AWA, which we drew attention to over the winter recess.

So what choice does this House have today? The House can vote to disallow these regulations and make its first strike by tearing up the government’s legislation and regulations. It will not do that. Liberal and National Party members of this House will handcuff themselves again to the Prime Minister’s extreme proposals. So what will the choice be? When will that real choice arise? That real choice will arise at the next election. And what will we find the Prime Minister saying about industrial relations at that election campaign? I suspect he will do his best, as he has in the past, to hide his true intentions from the Australian people.

But slowly but surely we are flushing him out on that matter. The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July: ‘We’re not finished with workplace changes: Howard’. That is a quote, Mr Speaker. That headline is no surprise. When did we first come to appreciate that the work that the government had done in industrial relations was not at a conclusion? Senator Minchin, the No. 3 man in the government, went to his soul mates at the HR Nicholls Society and effectively apologised for not going as far as the HR Nicholls Society would have wanted, and indicated that down the track more work would be done effectively to destroy the edifice of industrial relations—including the Industrial Relations Commission generally and awards.

The fact that the government has unfinished business is also shown by the FOI release of the Treasury document, The Regulation of Workplace Relations—current, proposed and for the future, which we obtained through Freedom of Information in November of last year. But when you get to the section about the future—the unfinished business—it is blacked out. The government’s unfinished business is blacked out.

Now the government is resorting to conclusive certificates. A conclusive certificate signed in August of this year indicates that the Prime Minister’s right-hand man, the secretary of his department, Dr Shergold, is now signing certificates preventing the public release of these materials on the basis that it might lead to speculation about possible future workplace relations reforms. The choice will be clear. There will be more of the Prime Minister’s extreme industrial relations changes—every Liberal and National Party member handcuffed to those—and the government with a secret plan to go further, as shown by Senator Minchin, the FOI releases and the HR Nicholls soul mate discussion. The stark choice is between having wages down, interest rates up, and petrol prices up under the Liberal Party or a decent and fair industrial relations system under Labor that respects the rights of individuals and that will ensure that people get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. (Time expired).

Photo of David HawkerDavid Hawker (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Kim BeazleyKim Beazley (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right so speak.

9:22 am

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

This motion achieves nothing other than to take up the precious time of this chamber. The regulations make amendments to 52 Commonwealth acts and four regulations consequential to amendments to the Workplace Relations Act 1996 made by the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Act 2005. The regulations, which are the subject of this motion, largely amend the terminology and numbering of various Commonwealth acts and regulations to ensure technical consistency with the changes made by the Work Choices act. So disallowing these regulations, which the motion of the opposition does, would actually create discrepancies between the Workplace Relations Act and other federal legislation which refers to the Workplace Relations Act, and would do nothing as a consequence to assist employers and employees in Australia. Given that this would be the outcome of this motion if it were to be achieved by the opposition, it is irresponsible and it is why I say that it achieves nothing other than to take up an hour or so of the time of this chamber.

The consequential regulations subject to the disallowance motion fall into a number of categories. There are amendments to terminology and section numbers in various Commonwealth acts and regulations—for example, the substitution of references to ‘certified agreement’ with ‘collective agreement’; amendments to take account of new provisions of the Work Choices act—for example, the establishment of the Australian Fair Pay Commission; amendments consequential on particular repeals made by the Work Choices act; amendments that preserve the effect of transitional arrangements in other legislation; and other amendments consequential on new provisions introduced by Work Choices. This includes amendments to the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992, which have the effect of allowing up to 500,000 additional employees to choose a superannuation fund. So the effect of the motion by the opposition, if successful, would be to destroy these regulatory changes, which would have adverse impacts on workers in Australia.

The reason that the motion is being moved is, therefore, part of the ongoing campaign by the Labor Party and the ACTU against Work Choices, characterised by untruths, misleading claims and scare tactics. Indeed, opponents of the government’s legislation have slandered and maligned every employer, basically labelling them as ‘reactionary scrooges’ in this debate. More recently, we had the example of the Leader of the Opposition, the Labor Party and the union movement generally seeking to slander the officials of the Office of Workplace Services simply for doing their job and investigating whether or not workers had been affected or adversely impacted in the way in which the ACTU had claimed that they had. When these individual honest public servants doing their job pursuant to provisions of legislation found that what the ACTU had said was misleading and deceptive and reported that, what did they get from the opposition? They got called ‘snivelling liars’ by the Leader of the Opposition in this place yesterday simply because as good, honest, hard-working public servants they have done their jobs. But their jobs involved coming to a conclusion based on all the facts—not just some selective matters that the unions wanted to put forward—that what had been claimed was not, in fact, the case.

So we have this self-indulgent rhetoric on the part of the union movement and the Labor Party which ignores the reality of the modern workplace in Australia where employers and employees are not pitted against each other in a battle for supremacy but are simply wanting to ensure their skills are fully and fairly utilised. The old industrial relations system, which is what the Leader of the Opposition wants to roll back to, never empowered workers in this country. It empowered unions to create paper disputes with employers, dragging them into courts and tribunals and allowing unions to conduct unlawful strikes without penalties.

We have the Leader of the Opposition attacking just about every institution that there is. The Office of Workplace Services is attacked. He has attacked the new Building and Construction Commission despite the fact that the evidence from the operation of that commission has been that there has been a marked change in the culture which has been in existence in the building and construction industry in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and elsewhere around the country as a result of the changes put in place. In his own state, we had this ridiculous situation of the Perth to Mandurah Railway, with stoppage after stoppage costing millions upon millions of dollars, which has been the subject of criticism not just from us on this side of this chamber but indeed from the Labor Party government in Western Australia. The Leader of the Opposition wants to attack that as well, yet it is bringing about a very marked change, to the benefit of Australians. Simply, the one motivating factor behind the Labor Party’s hysterical campaign against Work Choices is that the Labor Party supported the old system because it gave power to the unions and the unions gave money to the Labor Party. Indeed, since 1996, the reality is that some $50 million has been provided by the unions in Australia to the Labor Party and that is who, in this case, is actually pulling the strings in terms of the rhetoric which is being used by the Labor Party.

The parliament has already given significant consideration to the Work Choices reforms and passed this important legislation, which is designed to take Australia into the 21st century, giving it a system which looks to the future and not to the past. The member for Perth says that there will be a choice at the next election. The choice is this: do Australians want an opposition forming a government which will take us back to the 1970s or 1980s in terms of industrial relations in this country, which will not meet the challenges of the future—the challenges of an ageing population, the challenges of a global economy in which Australia must operate and be part of if we are going to sustain the prosperity of this country? Do Australians want a party in government that is going to meet the challenges of the future, that is prepared to make careful reform in order to do that so that we can continue to grow our prosperity in this country or do they want one that is simply going to look back, under the orders of the union movement in this country, and take us back to the 1970s and 1980s?

It was interesting to hear the member for Perth talking about interest rates. Can I remind the House that interest rates under this government are on average five per cent below what the average was under the Labor Party when they were in government—

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

You said they wouldn’t go up. They’ve gone up three times. Don’t tell us about interest rates! They’ve gone up three times under you and you said they wouldn’t go up.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

when the Leader of the Opposition was a senior cabinet minister in the previous government, as was the gentleman who is interjecting at the present time. Australians can remember home loan interest rates of 17 per cent, and small business in Australia can remember paying interest rates of 21 and 22 per cent. That is the reality in terms of the outcome. We can hear all the rhetoric we like from the opposition. The reality is that, on average, when you compare 13 years of the Labor government with 10 years of this government, there is a five per cent difference in relation to those interest rates.

Here we are. At this stage I think we are some 137 days, as I calculate it, since Work Choices was introduced and came into operation in Australia. What we were told by the Labor Party before the introduction of Work Choices was that this would be a green light for mass sackings in Australia. We were told by the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Perth and others that this was going to lead to a whole series of disastrous consequences for Australians. One of the leading union figures in Australia said, ‘This is a green light for mass sackings.’ Well, 137 days after Work Choices came into operation, what have we seen? We have not seen mass sackings. What we have seen is the creation of an additional 100,000 jobs in Australia—an additional 100,000 jobs created since 27 March, not the mass sackings that were predicted by the Leader of the Opposition and others.

We heard the member for Perth talking earlier about values and virtues. What, I ask, is so virtuous about having 700,000 Australian kids growing up in homes where no-one has a job? What is so virtuous about a system that still condemns some five per cent of the workforce to unemployment in this country? Yet since Work Choices came in we have seen another slight fall in the unemployment rate. For the first time in 30 years we have an unemployment rate in Australia beginning with the figure 4. That is what we are on about—trying to create the best conditions, the conditions that are most optimal, so that more Australians can be in employment rather than fewer Australians.

I remember reading in Don Watson’s biography, if I can call it that, of Paul Keating in the Keating era that the member for Perth, who was then an adviser to the former Prime Minister, Mr Keating, used to tell Mr Keating before he went anywhere, before he got out of the car to go to his latest speaking engagement, to talk about jobs and recovery: ‘Jobs and recovery, mate. Just talk about jobs and recovery.’ I remind the member for Perth that this is about jobs. It is about creating jobs for Australians so that more Australians than would otherwise be in a job have the opportunity of getting a job. Why should we accept a 4.9, five or 5½ per cent—or whatever it might be—unemployment rate in Australia? Why shouldn’t we be trying to create the conditions in which there is a better opportunity, the most optimal conditions, for more Australians to get jobs than otherwise?

Yet what we have from the opposition is a proposition that would simply rip all this up, not just to take us back to before Work Choices but to rip up what has been in operation for the last 10 years under the Workplace Relations Act and take us back to the 1980s so far as industrial relations is concerned in Australia. What did the 1980s give us? A prescriptive system of industrial relations. What did that prescriptive system of industrial relations do for the million people thrown out of employment as a result of the recession we had to have at the end of the 1980s? A prescriptive system of industrial relations did not save any one of those jobs. To his credit, Mr Keating at least realised that there had to be some changes away from the one-size-fits-all award approach that had been in operation in the 1980s and prior to that in Australia.

Yet the Leader of the Opposition we have now wants to ignore that progress made over the last 10 or 15 years, ignore the prosperity which reforms that have been made by this government have contributed to and take us all back to the past in terms of economic management and economic credibility, in terms of who can be best trusted to run this country. I say to Australians: a man who is going to rip up these sorts of reforms, who is not going to meet the challenges of the future, is not someone who should be trusted to be in charge of the country and the economy, to take us forward into the future.

What the Leader of the Opposition proposes to do comes at the bidding of the union movement in Australia, who simply want to look after their vested interests and not after the workers. Look at the proportion and the density of the workforce that actually belongs to a union in Australia today. It has fallen to less than 17 per cent and it has been in free-fall for the last decade or two. Why? Because the one-size-fits-all being told from above approach by shop stewards is not the way in which the workforce in Australia wants to operate. It wants flexibility in its operation, in the way in which people are employed, so that they can meet their various desires and aspirations, including the desire and aspiration to work.

This government stands by this legislation. It is important legislation. It is legislation that will take us forward. It is legislation that meets the challenges of the future, and we are not going to be turning back or ripping up the legislation, as the Leader of the Opposition would have us do—and he will tell us more about it, no doubt, when he gets on his feet in a moment. We are going to move forward, because only by moving forward, by meeting the challenges of the future and by engaging in continuing reform, which is what governments are put in place to do—only by doing that—will we be in a position better than any other position to meet the continued prosperity that Australians want. That is why we are committed to this legislation. That is why, amongst other reasons, this motion should be defeated.

9:36 am

Photo of Kim BeazleyKim Beazley (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

This disallowance motion represents the last chance in this parliament to rip up these laws. If the parliament does not do it today, however, we will rip up these laws when we get into government in around 12 to 18 months time. The hardworking families of middle Australia, the people raising their kids, paying their mortgages and balancing the family budgets, demand to be heard in this place on this matter. They are the ones who entrusted this government with their future, only to become the victims in this legislation of an all-out assault on their security and their dreams for a better future for their kids. This is a government that cannot any longer manage the economy in the interests of working Australians. It is a government that turns on its own people. This is a Prime Minister who says that anyone who has any difficulty with these unfair laws is a phoney. All those mums and dads fearful of this legislation are phoneys, according to the Prime Minister.

How out of touch is the government becoming? Interest rates are up, petrol prices are up, the cost of living is up, and it puts in place, in the face of all this, a mechanism to slash wages and conditions. When middle Australia can least afford it, it acts to undermine the position of ordinary Australian families and it says those who oppose it are phoneys. The expression used by the Prime Minister referred to a lot of people, but among the people it referred to were those who had been victims of this law already who had made their complaints sufficiently clear. They placed advertisements with the ACTU—advertisements paid for by workers, as opposed to the corrupt theft of taxpayers’ money to pay for blatantly political advertising by this government in defence of its own legislation.

Public servants have been turned into de facto secret police and political operatives by Minister Andrews, who is exiting the chamber. Public servants have been turned into illicit political operatives by him in order to undermine and discredit the various people who have made complaints about this—adding intimidation to the bullying. They did not even bother, in most cases, to interview at all the workers who had a grievance. They had a chat to a few of the employers. This was their investigation, on the basis of which they describe the propositions as phoney. It is in keeping with the indecent dishonesty which has come to mark this government as they defend themselves in most areas—but in this area above all because their extreme ideology is so actively engaged by these laws. They do not care what they do to ordinary Australians; they have developed their right to rule ideology to a fine cutting edge and they turn that cutting edge on anyone who would dare be a critic of them in this place. They have no compunction about using taxpayer dollars to turn the Public Service away from its normal obligation of balance and service to the public into an arm of low-heel political operatives. That is basically what this government has managed to do in this regard.

The minister who spoke at the table, and who is personally complicit in all of this activity, always erects a series of straw men whenever he wants to address the arguments that we raise in opposition to this legislation. He said that when this legislation was passed we allegedly predicted the sky would fall in, people would be sacked en masse and there would be huge outbreaks of industrial mayhem all over the country. That was in his imagination; in his dreams. I think anyone in this place who recollects that debate will remember exactly what I said would be the consequence of the passage of this legislation. I said it would be like an infestation of termites; a slow crumbling from within. Indeed, it has been a very slow crumbling from within but nevertheless it has been a continuous process with an inevitable consequence.

The fact of the matter is, because we have stood so strong on this side of the House, there are indeed a number of employers who are saying, ‘Perhaps what we ought to do is wait this process out until after the next election. If the Labor Party wins, we will not have sullied ourselves by filthying our hands with the utilisation of this legislation.’ Many of them—as I have occasion to know, having discussed things with them—do not want to go down that path. I wish I had 10 bucks for every time an employer has said, ‘We did not like every feature of the industrial relations system, but none of us ever asked for this. This is not what any of us had in mind.’ If I had 10 bucks for every time someone said that, I would have a guaranteed poultice of money that would be all we would need for our advertising campaign in the next election.

The simple fact of the matter is that those employers have a major inhibition related to their own human decency. The second feature of it is that they know, like all employers, the moment a competitor acts, they act. They have no choice. They do not have an obligation in the first instance to the community, although they would like to have that obligation because they are members of the community and decent people. They know darn well that the legal constraint on them is that their obligation is to their shareholders. In the end, if a competitor acts in a particular way, they have to act.

However, particularly those who are associated with the Business Council of Australia are effectively deciding—and there has been enough publicity in the press on this for you to know it is true—to hold off a bit and see what happens in the next election, knowing full well that one of two things will happen. If we win, this law will be shredded and what will be put in place will be a balanced, fair and flexible system that represents the middle ground in Australian politics and the middle ground of industrial affairs. I know that will happen if we win. If the government wins, not only will there be these laws to implement but also there will be the additional laws that are being held in secret to be brought out to put the finishing touches on the destruction of any person’s effective rights in the workplace anywhere in this country.

So there is a fair bit at stake and it makes a bit of sense, if you are an employer seeing two outcomes so poles apart as likely to eventuate in the course of the next 18 months, that you would hold off for a bit. But having said that most sensible people would hold off, I know that does not mean that all people will hold off. What we have seen systematically is that crumbling way that I suggested with that analogy of an infestation of termites. You are beginning to see the cases pop up: the Spotlights, the Lufthansas and those meatworks in the bush, which are looking at all the opportunities particularly when these laws can be dovetailed with the illegitimate use of immigration visas, so particularly when you can dovetail the two of them together. What you are seeing now are the beginnings of the assault we predicted moving on much the timetable that we predicted it would occur.

The government makes great play of the assumption that the only people who think these laws are appalling and indecent are the Australian Labor Party and the trade union movement. I do not think anything that I have said, anything that I have heard Greg Combet say or anything that I have heard any of my colleagues in this place say can match the moral force of the comments of Bishop Kevin Manning, the Bishop of Parramatta, about these laws in the latest edition of the Catholic Weekly. He says that the Work Choices legislation is ‘manifestly unjust’ and unfair and that the government has ‘failed in its duty to promote the common good’. He goes on to say that this act breaches the conventions of the International Labour Organisation and the social teaching of the church. The article states:

He said employees cannot be treated as commodities and that in Catholic thinking, people are not valued according to their work, but rather work is valued because it is the free act of a human person.

He said the great injustice of Work Choice legislation is that “it obliterates the principal instrument of collection action which is collective bargaining”.

“The right of workers to act collectively is central to Catholic social teaching. It was stated explicitly in [the encyclical] Rerum Novarum,” he told a Work Choices seminar ...

I quote him again:

“Let us be very clear about this: there is no right to collective bargaining under the legislation ...

“Any collective bargaining that may take place is entirely at the whim of the employer.

“This is manifestly unjust!

“The removal of the right to collective bargaining places the new legislation in breach of the ILO’s Convention on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 1998, which states that all member States, even if they have not ratified the Convention, are obligated to promote and realise in good faith, freedom of association and the right to collective-bargaining.”

He goes on to say:

“Work Choices violates Catholic Social Teaching on the Option for the Poor and, indeed, any reasonable notion of a ‘fair go’ ...

“The already unemployed, people in rural and regional Australia, women in casual and part-time jobs, the disabled, and young people will suffer disadvantage under this legislation.

“In the regulation of the labour market, governments have an obligation to protect the rights of the vulnerable. No fair-minded person could say that Work Choices does that.”

This is an extraordinary attack. This is not a slight, glancing reference. This is a hip and thigh assault on the fairness and decency underpinning this particular legislation, exposing it for what it absolutely is. He goes on about AWAs being weighted too heavily in favour of the employer. He says:

“There is nothing intrinsically wrong with an AWA provided that the worker is highly skilled and has a sophisticated capacity for negotiation ...

“In the workplace, some, but by no means all, workers will have skills of sufficient marketability, and the capacity to negotiate an AWA which suits them, but the fact remains that the majority will not.

There is a percentage of the Australian workforce—about 10 to 15 per cent of it—that sacks their employers; the other 85 per cent get sacked by them. That is the nature of the power realities in the industrial situation. But those 85 per cent who are vulnerable have mortgages, they are educating their children, they are paying for the cost of their health care—all the user-pays things that this government has effectively thrust on them over the years. They rely absolutely on the income they earn to be able to carry them. And the income they earn is crucially reinforced by the rewards for hard work, and the rewards for hard work go to the very essence of those conditions most explicitly attacked by this government’s legislation: the ability to get overtime payments, the ability to be rewarded if you work on holidays, the ability to access shift allowances and the ability to get a decent rate of pay when you work in any set of unusual circumstances. Those are what are under assault here.

There is not a person with a mortgage and certainly not a person with a new mortgage in the western suburbs of Sydney, in the equivalent suburbs of the major capital cities or in large parts of regional Australia—not one—who, when they are paying off their mortgage, are not reliant to some degree on some form of penalty rate. There would not be one of them out in the western suburbs of Sydney. In the last six weeks I have had an opportunity to meet many of them. I can stand up in any workplace or in any meeting place, make that claim and then ask for a show of hands, and what I get when I ask for the show of hands is unanimity. The interesting thing is that about half the people that I have been talking to are traditional Liberal voters, traditional Liberal working-class voters who understand exactly how they are being wrecked by this government. We will wreck these laws. We will put in place fair and balanced laws that represent the centrist thinking of the average Australian. Extremism is out when we are in, and these laws will go. (Time expired)

9:51 am

Photo of Phillip BarresiPhillip Barresi (Deakin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I trust that, in debates to come, as the various policies are debated pro and against, the theology of the church will be used repeatedly by the ALP to justify their various policy positions. It will be interesting to see which ones they will accept as supporting their policy positions and which ones they are willing to discard. It is a shame to see the Leader of the Opposition somehow cloak himself with the religious theology of one archbishop who made comments.

Photo of Gavan O'ConnorGavan O'Connor (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

You line up at church on Sunday, do you?

Photo of Phillip BarresiPhillip Barresi (Deakin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I trust that the member for Corio, who is not a bad man, who has been unfairly dismissed—

Photo of Gavan O'ConnorGavan O'Connor (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

You’re an absolute hypocrite!

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Scullin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The honourable member for Corio should be very careful.

Photo of Phillip BarresiPhillip Barresi (Deakin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I trust that the member will listen to my contribution, just as I listened to the contribution of the Leader of the Opposition. I would say to the member for Corio: take your unfair dismissal case to the union movement that will listen to it. I doubt whether there will be anyone there to listen to that case.

This disallowance motion, as the Leader of the Opposition said, is a last chance for the Labor Party to muscle up—to muscle up to the government. The member for Perth, in a desperate ploy, tried to tie where we are at with the entire Work Choices legislation to leadership issues. The only leadership implications from the Work Choices legislation and from this debate are the leadership implications for those on the other side. The ACTU has laid down the law: muscle up or get out of the way. Greg Combet has even lamented the fact that unions used to run this country. ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go back to those days,’ Greg Combet has been saying. He recognises that those on the other side have let the union movement down, and that is why they have picked up the pieces and are running the debate.

The extreme IR law changes that the ALP keeps referring to are nothing of the sort. I have had a good chance to look at them and to compare them with laws outside Australia. The language used by those on the other side has not changed over the years. It has been the same language, it has been extreme language and it continues. The Leader of the Opposition denies this, but in fact he has said out of his own mouth that these laws will create divorces, that they will create family breakdowns. It is the same language that we have heard for over 10 years, yet the facts do not stack up. Employment growth and wage increases have been incredibly strong under this government compared with what they were under the former Labor government.

In their extreme language, those opposite keep resorting to these claims. But the extreme claims and language are now no longer sufficient for the ALP and they are no longer sufficient for the ACTU. What they have now said is: ‘We have tried the extreme language; now what we are going to do is fabricate stories. We are going to get people on the TV commercials, surround it with nice glitzy things and fabricate these stories, because our extreme language has not cut through. We need these fabrications.’ After the Office of Workplace Services has investigated these claims, we have found in every single case that these stories have in fact been a fabrication. Today we have heard those opposite mention a couple of other examples. I daresay that, once they have been investigated in the next few days, we might get a bit closer to the truth of the situation.

The Work Choices legislation really is about choice. Members on the other side say, ‘But employers out there are not taking up the Work Choices legislation.’ They do not have to. That is a good thing about this legislation. Employers can keep their current conditions going. They can keep the current relationship going with their employees. This is about choice. This is about making sure that that small business has, and other businesses that are about to close their doors have, an opportunity to negotiate a situation where those doors can continue to remain open. More importantly, if those doors remain open, there is a job. There is someone out there who will continue to have a job. This legislation is providing that flexibility and those choices so that businesses are able to say, ‘There are other ways of doing this.’

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Brendan O’Connor interjecting

Photo of Phillip BarresiPhillip Barresi (Deakin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I say to the member for Gorton that real small businesses in my electorate—not the four or five that you came up with—are telling me, ‘This is good. In fact, we are going to increase our employment.’ How unfair is it when we have actually legislated minimum conditions and standards? We have legislated a maximum of 38 ordinary hours of work per week, four weeks paid annual leave, 10 days paid personal and carers leave and 52 weeks of unpaid parental leave. These things are protected. Of course, other conditions can be negotiated if that is what they decide they want to do.

The other thing that is counter to these being unfair and extreme IR conditions is that we have also made sure that the Fair Pay Commission is able to make determinations on wages in a non-adversarial setting. The previous setting, in which you had to have ambit claims from all sides, always led to a halfway situation being created. We now have a Fair Pay Commissioner who is genuinely going out there and consulting with the public, not simply with members of the union movement or employers associations. He is actually seeking genuine input from anyone out there in the Australian public who wants to make a submission. That is a fair situation to have and one which did not exist under the previous industrial relations wage-fixing situation.

The Leader of the Opposition has from time to time referred to the model used by our cousins across the Tasman—the New Zealand model—and how New Zealand had to reregulate the extreme deregulations that took place in their system. I had a chance to have a look at that. I thought, ‘I had better go and look at what is happening over there rather than take the Leader of the Opposition’s word.’ A couple of weeks ago I met members of the New Zealand Labour Party, I met with members of the National Party, I met with unionists and I met with employer associations. Lo and behold, this reregulated environment that the Australian Labor Party keeps referring to is in fact still more deregulated than the Australian system—far more deregulated. There is no disadvantage test in the New Zealand system. We have minimum conditions protected by law.

In New Zealand 87 per cent of the private sector is on individual agreements—we are not talking about collective agreement; these are individual agreements. They have no central wage-fixing system. Guess who sets the minimum wages in New Zealand? It is the executive. The minister of the Crown in New Zealand sets them. They are not set by some central fair pay commission or third party; they are set by the government. Is this the reregulated environment that we are supposed to be aiming for? Their system is still far more deregulated than ours is. So do not come in here and say that our conditions and what we are proposing are in some way extreme. The only thing that is extreme is your language. The only thing that has been fabricated is your advertisements on the TV.

This so-called reregulated system in New Zealand is still far more deregulated than the Australian system. What we are proposing through our laws is real choice for people. They can take a new agreement or they can keep their current conditions—and of course it is great if they do that because it means that they are discussing the issue with their workforce. Let us have a look at some of the ACTU ads. The ACTU leader says that it is a disgrace that we have actually investigated these individuals. But those individuals were dragged into the spotlight by the ACTU movement itself. It got these people, put them in front of a camera and fabricated a story. Why shouldn’t their cases be investigated? The ACTU used these individuals, who perhaps were not fully aware of what they were doing, for political purposes. And we know that in each case the situation has been fabricated.

Let us look at the Optus case. In this situation apparently 70 field technicians were sacked and encouraged to work as contractors. The redundant workers could end up doing the same work but earning $180 less per week. What do the findings reveal? Optus was not attempting to re-engage its staff as contractors. There was the continuation of a program to outsource these customer field services and that outsourcing had already occurred three times in the past two years. There was nothing new there. They were continuing what they had been doing in the past under the old system. Redeployment was to be attempted and staff redeployed would stay on the same pay and conditions. Those not redeployed were made redundant and were to be provided with outplacement assistance. As much as we may decry redundancy, it does occur from time to time. It is a shame when it happens. It seems that the only time that redundancy is a bad word is when it is offered by an employer and when it is alleged to be part of the Work Choices legislation. But when a union movement is involved in redundancies, it is okay.

The Weekend Australian on 5 August reported the case of Dianne Rich, who appealed to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to prevent the end of her employment at the Electrical Trades Union. The ETU claimed that Ms Rich had been made redundant. When Cowra Abattoirs—a case exposed by the Office of Workplace Services—made people redundant it was ‘outrageous’. Yet when the union does it, it is a ‘genuine redundancy’. We see the absolute hypocrisy of those on the other side—hypocrisy in order to advance their fabricated stories. In the Cowra situation it was alleged that Robert Kirkman, the abattoir worker with 34 years of experience, and others were sacked on the basis of operational reasons. It was investigated by the Office of Workplace Services and it was found that there was no reasonable basis upon which to prosecute Cowra for alleged breaches of the Workplace Relations Act because the reason for the threatened dismissal of employees was the financial viability of the company. If you close down the business, everyone is out of a job. Of course if you restructure at least some jobs will continue and those employees can continue to go home to their families with a pay packet, rather than having the entire workforce find themselves out on the street.

The second ACTU ad made claims about WorkPac. A driver, Jennifer Gillian, was allegedly sacked by text message, without explanation or warning. It was claimed that she had previously inquired about her occupational health and safety standards in the workplace and that she feared this may have been a factor in her sacking. This was investigated by the Office of Workplace Services—and we will investigate every single case that the ACTU come up with because we know that there are fabrications behind just about everything that they say. Jennifer Gillian was a casual employee of WorkPac. Kerbside services required fewer drivers from WorkPac. Three workers, including Mrs Gillian, had their casual assignments ended. She was advised twice by telephone and then received a further message on the Monday. There is no evidence that her assignment ended because of safety issues that were raised—none whatsoever. There is example after example, but I will not take up the entire debate by going through them. Those on the other side know that this is the case and that is why the ACTU movement, in their embarrassment, are now saying, ‘We’re not going to be using real people or real situations in these advertisements, because we have to fabricate situations and the Office of Workplace Services will expose us. We’ll now use actors. We’ll get the actors in and will do a dummy script for them to go through.’

As I mentioned before, in the New Zealand system 87 per cent of the private sector is on individual agreements. By the way, I said to the Labor Party in New Zealand, ‘You have been in government all these years. Is there any chance that you’re actually going to wind back some of these things?’ The answer was no. They had no plans at all to do that. They are going to keep that system going. Yet what do we have here? We have the Leader of the Opposition, who made a policy on the run on AWAs. He made a policy on the run. It was a knee-jerk reaction. The member for Perth and everyone else in the opposition then had to support him. He realised the error that he made, but of course he is not going to back down now. Now they are trying to couch it in language such as ‘common-law agreements’. AWAs have been taken up— (Time expired)

10:07 am

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We should rename the OWS Kevin’s Goon Brigade, the KGB.

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Scullin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the question be now put.

To lessen the tautology, the question now is that the question—that is, the motion moved by the member for Perth—be put.