Thursday, 16 August 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Would the minister update the House on how the government’s workplace reforms are encouraging job creation and wages growth? What are the risks to continued jobs growth and what is the government’s response?
I thank the honourable member for his question. This government has helped to build a fair and flexible workplace relations system—a fair system that has delivered higher real wages; more jobs; importantly, a framework upon which strike action can lawfully be taken, if necessary; and a flexible workplace relations system that responds to the needs of individual industries and ensures that wage increases in one sector do not flow through to other sectors where those wage increases are unjustified. A modern deregulated workplace relations system is absolutely crucial for economic stability in an uncertain time. That is one of the reasons why we got rid of the job-destroying unfair dismissal laws, why we have made Australian workplace agreements more flexible and why we have curbed the irresponsible behaviour of the unions.
I am asked about risks. The greatest risk is the Labor Party getting into government. The greatest risk to the workplace relations system and its stability and contribution to the economy is the Labor Party’s policy called Forward with Fairness being implemented. It is not just us saying this; it is virtually every business representative group—or perhaps I should say that it is every employer representative group, because without employers there are no employees and there are no employees without employers. Every representative employer group has slammed the Labor Party’s policy.
Public servants, such as the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the Secretary of the Treasury, have warned about the impact of rolling back our industrial relations scheme. Major business leaders such as Graham Kraehe, Charlie Leneghan and Wal King have warned of the dangers of the Labor Party’s policy. Economists, such as Econtech, Access Economics and HSBC have warned of the dangers of the Labor Party’s policy. Today, Terry McCrann and Paul Kelly again have warned of the dangers of the Labor Party’s industrial relations policy.
We continue to wait for the Labor Party’s so-called transitional arrangements. When they released their policy in April, the reaction from all employer groups and a range of economic commentators was so fierce that suddenly they said they would have transitional arrangements to address business concerns. That is the equivalent of trying to turn mutton into lamb. They knew their policy was a dog, so they said, ‘Well, we’ll have some transitional arrangements to address the concerns out there.’ We are interested in those transitional arrangements because, on the one hand, even as late as today, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, one of the key architects of Forward with Fairness, was on Radio National saying that their policy would not be changing. At the same time, later this afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition said that the policy was simply a framework and that more information would be coming out.
This clearly illustrates the divide between the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition. We know that the Leader of the Opposition is running around town having one-on-one meetings with business groups, saying to them: ‘Hey, listen, don’t worry. I’m cutting Julia Gillard out of the loop; I’m cutting the deputy leader out of the loop. I know she’s a bit of a concern, but don’t worry. Let’s talk about the transitional arrangements.’
As the Treasurer says, some mothers do have them. He did not let me down. I thought for a minute that maybe the gap was closing between the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, but out came the member for Lilley with a doorstop today. Journalist: ‘Has Julia Gillard been sidelined during negotiations with business about the IR policy?’ The member for Swan: ‘I don’t think so. I’m not sure. She might have been sidelined; she might not have been sidelined. I don’t really know what the Leader of the Opposition is up to.’ This is the chief spokesperson for the Labor Party on economic policy and he is not even aware of the discussions going on between the Leader of the Opposition and business groups about the Labor Party’s industrial relations policy. The only economic policy the Labor Party has released is a dog. It barks like a dog, it walks like a dog and it is full of fleas. Mr Speaker, do you know what the danger is? The danger is to the economy, because the Labor Party’s industrial relations policy will take us back to a pre-1993 environment at a time when Australian cannot afford it.
My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Will the minister confirm that there are now up to 100,000 workplace agreements backlogged and awaiting approval under the Howard government’s Work Choices laws? Minister, isn’t it a fact that these agreements are going to be dealt with by approximately 200 temporary workers employed by employment agencies, not the Workplace Authority, and that these temps, who are given just six days training, include a number of foreign backpackers?
Firstly, there is certainly not a backlog of 100,000. That is complete rubbish. Secondly, isn’t it interesting that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition comes to the dispatch box crying about how many of these Australian workplace agreements are backlogged. Yet the Leader of the Opposition says that only four per cent of the workforce are on AWAs, when, in fact, substantially more Australians are embracing Australian workplace agreements—nearly one million by the time of the next election. Even on my rudimentary calculations, that is a hell of a lot more than four per cent.
Thirdly, the Workplace Authority is responsible for applying the fairness test. In fact, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should know that because she voted for it. I know she does not understand our laws, but she does not understand her own either. That is the disappointing part of it. Finally, if the Labor Party—
Finally, if the Labor Party is so concerned about the Workplace Authority and the role it has, and is such a strong supporter of the role it has in checking every agreement, why does the Labor Party want to abolish the Workplace Authority? Under our policy, agreements are checked by an independent third party. Under the Labor Party there is no-one checking those individual contracts, especially those that pay 45c for all penalty rates.