Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Will the Deputy Prime Minister detail for the House the importance of implementing a set of workplace laws for employees that do not undermine the safety net? Are there any potential barriers to implementing these laws?
I thank the member for Hasluck for her question, for her work assisting me with the production of the Fair Work Bill 2008 and for her abiding interest in women’s employment and pay equity. Of course, she would know that there were no group of workers who suffered more in this country under Work Choices than women workers, and the statistics clearly showed that. Yesterday it was my pleasure to introduce into this parliament the Fair Work Bill, which guarantees for Australian workers—each and every one of them—a safety net that cannot be stripped away, national employment standards they can always rely on and, for employees who earn $100,000 or less a year, simple, modern awards that they can rely on. Compared with Work Choices, this is a safety net that will always be with them, because there are no individual statutory employment agreements, no Australian workplace agreements, which allow the safety net to be stripped away. Of course, it was Work Choices AWAs that did so much damage, costing people their penalty rates and their overtime without a cent of compensation.
Shortly after I introduced the bill into the parliament, the Leader of the Opposition went out and said, ‘Work Choices is dead.’ I thought to myself, ‘Gee; that’s a really familiar form of words; I’ve heard that before.’ I know there is a sort of a fever of plagiarism over there on the Liberal Party benches, so I thought I would check that Work Choices is dead. Of course, it was the then Leader of the Opposition who, on 19 December 2007, first used those words. He first said, ‘Work Choices is dead.’ Let us just remind ourselves what has happened since Work Choices was dead, according to the Liberal Party. We know that the person who is now the Liberal Defence spokesperson went out and said, ‘We are prepared to die in a ditch over individual statutory employment agreements.’ That happened since the then Leader of the Opposition said, ‘Work Choices is dead.’ Then, of course, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the then spokesperson for workplace relations in this parliament, in the course of dealing with the transition bill, defended individual statutory employment agreements. If that was not enough, every member of the Liberal Party came in here and voted against a government motion that said individual statutory employment agreements could not be part of a fair system—that is, they voted in defence of individual statutory employment agreements. Then, as recently as September this year, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party told an audience in Melbourne that statutory individual contracts must form part of a modern workplace. All of this has happened since the first time a Leader of the Opposition for the Liberal Party said, ‘Work Choices is dead.’
What has happened since this current Leader of the Liberal Party has said that Work Choices is dead? Well, we know that they spent yesterday brawling in their party room over support for Work Choices. Helpfully aided by the Australian newspaper, we know that the former Leader of the Opposition, the member for Bradfield, is out there defending individual statutory employment agreements, the thing that was at the heart of Work Choices—and he is nodding his head to verify that that is right; he is defending individual statutory employment agreements. And he is not alone. He is aided by the member for Mackellar. He is aided by the member for Menzies, who of course was the minister who was involved—and he is nodding too, another Work Choices supporter right there on the bench. He is aided by Alby Schultz—yes, Alby is giving the thumbs up to Work Choices; there he goes. And of course there are a group of senators who I cannot, in this chamber, call on to indicate their support for Work Choices but they did in the party room. So do not watch what the Leader of the Opposition says; watch what he does. Called on to vote for Work Choices, he voted for it a dozen times in this parliament. He now leads a political party full of Work Choices supporters who think that, just for the moment, it would be better if they pretended they were not. But this is pretence, and we know it. We know that if the Liberal Party were ever the government again in this country it would be back to Work Choices, back to AWAs and back to the rip-offs, because that is what they believe in and they always will.