Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and Minister for Social Inclusion. What has been the response to the award modernisation program and the creation of national workplace relations laws? Can the minister detail the need for accuracy in making claims about workplace relations?
I thank the member for Petrie for her question. I know that she is interested in fairness and balance at work for the working people in her electorate. The Rudd government is proud of having delivered on its commitment to kill Work Choices and to introduce a fair and balanced workplace relations system, and we are proud of having delivered on our commitment to simplify and modernise the award system.
The new workplace relations system and simple, modern awards have been broadly welcomed. They have been welcomed by small businesses because they are slashing red tape. They have been welcomed because it has been modelled to show that it will benefit the Australian economy by $4.8 billion. It is easier for employers and employees to be able to look for their award conditions in 122 simple, modern awards than in more than 4,000 old, archaic industrial instruments. In December last year, the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council welcomed the award modernisation result, and that council includes the ACTU, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Ai Group, the Australian Mines and Metals Association, the National Farmers Federation and many others who represent employers in this country.
On the task of award modernisation, let us be very clear: when the Liberal Party was in government, it squibbed that task, and the Leader of the Opposition and his fellow Liberal Party members in government decided instead to introduce Australian workplace agreements which could strip away the award safety net without a cent of compensation. This is a government that has got on with the hard job and simplified awards. We can guarantee to Australian workers that they will always have a safety net at work on which to stand. And we can guarantee to Australian workers that, as we have made the move from the old award system to the new award system, every Australian worker has a guaranteed take-home pay. They are entitled to a take-home pay guarantee.
In relation to award modernisation, we have seen a number of claims made, and I am asked about their accuracy and the responsibility of making sure that if you make a claim it is a truthful one. Yesterday we saw, in this parliament, the Leader of the Opposition stand up at 10 minutes past three—about 24 hours ago—and say this:
The nurses union says that the government’s scheme is worse than Work Choices, and it is.
I thought, when he said that, ‘Gee, that’s a little bit odd,’ because I knew Australia’s nurses were desperate to get rid of Work Choices, because they feared a re-elected Liberal government would tie hospital funding to the introduction of AWAs, the way they had done in Australian universities. So I thought it was a little bit odd when the Leader of the Opposition said it. But then, of course, the nurses union today has put out the following statement:
Assistant Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation … Lee Thomas said comments by the Federal Opposition Leader made about the union in Federal Parliament yesterday … were completely false and should be corrected.
Ms Thomas said—
Straight-talking Tony—such an honest man!
Ms Thomas said the statement made by Mr Abbott in the Parliament that the nurses union “says the government’s scheme … is worse than Workchoices..” has never been made by an official of the Australian Nursing Federation.
It ‘has never been made’. And Ms Thomas, a representative of nurses, went on to say:
“In a speech about being honest with the Australian people he put words in the mouths of nurses that we never said.
“This statement then must be corrected or he has misled the Australian Parliament,” …
That is a statement from the Australian Nursing Federation.
With this Leader of the Opposition we are dealing with a man so arrogant and so out of touch that he wants to put irons in the hands of Australian women and he wants to put words in the mouths of Australian nurses. He should do the decent thing and apologise for this statement which lacks honesty. Each and every day, Australians are coming to know that this man represents a risk to the economy and represents a risk to the truth, and he certainly represents a risk because he wants Work Choices back.