Thursday, 21 October 2010
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts representing the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations. Why is a fair deal at work important to Australians and what challenges does the government face in this area?
Fairness for workers is important. It is important to their families and it is also important to the economy. So far as families are concerned, it is important to ensure that their rights are protected in the workplace: the right to collectively bargain and the requirement for employers to bargain in good faith. Also, the safety nets that we have introduced are important for their security. As for the importance to the economy, since we changed the previously unfair Work Choices arrangements we have seen productivity increase in the economy, real wages go up, an increase in jobs—600,000 of them created since we have been in office—a fall in industrial disputes and an assessment by Access Economics that the changes that we made to the unfair Work Choices legislation would reap benefits of $4.8 billion in savings to the Australian economy over the course of the next decade.
I am also asked if there are any challenges to this. I have to ask myself, ‘Why would you challenge a framework that delivered those sorts of outcomes?’ But those on the other side do challenge it. The coalition has basically committed, through statements today and earlier this month, to return this country to Work Choices, were they to get back into office. Remember that during the election campaign the Leader of the Opposition, when questioned about returning to Work Choices, said it was ‘dead, buried and cremated’. He even had to put it in writing on the Neil Mitchell program, because he told us that you could not believe a thing he said unless it was included in writing.
Mr Speaker, on a point of order: again, for the third time today, this could not possibly be directly relevant to the question that the minister was asked. He was asked about hurdles to do with workplace relations. Past history is not relevant to the government’s policies for the future.
The question went to what challenges this government faced in this area. In one sentence the minister talked about an announcement today and then went on to matters in the election. I assumed that he was going to get back to announcements today.
I was asked about the challenges, and the challenge comes from the other side of the parliament. Dead, buried and cremated, we have got the exhumation party out—the shadow Treasurer and the shadow finance minister.
Opposition members interjecting—
Mr Speaker, I thank the House for showing more fairness and judgment than, obviously, the member for Sturt has. I am just making the point, Mr Speaker. The question I was asked was: why is a fair deal at work important for Australians and what challenge is there to it? And I am being directly relevant to that, I would suggest. The fairness to Australians is really important for their families and the economy. So any threat to it is antifamily and antiAustralian. That is why the threat to bring back Work Choices, which we are seeing being exhumed by the other side, is a very major threat indeed. It will see cuts to leave and shift loading, cuts to penalty rates, cuts to holiday pay and pay freezes.
This approach was rejected at the last election and we will ensure that, whilst we hold government, we will continue not to just reject it but to put in place a positive structure that lifts the productivity of the nation, lifts the job opportunities of the nation, lifts real wages and lowers industrial disputes. The problem for this House though is that when the Leader of the Opposition makes the commitment, even in writing, you cannot trust his words.