Senate debates

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Agreement making in Australia under the Workplace Relations Act: 2007 to 2009

6:50 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

Agreement making in Australia under the Workplace Relations Act: 2007 to 2009 is a document that outlines what has happened to collective bargaining and collective agreements since the end of Work Choices. What it shows is that a total of 24,156 collective agreements were approved under the Workplace Relations Act between 1 January 2007 and 31 December 2009. This was a 14.7 per cent increase from the 21,057 collective agreements approved in the previous three-year period. What this shows is that employees whose pay was set by collective agreements earned, on average, more than those whose pay was set by an individual agreement. I think it is quite clear from this that the reason why workers detested Work Choices was that, under a proper bargaining system, you could actually achieve decent wages and decent conditions under a proper workplace relations system. And wage increases under this system have broadly followed the economic cycle.

It is interesting to note that, even as late as today, the debate in the coalition party room is for the return of Work Choices. There is a report up on AAP today that says an unnamed coalition member was in the coalition party room talking about the need for flexibility in agreement making, and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, agreed that we need more flexibility in agreement making. What does that mean? It means that the Work Choices warriors are on the rampage again and Work Choices is on the way back. This lot across the chamber have no idea about the rights of workers in this country and they want Work Choices back again. The reason why workers hate Work Choices and the opposition want to give the bosses absolute managerial prerogative on the workshop floor is that, under Work Choices, more than one million workers suffered a real pay cut of up to $97.75 a week. We still have the opposition, in their party room, wanting to bring back Work Choices. Hundreds of thousands of workers were pushed onto individual contracts. It is great to see in this report that individual agreements are down by 23 per cent. Workers are getting their rights back under a Labor government.

Under AWAs and Work Choices, 70 per cent of workers lost shift loadings, 68 per cent lost annual leave loadings, 65 per cent lost penalty rates, 49 per cent lost overtime loadings, 25 per cent no longer had public holidays and 3½ million lost their right of protection against unfair dismissal. And it is on again. The coalition party room, as reported on AAP, says flexibility needs to come back to the workplace. Flexibility is simply Work Choices—that is what you have got to think about when you hear the coalition talk about ‘flexibility’. We know that what they want to do is go down to the annual general meetings of the HR Nicholls Society in South Australia. The sycophantic politicians from the coalition want to doff their caps to the HR Nicholls Society, as Senator Minchin did a few years ago, saying: ‘We’re sorry; we didn’t take enough away from workers.’ Senator Minchin did that when he did not realise he was being recorded. He thought he was talking privately to the extremists in the HR Nicholls Society. (Time expired) Oh well, we got one in.

6:55 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

It is interesting to listen to the old class warrior, Senator Cameron. He thinks he is still back in Scotland, back in the good old country, where there was real class warfare. Senator Cameron did not understand when he came to Australia that there is none of that sort of class warfare in Australia. But I have to say that ‘class warrior’ is better than the last terminology that was given to him but perhaps not quite as accurate. I think most people in this chamber and throughout Australia would agree with Senator Cameron’s own description of himself as a zombie. He also referred to his colleagues as having had a policy lobotomy. I happened to be in the coalition party room meeting all day today—I promise you I was not asleep—and I never once heard Work Choices mentioned. So Senator Cameron’s claim is clearly part of the Labor Party’s yearning for the good old days of the 2007 election, when they could scare enough workers into voting for them. How quickly those workers woke up and realised the Labor Party were not really for the workers. The Labor Party were about increasing mining taxes and destroying the jobs of workers, particularly up in the area I come from.

From our side of the fence, Work Choices has been declared dead and buried for two or three years now. What Senator Cameron is trying to do by continually raising the Work Choices mantra is to divert the attention of Australians from the continuing series of failures of the Gillard government: the pink batts home insulation fiasco; the Julia Gillard school halls program, an absolute fiasco; and the climate change policy, which you will recall was the great moral challenge of our time, which disappeared from sight along with the then Prime Minister. What Senator Cameron is trying to do is divert the attention of Australians from Labor’s absolute paucity of ability in governing Australia. For the first time in history a first-term government has lost an election. It is incredible that a first-term government could lose an election, but it happened at the last election. Senator Cameron yearns for the old days when they could try to mislead the Australian public and, indeed, Australian workers. I see that Senator Cameron has come back into the chamber to give some riding instructions, but I remind Senator Cameron’s colleagues that they are zombies and not allowed to have an independent view on these things. Remember, they have had a policy lobotomy, so they are not allowed to talk about policy unless it is approved by the union bosses. On Senator Cameron’s understanding of the document before the chair and on his understanding of what might or might not have happened in the coalition party room today, suffice it to say that, like most things Senator Cameron says in this chamber, it is fanciful.

I urge Senator Cameron to retreat to being, as was his own description, a zombie, without any view on policy—certainly without any view on policy they are allowed to talk about it. For those who might be listening as they are driving home, I want to emphasise that it is not me calling Senator Cameron a zombie; that was Senator Cameron’s own very famous description of his colleagues last week. He confessed to the world that Labor Party members are not allowed to talk about policy or to have any new ideas and get out there and argue the case—they simply have to toe the Ms Gillard line and do whatever is said by Ms Gillard to be the right thing, whether or not they believe in it. Fortuitously, on this side of the parliament, we do encourage debate amongst ourselves, because we are interested in good policy, and that is the way it happens. That is why this document before the parliament at the moment is so important.

7:01 pm

Photo of Anne McEwenAnne McEwen (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also wish to take note of this report. I do not think Senator Macdonald came in here intending to speak to that report at all; I do not think he actually knew what report he was speaking to. But, when it was, correctly, raised that the opposition are still full of warriors for Work Choices—as has been evidenced again today—Senator Macdonald could not help himself. He had to take the bait, get up and once again demonstrate how the opposition is determined to reintroduce what they like to call ‘flexible workplace practices’, which is code for Work Choices.

I hope that people who are listening to this debate while driving home tonight fully understand what the opposition has in mind when it comes to workplace relations. The report, which Senator Cameron also talked to, demonstrates that Australian workers are not interested in individual workplace agreements; they are interested in collective agreements and are signing up to collective agreements that are negotiated with them and by their unions on their behalf. Those agreements, especially those that have been registered under the new Fair Work Act, demonstrate increases in wages and entitlements for workers and are being done in a cooperative framework that was enabled by the Labor government. One of its first initiatives in government was to repeal Work Choices and to establish the Fair Work Act and the fair work umpire.

The working people of Australia rewarded the Labor Party for that initiative by re-electing us in 2010—something that the opposition neglect to mention in their speeches. What Australian workers are fearful of is a return to the bad old days of the coalition. If there is any doubt about that, that is what we have seen demonstrated here. Australian workers are afraid of a return to Work Choices. That legislation stripped away from working people entitlements like penalty rates and flexible working arrangements. It stripped away workers’ right to negotiate with their employer through their unions. It took away the things that Australian unions and working people had fought for for more than 100 years.

I will never forget the night in this Senate when the now opposition, who were then in government, managed to get that disgusting legislation through the parliament. What a sad day that was for working people. But the coalition were punished for that in the 2007 election, the memory of which is not too far away. We are celebrating the anniversary of that this week. We won the 2007 election because of Work Choices, and now we have the Work Choices warriors back in here trying to defend their record. More frighteningly, they are coming in here and openly stating that they believe in Work Choices and would like it back. We know full well that that is what is going to happen if—heaven forbid!—they are ever elected again.

Australian working people do not want that kind of industrial relations system. They want fairness and an equal say in the workplace. They do not want to be hostage to unscrupulous employers who are able, because of legislation, to run roughshod over them. We worked very hard to repeal that legislation from the previous government, and we are proud of that action. I can tell you that all of us on this side are going to continue to protect working people from the rampages of the Work Choices warriors over there, like Senator Macdonald, Senator McGauran, Senator Williams and Senator Nash. All of them put their hand up for Work Choices. All of them should be ashamed of it. The people of Australia should be very, very afraid of them ever coming back into government again.

7:05 pm

Photo of Julian McGauranJulian McGauran (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the document. I have been severely provoked, and named, by the previous speaker. I was not going to speak on this document at all; in fact, I was going to sit quietly and wait for the adjournment debate to come on. But the previous speakers Senator McEwen and Senator Cameron just launched into the opposition for no reason at all—a tirade with no basis.

I can assure Senator Cameron that, whatever report he read on the party room, I was there too and there was no talk of Work Choices. What we have here, and you could hear this from the previous speaker, is a desperate government. They are so desperate now that they cling to anything they can as a distraction, as even a morale booster, if you like, for their side. Their morale is way down, as it ought to be, because of what happened this week and last week. And here comes the greatest morale dipper you have ever seen, about to sit down and take up chamber duty—Senator Carr would dint your morale, wouldn’t he? The previous two government speakers have simply attempted to distract from their own problems—their own serious, deep problems.

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Carr interjecting

Photo of Julian McGauranJulian McGauran (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I knew it would take nothing to provoke you, Senator Carr. The Rasputin of the Labor Party! It has not taken any more than five seconds of provocation and here he is yelling, screaming and pointing the finger.

I want to make this point about Senator Cameron. I give him utter credit—surprised as I was that he was so courageous—for the way he tagged his own side. He has given it away: he called his own side zombies. He said they had all had lobotomies. Senator Faulkner said they lacked courage—that they had more cunning than courage. Acquiring more cunning than courage is something that Senator Carr has spent a career refining.

The Acting Deputy President:

You are taking note of document No. 1, aren’t you, Senator McGauran?

Photo of Julian McGauranJulian McGauran (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am, and I am speaking in response to the previous speakers. This is how Senator Cameron has dubbed those on the other side of the chamber. He has seen that this is a government adrift. But I also have to pick up Senator Cameron; he threw out meaningless figures and statistics about the previous government. Let me just put this on the record. When it came to employment, wages growth, productivity and growth of the economy there was no prouder success of the previous government than its achievement in employment and its unemployment rate, which fell to record levels. The unemployment rate dipped well below five per cent; I think it even got to 4.5 per cent—nearing full employment rates. That was a proud achievement.

I served in an opposition when Labor was in government, when unemployment reached one million. There were a million people unemployed under the previous—

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

It was 11 per cent.

Photo of Julian McGauranJulian McGauran (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, something like 11 per cent. We had a long, hard slog to bring unemployment to 4.5 per cent, and that was a proud achievement. For workers over the 11 years of the Howard government productivity increased and so did wages. So it is just a fallacy put out by the Labor Party for their own political justifications to say that the workers were worse off under a Liberal-National Party government. But it is typical of Senator Cameron and his side to throw out these figures, unsourced. Senator Cameron has learnt from the best. He has learnt from his own leaders. They do not ever source their figures. They never tested their figures. They do not even test their policies or the legislation that comes through this parliament. We have seen it with the policy on pink batts. They were too busy to cross the t’s and dot the i’s on the billions of dollars they spent on pink batts. They had to rush out the Building the Education Revolution program—

The Acting Deputy President:

Senator McGauran, I just want to remind you that we are talking about a document from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

Photo of Julian McGauranJulian McGauran (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes. My point is this: Australian workers and their families are more concerned with government waste, the cost of living and their jobs than they are concerned about a government that will waste the money and not spend it on proper priorities. This is a government that is hell bent on introducing a carbon tax and a mining tax that will cost them jobs and increase the— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.