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Monday, 26 August 2002
Page: 5591

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Dr SOUTHCOTT (3:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Are there any threats to continuing jobs growth in the car industry? Would the minister inform the House of the government's response to the unions' call for a car manufacturing roundtable?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Boothby for his question. I know how important the motor industry is to him and how it is always on his mind. That is understandable, because the motor industry is the heart of the Australian manufacturing sector and it directly employs some 55,000 people. Unfortunately, three times over the past year the industry has been brought to the brink of a standstill because of strikes orchestrated by the AMWU, a union that has donated some $3 million to the Labor Party over the last few years and which controls the largest block vote in the Victorian ALP conference. As if he has not already done enough damage, Dougie Cameron, the AMWU boss, is threatening further disruption if the Productivity Commission report is not to his liking.

The most recent development is a call by the ACTU for the creation of an industry council comprising chief executives and union officials in this industry. If this council leads to a greater focus on workplace bargaining, if this council means less industrial disruption and no illegal strikes, then it may be a positive thing. But if this provides just another platform for the AMWU, if it provides yet another forum to promote pattern bargaining, if it turns out to be a reward for industrial disruption, then it is the last thing that this industry needs. As far as the ACTU is concerned, it seems to want the re-creation of the accord in one industry as a dry run for the Accord Mark» IX that it has been promised by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition runs around saying that he wants to reduce union power, but the Sydney Morning Herald says:

A secret deal Simon Crean has made—

Mr «Latham» —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The minister was asked about a roundtable concerning the trade unions. He was not invited to make comment about the Leader of the Opposition or anything else other than that roundtable between unions and the car industry.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. The minister's answer has been relevant to the question asked.

Mr ABBOTT —Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Sydney Morning Herald says:

A secret deal Simon Crean has made guaranteeing a big upgrade in union influence is poised to elevate the ACTU secretary—

who is promoting this council—

Mr Swan —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Further to the previous point of order, the question to the minister did not contain any provocative conclusion as to other policies that he might be aware of. It was a very narrowly based question. There is no way in the world that the minister's answer now could be deemed to be relevant to that narrowly based question.

The SPEAKER —The minister was asked a question about jobs growth and about a car industry roundtable. I understood that the Australian Council of Trade Unions had a seat at that roundtable, and it was in that context that I allowed him to continue. I am listening to the minister's reply.

Mr ABBOTT —That is very true, Mr Speaker. Under this secret deal by the Leader of the Opposition, the person who is promoting this council, Greg Combet, is being promoted `to the position of top powerbroker in the Labor Party'—that was the authoritative statement by that great paper of record, the Sydney Morning Herald. I call on the Leader of the Opposition to come clean on the secret deal that he is foisting on the Australian people, lest the Australian people conclude that he is nothing but a failed union leader who is way out of his depth.