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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 12303


Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (14:16): 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. Will the minister inform the House how the Fair Work Act and the government's decisive actions under that act have strengthened the rights of working people and protected the national interest? How were workers treated before the introduction of the Fair Work Act?

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (14:17): I thank the member for Greenway for her question and for her commitment to ensuring that there is fairness in the workplace. I am asked by the member how Fair Work Australia has operated in the national interest. It has done this by restoring Australian values in the industrial relations framework. Those values of fairness, security, good faith and getting the balance between work and family are Australian values and they are Labor values. But they were not the values that were embodied in Work Choices. They are now embodied in Fair Work Australia.

Under Work Choices, there was no right to collective bargaining, there was no requirement for the employer to bargain in good faith, and nor was there an ability in circumstances in which the parties could not resolve their issues to have recourse to an independent umpire. As far as the opposition was concerned, they said no to collective bargaining, no to good-faith bargaining and no to an industrial umpire. We said yes to all of those things because they are Australian values.

I am asked the question about how the implementation of this act has advantaged Australia. It has done it in two ways: not just by restoring values but by ensuring that we got the planes flying again after that precipitous action taken by Qantas over the weekend.

I am also asked in this question how workers were treated before the implementation of Fair Work Australia. Well, it is Melbourne Cup day, and I always think it is a good thing on Melbourne Cup day to have a look at the form. There was the coalition form—we have talked about it before—the Peter Reith form. Their approach to industrial relations resolution is to bring in the Rottweilers and the black hoods, and sack a workforce and replace it with scabs. But that was Peter Reith. Who became the industrial relations minister after Peter Reith? The current Leader of the Opposition. Abbott continued the process going forward. We know the Leader of the Opposition did not back the former minister for industrial relations Peter Reith in the presidential stakes, but he holds the same form as the former minister for industrial relations.

I will give you some examples because it also pays in this place to have a corporate memory about how some of these disputes were handled. There was the Morris McMahon dispute, where workers were out on the grass for four months because the employer was not required to bargain in good faith. Workers were paid $11 an hour—and what was the Leader of the Opposition's admonition to them? 'Go back to work because you have a Rolls Royce deal.' Then there was negotiating the auto industry package. He required the industry to pay into a fund so that they could sue workers and unions. Then there was the Tristar Steering dispute where he would not intervene; he said it was not the role of the government to get involved. Then there was the G & K O'Connor dispute, the meatworks where workers were sacked and on the grass for nine months because they had to put up with a 60 per cent wage cut. The Leader of the Opposition stayed out of that dispute, and he refused to disclose his dealings with the company. Doesn't that sound familiar in the context of this Qantas issue today? Here he is. We know that there was engagement with Qantas, but he refuses to disclose what he would have said to Qantas had he picked up the phone. He would have said, 'Continue the dispute.' (Time expired)