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Tuesday, 25 June 1996
Page: 2717


Mr SLIPPER(10.14 p.m.) —In continuation, Mr Deputy Speaker—


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —In continuation indeed—16 minutes if you are lucky.


Mr SLIPPER —I thought it was slightly more, but I might well be in continuation again after the end of the period for debate tonight. I must say that, as the 35th speaker, or thereabouts, speaking on the government's Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 1996, there is very little new matter I can introduce into the debate. It is, however, interesting to note that the contributions made by so many members opposite have been made by people who have had a very longstanding connection with the trade union movement. In fact, when one looks at the CVs of members of the opposition, it is interesting to note that just under half the Labor members, senators and senators-elect have had direct links with the trade union movement, having used the union movement as a stepping stone into this place.

One must therefore discount substantially the contributions made by many of those members and senators in this debate, because obviously they come from a biased position. When one looks at the employment history of a large number of those opposite, in many cases they have had no jobs at all other than working for the trade union movement.


Mr Quick —Rubbish!


Mr SLIPPER —The facts speak for themselves. If you want me to go through them I can. The honourable member for Lyons (Mr Adams) was a union organiser with the Australian Meat Industries Employees Union. The outgoing President of the Senate, Senator Beahan, was not even re-endorsed by the Labor Party. He was the state director of the Australian Trade Union Training Authority in Western Australia and an education officer for the West Australian Trades and Labour Council. The honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Bevis) was an organiser with the Queensland Teachers Union. Senator Bryant Burns was a union official with the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union. Senator Carr was the branch president, secretary and conference delegate of the Technical Teachers Union. And on it goes. As I said, just under half of the 78 ALP—


Mr Latham —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I do not believe any of those honourable members and senators are mentioned in the legislation. I do not think their CVs are relevant to the bill. Could you please ask the member to address the workplace relations legislation?


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I think it is reasonable to accept that the qualifications of members of this place, if they have been involved in those occupations, could be relevant to the workplace relations bill, which is concerned with industrial relations. However, I would suggest to the member for Fisher that he may not need to read all of them.


Mr SLIPPER —I had not intended to do so. It was just that I was invited by those opposite to verify the information that I had given that just under half of the 78 members and senators and senators-elect in the opposition were people with trade union backgrounds.

This guy sitting at the table opposite is clearly desperate. He is determined to shut up members on this side of the House as we endeavour to indicate how shallow and unproductive the arguments are coming from those opposite. I mentioned last Thursday night that he is a person who has not had a real job in his entire life. He has worked for Gough Whitlam and as such must be partly responsible for the disastrous policies of the Whitlam government. He worked for a Labor Premier of New South Wales. He also has been a mayor for a Labor council somewhere in the west of Sydney. So this guy has had absolutely no productive activity.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Fisher will refer to honourable members by their correct titles; not `This guy'.


Mr SLIPPER —The honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Latham) is a person who has not made any contribution to the wealth production of this country—


Mr Latham —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: my understanding is that you indicated to the honourable member that continued reference to the CVs and personal backgrounds of members is not relevant to the legislation.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —No. There is no point of order. I suggested to the honourable member that he might curtail the reading of the list. There is no point of order.


Mr SLIPPER —As I pointed out, these people are determined to muzzle us when we try to indicate that just under half of the 78 members and senators have a trade union background. They are not people who speak for small business; they are not people who speak for unemployed people; they are not people who speak for the vast majority of mainstream Australia. They are people who come into this place from a vested interest. They have given speech after speech after speech on this legislation, trying to indicate to us that they are in here as honest brokers. But they are people with a biased point of view; they are people who come here from a predetermined position. They are people who are, in effect, advocates for the trade union movement and not advocates for mainstream Australia.

The legislation that we are debating tonight, when carried, will give new opportunity to about 800,000 unemployed people in this nation. We perhaps have two million people unable to find sufficient work. After 13 years of Labor government, these people simply had given up until of course 2 March when we were elected to office. This legislation, which we are now debating, will give new opportunity; it will give these people the chance to put one foot on the employment ladder. They will have an opportunity to contribute to the future advancement of this nation as well as an opportunity to provide for their families. This legislation aims to free up the labour market. It aims to encourage employers and employees to sit down and talk. What is wrong with that? It aims to have workplace agreements. These workplace agreements will be subject to provisions that ensure that workers will not be any worse off.


Mr Laurie Ferguson —The member for Parkes didn't talk to his staff.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Reid will not interject out of his place.


Mr SLIPPER —The honourable member for Reid, Mr Deputy Speaker, is one of those opposite who indeed has a union background. One must understand that he is determined to protect the union monopoly that has existed as a result of 13 years of Labor government—


Mr Latham —Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House.

The bells being rung—

Honourable members interjecting


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for O'Connor will restrain himself!


Mr Tuckey —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. An interjection came from over there that was insulting. If the member for Werriwa wants to do something about it, he knows how to do it. You're a rabbit. Every time you stand to your feet, you shaft us. You are a creep. You can crawl under that carpet and not make a bump.


Mr Latham —That is unparliamentary.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for O'Connor is treading very close to the line. It is unparliamentary and I call upon the member for O'Connor to withdraw.


Mr Tuckey —Withdraw what?


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The various comments and names you called the member on the other side.


Mr Tuckey —I am prepared to trade with him on his opening remarks, sir.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I did not hear his opening remarks. I did hear yours. I ask you to withdraw.


Mr Tuckey —I withdraw in condescendence to you, sir.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —No, unreservedly. Just withdraw.


Mr Tuckey —I am following your instructions, and I have done it.

(Quorum formed)


Mr Leo McLeay —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I think you asked the member for O'Connor to withdraw unreservedly and he didn't. He said `on your instructions'. I think the form is that he needs to withdraw.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I am satisfied that the honourable member has withdrawn. I call the honourable member for Fisher.


Mr SLIPPER —Before I was so rudely interrupted by the call for a quorum, I was about to reveal the fact that the honourable member for Reid was a research officer for the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union from 1976 to 1984. I do not imply that the honourable member for Reid is not a person of honour. All I am saying is that he comes to this place with a predetermined position. He comes here as an advocate for the trade union movement.

He is one of those people who has been spreading misinformation throughout the Australian community, selling the idea that this piece of legislation the government has introduced to this place is draconian. It has been suggested that we all go back to the 1890s, that there will be no protection for the workers and that in fact the sky will fall in. That, as we all know, is absolute nonsense.

Alan Wood, the chief economics editor of the Australian, indicates in his very lucid, impartial and well-argued article on the government's workplace relations bill on 25 May this year:

This is not a matter of anti-union ideology; it is a recognition that a system of industrial relations put in place shortly after federation cannot meet the demands of the 1990s. The group threatened by the Howard government's changes are not wage earners—

I repeat, not wage earners—

but out-of-date unions.

Those same out-of-date unions are supported by their foot soldiers opposite. They are the people who have come here, howled down these changes and called quorums on government members because they are determined to prevent the truth from getting out into the Australian community.

Opposition members interjecting—


Mr SLIPPER —When you look at the 2 March election you realise that you were decimated and demolished and that your 13 years of failed policies were comprehensibly rejected in what was almost the largest election majority in Australian parliamentary history. You people should realise that you ought to go away and sit down and work out where you went wrong because you simply have no idea. Your government over the last 13 years has been a complete failure. The gap between rich and poor in this nation has widened. You have run around claiming to be the champion of the underprivileged, but the simple fact of the matter is that you have been a disaster.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Fisher will address his remarks through the chair. I have done none of those things.


Mr SLIPPER —Through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, Labor members have run around masquerading as champions of the underprivileged. But, when one looks at the sad legacy of 13 years of Labor government, it is pretty obvious why the Liberal and National parties were elected to office in such a way.

The current account deficit is the worst in the OECD, worse even than Mexico. Under Labor, foreign debt increased sevenfold from $23 billion in 1982-83 to over $180 billion today. Interest rates are amongst the highest in the world. Inflation is now 3.7 per cent, one of the highest in the OECD region—higher than the USA, the UK, Germany and Japan—and the former Prime Minister Mr Keating claimed that he had `broken the back of inflation'. If one looks at any economic indicator, it is pretty clear that the Labor Party has failed.

So we seek to bring forward an industrial relations system that will free up the labour market. We will have protections for workers. We will encourage workplace agreements. We aim to create a situation where the unemployment tragedy that has befallen Australians over the last 13 years will be removed and people will be given a chance to get back into the work force.

I am very pleased to support this legislation. This legislation is not draconian and does not turn back the clock. This legislation is fair and reasonable. If you want further proof as to how this legislation is fair and reasonable, why do we not go to the Australian and look at a comment made by one of the most eminent industrial relations commentators in the country, Professor Judith Sloan. She is moderate and reasonable and said in summing up the bill:

The minister can claim with justification that the Bill has been drafted to balance the two considerations of flexibility and protection. He should therefore stand his ground when substantial amendments are suggested. The "shock horror" brigade—

that is, those opposite—

needs to recognise that there is very little "shock horror" in the Bill.

That says it all. Professor Judith Sloan, universally respected throughout Australia, said that there is very little `shock horror' in the bill. She has endorsed the approach of the government. Perhaps the only criticism she has is that the legislation does not go as far as she would like.

This legislation implements the coalition's policy. We went to the Australian people and said exactly what we were going to do. This bill does not go beyond our policy. It simply implements one of the policies that we took to the people of Australia on 2 March. Those opposite are so used to broken promises. They are used to getting into office after being prepared to promise anything to win government. Yet this legislation we are debating seeks to implement the coalition's industrial relations policy. So, instead of criticising us, those people should be praising us.


Government members —Hear, hear!


Mr SLIPPER —I thank my colleagues. Those people opposite have the hide to come in here and criticise us for delivering on our election promises. We gained the support of an enormous number of Australians; the small number of people opposite proves that. (Time expired)