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Thursday, 22 August 2002
Page: 5491

Mr CHARLES (2:38 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. What is the government's record in reducing the incidence of strikes? Are some sections of the Australian industry still ravaged by strikes called by ultramilitant trade unions? Minister, what is the effect of strikes on jobs, and are you aware of any comments supporting these strikes?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for La Trobe for his ultra-excellent question. I am very pleased to be able to tell the House that the strike rate in Australia has halved since 1996 when this government came to power. Strikes are still at the lowest levels since records were first kept in 1913, thanks mostly to this government's constant encouragement of workplace level bargaining. This is very good news for our economy, but it is particularly good news for workers because strikes cost jobs, strikes send businesses bankrupt and strikes stop investment in new industries. The real victims of strikes are shop floor workers who are often hundreds of dollars out of pocket to support the political agendas of union officials whose pay packets are not at risk.

These days it seems that most strikes are about politics not pay. For instance, back in May a strike over the protection of long service leave all but paralysed the motor industry even though long service leave is protected under the government's entitlements scheme. Earlier this month 1,000 building workers went on strike because they did not agree with their employer's submission to the royal commission. Right now, I understand that there is an enterprise in Melbourne which is being picketed by some 500 metal workers in support of a sacked worker. I understand that at this enterprise 20 workers have been stood down because they are supporting the picket line. You might ask, Mr Speaker, who is this evil boss; who is this bad boss who has done this terrible thing? It is none other than Dougie Cameron, who is sacking people because they are on the wrong side of a faction fight! This is the moral bedrock of Australia, sacking people because they are on the wrong side of a faction fight.

The government's genuine bargaining bill is designed to tackle some of the job-destroying consequences of industrial action. The genuine bargaining bill is likely to be blocked in the Senate. I fear that the opposition's intransigence is only going to get worse as union influence increases. Unfortunately, under the Hawke-Wran proposals, the union block vote at national conferences will increase from zero per cent to 50 per cent. If the Leader of the Opposition wants to demonstrate that he is a real leader, that he can transcend his past and that he is bigger than his background, he would instruct his union mates in the Senate to pass the genuine bargaining bill.