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Tuesday, 13 September 2005
Page: 8

Mr HENRY (2:34 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Would the minister inform the House of any discriminatory provisions and restrictions on employment which exist in the state industrial relations systems? How do these impact on the Commonwealth workplace relations system, and are there any alternative views?

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Hasluck for his question. Indeed there are examples of archaic and discriminatory provisions in awards in the state systems in Australia. Let me take a couple of examples. The bag, sack and textile award in Western Australia contains the provision that no more than one in three male workers in a workplace can be juniors, but no more than one in two female workers can be juniors. And take the laundry workers award, also in Western Australia: there may be two female juniors for each adult employee but only one male junior for each adult employee. These are just a couple of examples of the mind-numbing minutiae contained in state awards that seek to regulate every minute of every day of workers in Australia. The only party in Australia which is defending this mind-numbing archaic detail is the Australian Labor Party.

The Australian Labor Party has as a policy to call for the implementation of a comprehensive system of awards in Australia. It is no wonder, as the Treasurer pointed out, that in its report the IMF has called upon and supported further reform of workplace relations in Australia. In its report, the IMF said, in part:

Further reforms of industrial relations are needed to expand labor demand and facilitate productivity gains.

It went on to point out that large employers face up to six industrial relations systems at federal and state levels—something which this side of politics is trying to overcome by the implementation of one national system for industrial relations. This is something which, again, is opposed by the Australian Labor Party and the union movement.

Indeed, the IMF concluded:

The mission urged the implementation of this package of reforms to widen employment opportunities and raise productivity by enhancing flexibility in work arrangements.

So it is quite clear that when an objective assessment is made of workplace relations in Australia and the challenges facing the Australian economy over the next five, 10 or 15 years, by the IMF, there is this conclusion that we need to undertake further incremental, careful, balanced reforms of the workplace relations system—something which this government proposes to do. Why does the ALP stand opposed to these changes? Why has the ALP opposed every attempt to change and improve workplace relations under this government going back to the 1996 reforms? As the Treasurer pointed out in his quote from a former Leader of the Opposition, it is because you have union leaders sitting around a table in a Chinese restaurant each night deciding what the policy for the ALP and the rest of this country should be.

Mr Crean interjecting

Mr ANDREWS —I hear the member for Hotham interjecting. We have in the Australian Labor Party, in the member for Hotham and next to him the member for—I cannot remember his seat—

Mr Martin Ferguson —Batman!

Mr ANDREWS —Batman, and the member for Throsby, three former presidents of the ACTU, three of the six, no doubt, that sat around the Chinese restaurant table—

Mr Beazley —I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. They did not lead privileged lives like the minister. They lead lives like ordinary Australians.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. That is not a point of order.

Mr ANDREWS —If the Leader of the Opposition believes growing up in a family where my parents got out of bed at three or four o’clock every morning and worked until eight or nine o’clock at night is privileged, then he does not know what he is talking about! The reality is that, rather than being made up of the privileged members and union bosses of Australia that occupy the benches on the other side, this side of politics represents the ordinary people of Australia.