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Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Page: 122

Mr NEVILLE (12:59 PM) —I rise to talk on the appropriation bills. I welcome the opportunity to highlight the government’s achievements and, in particular, to refute some of the claptrap that has been peddled by the unions and the ALP about the workplace reforms. The 2006-07 budget brings into focus for all of us to see that what has been achieved over the last 10 years by the coalition government is quite remarkable.

In my recent newsletter I put in a scale which reviewed 36 fiscal and social measures, which I then benchmarked against the performance of the previous Hawke and Keating governments. There were improvements in all of them, and they have gone on to materially improve the quality of life of all Australians. Let me detail some of the achievements. For the first time in a generation, our unemployment rate in Australia has fallen below five per cent—a wonderful example of the success of the government’s economic policies. Huge contributing factors are the economic and workplace reforms we undertook upon winning government. Quite simply, our modern day prosperity would never have come without tax and industrial relations reforms. It is not all about industrial relations; it is about the whole economy. Industrial relations, though important, is just one part of that.

Let us look at some of the very telling and damning comparisons between the current coalition government and the previous Hawke-Keating Labor governments. Under the coalition government, average mortgage rates have been 7.15 per cent; under Labor, 12.75 per cent. Under Labor, 197,800 people were unemployed; under this government, 100,100 are unemployed, despite the increase in population. Under this government real wages growth has been 16.8 per cent; under the previous Labor government, it was 0.3 per cent. The coup de grace is the number of days lost per thousand workers in industrial disputes. There have been 64 days lost per thousand workers under this government and 193 days were lost per thousand workers under the Labor government, which is more than three times as many.

I have already touched on the stellar employment record, but to put some real sense into this, let me tell you about Bundaberg’s Centrelink lines. I monitor these very closely. I deliberately publish them every month in both Bundaberg and Gladstone. Whether they are good or bad for the government, I provide them to the papers. Sometimes they choose not to use them, but they are always provided. Since the coalition came to power in 1996, Bundaberg’s dole queues have been cut almost in half, from 5,864 in April 1996—the first month after we came to power—down to 2,961 in April this year. That is half. For a city which has always struggled with a difficult reputation in terms of jobs, that is an outstanding achievement.

You might recall, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, coming from a sugar seat, that Bundaberg, the Tweed, the western suburbs of Sydney and the Mersey region of Tasmania are always the worst four areas for unemployment in Australia—but not so anymore. The environment that has been created in Bundaberg and Gladstone by this government has made a material difference to the number of people who are unemployed. Would you now say to the 3,000-odd people who are in permanent unemployment: ‘We’d like to go back to the old employment regime. That will be much better for you’? Do you think they would want that? No way in the world.

It is the fraudulent approach by the unions and Labor towards the latest raft of reforms to our industrial relations system that really angers me. The ongoing anti-Work Choices campaign that has been spearheaded by the unions is totally dishonest in its approach. The unions have particularly targeted my electorate with this anti-IR reform campaign. A handful of union reps have written letters to the editor, spruiking a lot of fallacies and falsehoods.

Mr Kerr —What? Outrageous!

Mr NEVILLE —I am glad you said that, my Tasmanian colleague. I note that many of these letters are almost straight lifts from the press releases, statements and commentary of Labor politicians and union leaders. Apart from the dishonesty of plagiarism, I must say I am surprised, with the wealth of information sources available today—television, radio, newspapers and the internet—and the fact that the unions have paid the Labor Party over recent campaigns $50 million in donations, that such a pitiful performance was mounted in the media. That the unions are still falling back on these practices I find very sad. I have said in my own paper in Gladstone, where it is most prevalent, that if I were a paid-up union member and that was the best that a state organiser could dish up in this campaign, I would be disappointed. I recognise some Labor members and some union members find this campaign important. I do not diminish that and I respect their point of view. But if the people carrying their argument have to stoop to these measures, that says very little about the sincerity or the depth of the campaign.

I am sure that most of my constituents will take the time to decide for themselves what they think of the Work Choices changes. On that point, Gladstone is a very interesting place because the employees of a lot of firms are already on AWAs, and I think that a lot of people in Gladstone would find the Leader of the Opposition’s latest statement, at the weekend, quite horrific. Gladstone is a very focused town: people come there to work very hard and earn a good living. The town has a good standard of living. Of all the industrial towns in Australia, Gladstone is probably the one with the best aesthetics and the best community facilities, and I compliment the city council and the community at large on that. So those people have not come to Gladstone to be pushed around by unions. I remember when one particular plant was moving over to a system—not the AWA system that is now proposed but a forerunner of that—there was a great campaign at this particular plant. A tent was put up at the gate by the Electrical Trades Union and people were handed pamphlets and told, ‘Come on, brother, when we hold the referendum, stay on the award; don’t go onto these AWAs’—or whatever they were at the time, whatever they were called in those days. We eventually had referendum day. The plant voted 83 per cent to 17 per cent to go onto AWAs, despite this huge union campaign. I think that says it all: people do not like to be pushed around; they are intelligent and they can make decisions for themselves.

The other thing that we should recognise is that the fact that unemployment is at this 30-year low of 4.9 per cent stands in stark contrast to what it was when Mr Beazley was in government. He had an unemployment rate that at the time topped 10.9 per cent. I am sure that people like the people of Gladstone will note that since the first raft of workplace reforms in 1996 we have created 1.8 million jobs and that they have seen their real wages increase by 16.8 per cent, after inflation and all the other bits and pieces, as against a rise of 0.3 per cent during the 13 years of the previous government. I am sure they will consider themselves to be better off under the coalition than they ever were under Labor. What Labor and their union puppet masters fail to acknowledge is that these changes are actually about creating jobs in Australia. A case in point is Spotlight. While I might not agree that it is the greatest of all AWA offers—I am not saying that for a minute—if you look beyond the bluster what does this case illustrate? Spotlight’s new store at Mount Druitt, in Sydney’s west, has employed 40 people, many of them previously unemployed. Thirty-eight of the 40 were previously unemployed.

Ms Hall —Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Would the member for Hinkler accept the intervention?

Mr NEVILLE —Yes, certainly.

Ms Hall —Thank you very much. I would like to ask the member for Hinkler when the Spotlight store in Mount Druitt was planned to be opened. Wouldn’t his assumption be that those staff would have been employed in any case because without staff—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Your question needs to be short.

Ms Hall —a newly built store could not operate?

Mr NEVILLE —I suppose you can torture the argument and say that, if they had been there a bit earlier, these people would have gone onto a different rate. The point is that 38 of the 40 of them were out of work. Instead of being on $205 a week they are on $543. They are getting back their confidence, they are honing their skills, they are becoming experienced and they will be sought after by other employers. These sorts of people become valuable. I know there is movement from store to store in Bundaberg and Gladstone all the time because employers want people who are skilled at their jobs.

We have been asked to confine our remarks to about 10 minutes, so I would like to finish on the point—

Mr Kerr —We’ve been provocative, though, Paul.

Mr NEVILLE —I have great respect for the members opposite. But I would like to finish on this point: if you took some modelling based on the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, had they not followed the regime that they did and had followed what the unions had put to them over that time, quite apart from 500,000 people going back into jobs, we would have lost another 386,000 jobs over the 10-year period. I wonder what that would have done to Australia today. It just shows you that subtle balance. If Labor had stayed in power and just let things go along the way they were, forgetting about the Commonwealth debt and everything else, based on that modelling you would have had about another 365,000 people out of work, and that would not be acceptable. So I think we have seen a very good budget against a backdrop of new industrial relations reform. I say to those people who are a little apprehensive: from 1996 to 2006 we kept our compact with you and created more jobs and a higher standard of living. Give us another 10 years like that and we will show you an even greater and more prosperous Australia.