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Thursday, 15 June 2006
Page: 75

Mr WOOD (2:19 PM) —My question is also addressed to the Prime Minister. How has the government helped Australian businesses to create jobs? Is the Prime Minister aware of any proposals to undermine growth? What has been the response of Australian business?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for La Trobe for his question. It goes to the heart of what is very important to the lives of millions of Australians—that is, the strength of the Australian economy. He asks what we have done to promote growth and strengthen the economy. I remind him of the remarkable record in fiscal management, of which the Managing Director of the IMF spoke so approvingly when he was in Canberra yesterday—

Mr Costello —Glowingly.

Mr HOWARD —Glowingly, the Treasurer quite properly adds. Glowingly, he spoke of the way in which we have reduced our debt, the way in which, through labour market and other reforms, we have created a first-class economy for a first-class nation in the 21st century.

The member for La Trobe asks me whether I am aware of any threats to this. There are many threats. There are some over which the Australian people have no control—threats such as international factors, like the high price of crude oil, which is leading to very painfully high petrol prices in Australia. That is amongst the things that we do not control. But we do control our domestic policy, and this government has made it clear that part of the reform process is to make sure that we maintain further changes to our labour markets.

Ms Hall interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Shortland is out of her seat and highly disorderly.

Mr HOWARD —Those policies are under direct attack from the opposition. The Leader of the Opposition has committed himself, if he becomes Prime Minister, to the abolition of Australian workplace agreements, which will cut the living standards of hundreds of thousands of Australians. In the process of attacking our policies the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues are engaging in many tactics that are designed to misrepresent and to mislead. Mr Speaker, let me take you back to the last sitting week, when the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made a completely false accusation about Teys Bros meatworks in Naracoorte in South Australia. I remind the House—

Ms Macklin —Have you been down there yet?

Mr HOWARD —I notice the member for Jagajaga interjects. If she is a little patient, I will come to what she said. I remind the House that the member alleged that overseas workers were being given preferential treatment compared with Australian workers. That claim was totally and completely false. Since it was refuted in this House, I have received a letter from Gary Teys, the Deputy Chairman of Teys Bros. I will table the letter in a moment. Amongst other things, this is what he had to say. It bears very directly on this dishonest campaign that is being waged by the opposition alleging that people entering this country on temporary 457 visas are taking the jobs of Australians. This is what he had to say:

It seems strange to me that we have become the target of the opposition and the media in this matter of overseas workers on temporary 457 Visas.

He goes on to say:

Had it not been for the overseas workers in our plants we would never have been able to fully utilise these facilities. Despite extensive efforts to recruit Australian Workers through advertising and enlist the assistance of the AMIEU—

an Australian union—

to provide us with names of workers, we were unsuccessful in obtaining the numbers of staff required at our various plants.

This is completely contradictory to what was represented in this House by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. It is of a piece with the way in which question time day after day is used by the opposition to make completely false claims about the impact of this on the country. He goes on to say—and this really puts it in perspective:

We saw the overseas workers as our only opportunity to keep the plants operating at an efficient level and we are certain that if the labour shortage had not been filled by these overseas workers, then some of our plants would have been forced to close, thus costing the jobs of Australian Workers.

In other words, not only were these foreign workers brought in because there were no Australian workers to fill the new jobs but, if they had not been brought in, existing Australian workers in jobs would have lost their jobs. In other words, there would have been a double whammy effect. That is the sort of policy and attitude that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and her leader are flogging around this country. It does a great injustice to the foreign workers, it does a great injustice to Australian companies and it is contrary to all the experience of a nation that is now experiencing levels of unemployment that the Leader of the Opposition when he was last in government could only have dreamt of. I table the letter.