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Thursday, 15 June 2006
Page: 77

Mr HARTSUYKER (2:27 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade. Would the Deputy Prime Minister outline to the House how the government’s workplace policies have helped exporters and regional businesses remain competitive? How has this increased job opportunities in regional Australia?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the honourable member for Cowper for his question. The honourable member for Cowper would recognise that one in four jobs in regional Australia relies on exports. He would recognise that, as a result of many of the government’s policies, unemployment is now at its lowest level in 30 years—at a 4.9 per cent average across Australia. In his area of the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, unemployment has fallen considerably. He would also recognise that there has been significant growth in real wages over the life of our government. It has all been a result of good economic management and a reform process that has helped us maintain our competitive and efficient edge both domestically and internationally in the international marketplace. It is important that we recognise the importance of workplace reforms in helping make sure that Australia’s exporting industries maintain their competitive edge across the world.

There are a number of examples that have come forward in recent days of domestic Australian businesses, regional businesses as well as export businesses, maintaining that competitive edge because of the reforms that our government has put in place. I will give the member for Cowper some examples. There is a company in Central Queensland called Mobbs and Co., which is a steel manufacturer and supplier to mining and rural industries, both export industries, as well as the building industry, including those key exporters. They have been using AWAs with all of their 30 staff since 1997. The managing director, Kym Mobbs, said:

If we hadn’t had AWAs, we would not have been able to compete. Our advantage is that we have the flexibility to adapt to changing customer needs because our staff feel part of our business.

They are part of the business because of the AWAs.

Last night there was a most enjoyable function held in Canberra, and I know that a number of the members of the opposition were there as well. It was the farewell for Peter Corish, the former President of the National Farmers Federation. He spoke about AWAs in his own personal business. With regard to his business, he said:

We have found them very effective in providing agreements that gives certainty for the employees as well as for us as employers.

He said ‘certainty for employees as well as for the employers’.

Ms Plibersek interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Sydney.

Mr VAILE —I will leave the last quote to a small business person from Dubbo. Tina Reynolds, who runs a business called A1 Tree Service, was quoted in the Daily Liberal, the newspaper in Dubbo, talking about AWAs. It is an interesting name for a newspaper. It is in the electorate of the member for Parkes—it is in one of our electorates. Tina Reynolds said about AWAs in her business:

They’ve worked well for us. It’s a wonderful way of communicating between employers and employees. Our employees have sick days, public holidays and all of that.

Ms Plibersek interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Sydney is warned!

Mr VAILE —Ms Reynolds said:

If they’re a good employee, because of the skills shortage, your employer is going to look after you.

That is the last word from a small business person. Of course, that is exactly the case: good employers are going to look after good employees. The skills shortage is there, but we have to keep the economy going. We have to keep good skilled staff engaged in the workplace. That is the evidence coming from across regional Australia. I suggest the Leader of the Opposition should listen to the last line of that quote: if you are a good employee, because of the skills shortage, your employer will look after you. So if he is a good employee, because of the skills shortage on the frontbench, his employer, the unions of Australia, will look after him.