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Tuesday, 8 August 2006
Page: 11

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (2:51 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his comments on Meet the Press last Sunday about the government’s industrial relations changes:

... most of the concerns that have been raised so far have been phoney ...

Has the Prime Minister seen comments by Catholic Bishop Kevin Manning in the latest edition of the Catholic Weekly that the government’s industrial relations legislation is ‘manifestly unjust’, removes ‘fundamental measures of fairness’, ‘violates ... any reasonable notion of a “fair go”’, is ‘weighted “too heavily”’ and ‘stacks the scales in favour of the employer’?

Mr Cameron Thompson interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Blair!

Mr STEPHEN SMITH —Does the Prime Minister believe Bishop Manning’s concerns are phoney?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I have not read last week’s issue of the Catholic Weekly. I apologise to the Catholics in the House for not having done so. I accept I apologise particularly to some of those opposite and behind me, but I am not surprised—may I be frank and, I hope, courteously frank to His Grace—that Bishop Manning should have made those comments. Over the years I think Bishop Manning on a number of issues has been quite critical of the government’s policies. I respect his right to do that, but I would point out that even a Catholic bishop does not speak for all Catholics in this country. I know many devout mass-going Catholics who are very strong supporters of this legislation. I know that they have absolutely no difficulty in reconciling support for this legislation with their Catholic faith. We have been talking a little bit about politics and the Christian heritage in the last few days, and I think it is very important to make the obvious statement that there is no such thing as a Catholic position on industrial relations. I do not claim any particular support of Christian doctrine in relation to it.

Mr Albanese interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler is warned!

Mr HOWARD —I think many of these issues are such that, if you read the Bible conscientiously, you could probably find some passages that supported our point of view and you could find some passages that supported the other point of view. I think if we are sensible, we will not try to invoke the plot for either side of the argument. If we are to have a sensible debate on the merits of this legislation, my advice to every person on this side of the House is: let’s leave out of the debate indications by the clergy to either side of the argument. As to the substance of what I said on Meet the Press, do you know what I had ringing in my ears?

Mr Rudd interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Griffith is warned!

Mr HOWARD —It was not the words of Bishop Manning or indeed the words of somebody of the cloth who was supporting our legislation. What I had ringing in my ears was the denunciation of the ACTU advertisements by the Office of Workplace Services. We had a number of examples. We had the lady who had worked for the RSL. What Greg Combet’s ad did not disclose—there was no reference to it—was that she received a severance payment which was above what she was entitled to by law. What the Office of Workplace Services revealed—

Mr Cameron Thompson interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Blair is warned!

Mr Stephen Smith —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The question was about whether he regarded Bishop Manning’s comments as phoney.

The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister is addressing the substance of the question.

Mr HOWARD —As I was saying, what was ringing in my ears—and as I remember correctly and I think I heard it correctly, the member for Perth asked me about my interview on Meet the Press—was what Greg Combet’s ad said was that the workers at the Cowra Abattoir had been unfairly treated as a result of the Work Choices legislation. What was found by the Office of Workplace Services was that the firm was losing money because of, inter alia, the drought; therefore, it had no alternative but to let staff go. I remind the Leader of the Opposition and everybody who sits behind him that, back in the early 1990s, many firms in Australia were going broke and those opposite had a very highly regulated industrial relations system.

Mr Brendan O’Connor interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Gorton will remove himself under standing order 94(a).

The member for Gorton then left the chamber.

Mr HOWARD —What I also had ringing in my ears was, having read the Australian the previous day, there was reported a case before the—

Ms Gillard —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The only thing not ringing in the Prime Minister’s ears is the question he was asked. All of this is strictly irrelevant, and I ask you to bring him back to the question.

The SPEAKER —I call the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is answering the substance of the question.

Mr HOWARD —The ringing in my ears was the case of the former employee of that union in Victoria, the union that is run by—who is it?—Dean Mighell. In this case, an employee of the union was taking the union to the IRC complaining about an unfair dismissal. I wonder what law she was using. But the interesting thing is not what she was doing but what Dean’s response was. He said, ‘This is all nonsense’—he did not quite say that, but that will do for parliament—‘this is not an unfair dismissal, this is a genuine redundancy.’ In other words, when Cowra Abattoir does it, it is outrageous but, when the union does it, it is a genuine redundancy. That is what I mean by phoney.