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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 614


Mr ABBOTT (3:06 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his statement to this parliament on 20 August 2008, when he said:

No working families in this country will be worse off as a consequence of the industrial relations laws that we have advanced here in this parliament …

I also refer the Prime Minister to his interview with Neil Mitchell last Friday, where he said:

I’m not going to be in a position now nor were we then to say that in each individual circumstance there won’t be some variation. You can’t do that.

My question to the Prime Minister is: can he explain how this is not a blatant broken promise? Can he justify what appears to be, on the face of it, a clear misleading of this parliament?


Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. Firstly, the statement to which he refers was given on 20 March last year, not 20 August as he suggests. Secondly, the statement is as follows—


Mr Abbott interjecting


Mr RUDD —Well, it is, but you may be referring to a separate statement. The statement which the honourable member I think refers to is as follows:

No working families in this country will be worse off as a consequence of the industrial relations laws that we have advanced here in this parliament …

As the honourable member will know on any honest reflection, that refers to the transitional legislation which was before the House then.

Opposition members interjecting—


Mr RUDD —Those opposite will know that that is exactly the legislation which was before the House at the time. The trickiness suggested by those opposite lies in the Leader of the Opposition conflating that piece of legislation with the Fair Work Bill, which came in later. That is what the Leader of the Opposition has done deliberately in this House. He puts himself up as a straight talker, but, when you dig beneath what he says, he had one position on emissions trading last year but has a new position this year, and he had one position on a Commonwealth takeover of hospitals a few years ago but has a different and reverse position now. What the Leader of the Opposition, the straight talker from central casting, now seeks to do is to conflate the debate in the House at the time on the transitional legislation which the industrial relations minister had before the House at the time and the Fair Work Bill, which was considered later.

The legislation to which the honourable member refers was the transitional legislation which ensured that every worker on an AWA would have the option of remaining on their existing AWA arrangements. We also introduced a no disadvantage test for new arrangements. Together, these provisions ensured that no worker would be made worse off as a result of the transitional arrangements. That was the debate at the time, and the Leader of the Opposition would know that full well. Therefore, that is the position we put to the Australian public at the time.

Secondly, the honourable member may also be interested in what we have said in relation to the Fair Work Act and the commitments we gave to the Australian people at the time. What we said when we introduced these changes to our industrial laws, Forward with Fairness, was as follows:

Labor will get the balance right by introducing a fairer and more flexible industrial relations system with sensible transitional arrangements from Mr Howard’s Work Choices laws.

That is what we did. The honourable member may also be seeking to refer to the impact of awards. I am not sure whether that is within the scope of his question, but can I just say to the honourable member that our position in that respect is absolutely clear-cut and consistent with the past as well.


Mr Abbott interjecting


Mr RUDD —The honourable member goes to this question about who is being forthright in this place. What he has done today is deliberately take a debate which related to the transitional arrangements in the House at the time—he knows that—and roll it forward to a subsequent consideration by the House of the Fair Work Act. Hence the clever caveat of his question: ‘It appears that a misleading of the House has occurred.’ No such misleading of the House has occurred. In fact, the misleading is contained within the question just asked by the Leader of the Opposition, and he knows it full well.