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Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Page: 1777


Senator ABETZ (8:04 PM) —Anybody listening to this broadcast would, of course, take no comfort from the minister telling us that the documents that can be viewed by the union official in relation to an employee’s record are limited to those which are directly relevant. The minister is, in fact, required to answer questions asked of him in a directly relevant manner. I think I have asked three times during these committee stages, before and after dinner, whether he could give a guarantee that no worker would be worse off. I will not ask it again, but I remind everybody that that was the test demanded by the Australian Labor Party of the Howard government and when it failed to respond to that, the union movement and others roundly condemned them. All I say is, we are asking you the same question you asked of us. I look forward to the trade union movement spending copious amounts of money condemning and attacking the Labor Party for not being able to provide that guarantee.

In relation to the copious number of amendments, I could not believe it—the minister used the Work Choices defence of, ‘You guys did it.’ The only reason that I point this out is to highlight the duplicity with which Labor come to this debate. As a former minister I fully accept that circumstances dictate from time to time that further amendments need to be made to legislation. But, of course, when we were in that position we were roundly condemned by the Australian Labor Party. Now that they do it, it is all good—that is the way you do business. Can I say the coalition in opposition accept that. What we do not accept is the duplicity and your affected condemnation whilst you were in opposition when we did it. I just seek to remind you of the double standard that is now staring you so very starkly in the face.

I also asked about whether any modelling had been done and we were taken on a great excursion all over the place to Work Choices and back—into the graveyard where Work Choices is. Senator Ludwig poked it to try to get a bit of life out of it. He tried everything other than being directly relevant to the question: has there been any modelling? I suspect the answer is no. The reason I raise it? Because the Australian Labor Party day after day in this place condemned the previous government for not having done modelling in relation to its legislation. It is not surprising that modelling was not done by either side, but what I do put on the record again is the duplicity with which Labor came into this debate, moving their own industrial relations legislation, being unable to give the guarantees sought of us, having to introduce a whole host of amendments, like we had to, and not undertaking any modelling, as we did not. But, you see, I do not stand here today seeking to condemn you for that. What I do condemn you for is the duplicity and the misleading of the Australian people, because at the last election you had no intention of doing anything different if you won government, and you have shown that now to be the case.

For those who think that there might be some comfort in the term ‘directly relevant’, which the minister used in relation to the right of entry rules, I asked a very direct question about award modernisation and the superannuation funds. I asked: how often can the default superannuation fund be changed? We had no answer to that, but we had an excursion into the graveyard and back as well. I also asked whether it is true that a monopoly fund would be established as a default so that there would only be one superannuation fund mentioned in the award. Once again we had a very excursive answer other than to the question that was asked.

I will not continue to delay the committee, but those listening in and those who ever bother to read the Hansard will see the lack of answers and the incapacity of this government to deal with the many issues that I have raised and that the vast majority of the responses were very condemnatory of us.

I ask: what hour this evening, or indeed tomorrow, can we expect to see the amendments that the government has agreed to with the Australian Greens? I have the conscientious objection amendments here—they have been circulated. It would be very helpful if the minister could give us a timetable in relation to amendments agreed to with Senators Xenophon and Fielding, and any other amendments.