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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 2697


Senator McEWEN (South AustraliaGovernment Whip in the Senate) (20:24): Thank you, Senator Back, for cooperating with sharing the remaining time. This has been a red-letter week for the Australian government and for the people of Australia. The Gillard government has passed some truly significant legislation, implementing great Labor policy, and we have made some significant announcements about great Labor initiatives. The Gillard government puts the Labor principles of fairness and caring at the heart of all we do and, despite the best efforts of the noalition to govern only on behalf of their wealthy mates and their donors, we have fought off their attacks on fairness and we have prevailed.

On Monday the Senate passed the Minerals Resource Rent Tax bills. That means that we will be able to spread the benefits of the mining boom to all Australians. The MRRT will mean tax breaks for 2.7 million Australian small businesses, it will mean a boost in superannuation savings for 8.4 million Australian workers, and it will mean a massive investment in roads, bridges and other infrastructure, including in our resource-rich states.

On Tuesday the government passed the Road Safety Remuneration Bill. This legislation will, for the first time, put in place a mechanism for the industry to balance the need for companies to make profits and for drivers to earn a decent wage. As was discussed in that debate, the pressure on transport workers to drive further, faster and at the lowest possible cost comes at a huge cost. It compromises road safety for all Australians, it causes stress and injury to truck drivers and, too often, it results in fatal accidents. I would like to congratulate the Transport Workers Union and all their delegates, who worked so hard to get government support for this great initiative. And I acknowledge the work of my Senate colleagues, especially Senators Sterle, Gallacher and Furner, who stood here and stared down those opposite whose contributions to the debate were insensitive, wrong and outrageous.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate passed the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (Transition to Fair Work) Bill. That bill demolished the ABCC, an obnoxious creature of the Howard government and of the era of Work Choices. The ABCC was notorious for its unnecessary powers of interrogation and also for its lack of success despite those draconian powers. The government is committed to a more conciliatory, cooperative process of addressing matters that may arise in the construction industry, and we will do that through the auspices of the Fair Work Building Inspectorate. I would like to congratulate all the building unions—the CFMEU, the AMWU, the ETU and others—for their campaign to get rid of the ABCC.

On Wednesday we passed the Fair Work Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry) Bill—again, important legislation that has at its heart protection of some of Australia's most vulnerable workers. I am talking about outworkers—mainly women, mainly migrants, low paid and hardworking, often in deplorable conditions. We have all heard stories about those deplorable conditions. The legislation we passed enhances provisions of the Fair Work Act to contract outworkers in the industry and to provide a mechanism to enable TCF outworkers to recover unpaid amounts up the supply chain. It will improve the right of entry provisions for union officials so that they can have better access to the places where those outworkers are and so that they can work with those Australian workers to improve their basic conditions in areas like health and safety and access to dispute resolution. Again, my thanks go to another union, the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union, for their long, compassionate and successful campaign on behalf of their members and others who earn their living as outworkers. I was pleased to see that legislation passed in the House of Representatives today.

It would come as no surprise that the coalition, the party that has no policy except to say no and the party of Work Choices, voted against all of those pieces of Gillard government legislation that I was very, very proud to vote for.

As well as the legislation that we passed this week, we also made announcements about significant initiatives—one about skills and training and the other about further support for Australia's automotive industries. Saving jobs and skilling our workers is core Labor business. Putting in place the opportunity for all Australians to improve their skills and to get a good job is also core Labor business. This week the Gillard Labor government announced an extra $1.57 billion over five years that we will put on the table to assist more Australians to secure a training place, and we will work with the states to implement changes to our training system to enable more people to get to a certificate III or higher qualification. We know that unskilled jobs in Australia are disappearing and we need to work hard and fast to ensure that we can train up to an additional 2.1 million workers that Australia is going to need in the five years to 2015. Finally, just today—the last day of our red-letter week—we announced further investment in our automotive industry. I was thrilled to see our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard; the Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill; the Premier of Victoria, Ted Baillieu; and management and workers of Holden welcome the federal Labor government's investment of $215 million into the automotive industry. In return for that investment, Holden has agreed to inject over $1 billion into car manufacturing in Australia and to make two Next Generation vehicles here that will be cheaper to run and better for the environment. Holden has estimated that that new investment package will return about $4 billion to the Australian economy. Most importantly, it will ensure that the jobs in the automotive industry in Australia continue and that the research that is associated with the automotive industry will also continue and have benefits in the manufacturing industry across Australia.

In closing, I would of course like to thank the automotive industry unions, who worked so hard and so cooperatively with their employers to bring about that package and to put the wood on us here in the government to ensure that we committed to the future of that industry. Our record stands in sharp contrast to the Leader of the Opposition's reckless policy on the automotive industry, which is to cut $500 million out of industry support between now and 2015 and to give no commitment beyond that date. We know that we will have a sustainable automotive industry in Australia for the future. I am looking forward to more red-letter weeks like the one we have just had.

Senate adjourned at 20:31