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Transcript of doorstop interview: University Pre-school and Childcare Centre, ANU: 17 January 2006: IR legislation; Newspoll.
LABOR CAUCUS IR TASK FORCE COMMITTEE
Committee Chair: Brendan O’Connor, MP Member for Gorton
TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, UNIVERSITY PRE-SCHOOL AND CHILDCARE CENTRE, ANU, 17 JANUARY 2006
E & O E - PROOF ONLY
Subjects: IR legislation; Newspoll
O’CONNOR: Just before Christmas last year the Howard Government rammed through legislation that was both divisive and unfair. The Howard Government rammed through legislation without allowing Parliamentarians to properly debate the IR Bill. The Howard Government rammed through legislation without allowing the proper Senate Committee to scrutinise the consequences of the Bill. In fact, the Senate Committee was given only five days hearings and was not allowed to leave Canberra.
The Labor IR Task Force will travel the country and listen to community groups, churches, unions, employers and most particularly ordinary, Australian working families who will face the brunt of these extreme and unfair laws. The Labor IR Task Force has been established to ensure that we highlight the adverse consequences of this Act and indeed the extremism and the unfairness that’s been inflicted upon Australian working people by the Howard Government.
There is no doubt when people start work in 2006 and return from holidays, millions of Australians will be returning to less secure jobs. More than four million Australian workers will in fact return to a job that will not provide them recourse to unfair dismissal laws. Many, many workers from this time up until election day will in fact be losing penalty rates, allowances and shift work allowances. So, we believe we’ve got a very important task - we’ll be undertaking that task through the course of the next four months and reporting to Kim Beazley and Caucus on May 8th. JOURNALIST: Isn’t the trick of these laws though that it’s sort of a slow burn that there won’t be an immediate source of outcry and outrage?
O’CONNOR: I think it’s true to say that there is a slow burn dimension to this Act. There’s no doubt that as the months elapse there’ll be more and more
examples of adverse effects. But I would also say that it’s likely that employers will attempt to implement, some employers will attempt to implement the more pernicious provisions of the Act immediately when they take effect. So, it’s true to say that this is, for us, a task force that will establish the foundation for us to examine the consequences up until the election. Yes, there is a dimension that will ensure that some of these awful incidences that will happen to Australian workers will take time. But we believe there will be sufficient evidence over the course of those four months to provide information to substantiate our assertion that this Act is unfair and extreme.
JOURNALIST: There’s not much you can do about them even though you’ve highlighted the consequences. Is it in vain or is this building up to the election to keep it an issue until then?
O’CONNOR: Well clearly it’s important for Australian workers to know what’s going to happen as a result of this Act. There’s not doubt in the mind of Labor and the Labor Task Force that many people will suffer as a result of these
laws. And I think it’s important that they know because the fact is most of the more extreme provisions of this Act were never mentioned by John Howard or indeed the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, prior to the election last year. These are new provisions, these are ideologically driven provisions by a Government that’s holding the public and indeed the Parliament with contempt. And I think it’s important for us to highlight that unfairness and expose the fact that the Government did not undertake or did not provide this information for the electors to make this decision as to whether they supported them or not leading up to the last election. Therefore the election coming, Australians workers and indeed Australian families generally will have a clear view as to the consequences of this Act and will therefore be able to consider that when they decide who to vote for in the next election.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister insists that Labor’s been crying wolf over these laws and says that in 12 months time he fully expects that people will look around them and say “well what was all that fuss about”. Is he right?
O’CONNOR: I think the Prime Minister is entirely wrong when he asserts that this is a Bill that is quite benign or this WorkChoice Act is quite benign. The reality is the following: that whatever the views of the Prime Minister was leading to the 1996 Act the more extreme provisions of that Act were tempered by a Senate, a majority that was held by Opposition Parties. The fact is the Government now has both Houses of Parliament, has decided to treat the Senate with distain and ram the legislation through both the House of Representatives and the Senate. And therefore there’s been no capacity for other Parties, as they were with the 1996 Act to temper the extremism that’s within this Act. So, it’s fair to say that whilst the Government wanted to bring in a more extreme Act
earlier, they were not in a position to do so - on this occasion they’ve done so with bells on.
JOURNALIST: Aren’t you effectively arguing that employers will go the low road, that they will be unfair if they can?
O’CONNOR: Some employers will go the low road and I’m not suggesting that most employers wish to - so this is the reality of this Act. What will occur is the following: there’s no doubt once some employers take the position that they can find a way in which to reduce there workforces’ conditions of employment and wage rates that will compel other competitors, that is other employers to do the same - this is a race to the bottom whether the employers want to do it or not. So, you start from the basis that one competitor chooses to undermine his or her employee’s own conditions that will force better employers unfortunately to do the same and that’s the trickle down effect of this Act.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t that an exceptionally pessimistic view though of employers as human beings, and how will that play into Labor’s relationship with business?
O’CONNOR: Not at all. As I suggested I think the majority of employers do not wish to use the extreme provisions of this Bill but many will be forced to do so. The decision for them will be: can they maintain their company when the company they keep competing with across the road has chosen to embark on the low road strategy - and I think that they will be compelled to. So, I can
understand the dilemma faced by good employers having to consider what to do in light of their competitor finding a way to cut labour costs drastically. It’s not a pessimistic view of employers - we believe many employers would rather the Government focus on skills, focus on the shortage of skills and instead of focusing on ways to hurt ordinary working families. Train workers, treat the workforce as the most important asset in this economy - unfortunately that’s not been the case with this Government.
JOURNALIST: When the IR Bill was passed and in the following months John Howard suffered in the polls, he now seems to have bounced back to popularity. Do you think that people are just over it, they don’t care anymore?
O’CONNOR: No. It’s a quiet time of the year - polls come and go. I think the most important thing is the Labor IR Task Force, over the course of the next four months, will focus on the adverse consequences of this Act. And I think as we do that, as other groups and organisations involve themselves in that process, the community will remember what they knew before Christmas and they will certainly realise that this is a very unfair piece of legislation and should not be supported by the community at large.
JOURNALIST: So, it’s only going to get worse for John Howard in terms of public perception?
O’CONNOR: My view is that once the community fully understand the consequences of the legislation that’s been enacted in the area of employment, yes, the Government will realise that they’ve decided to embark on a very extreme, unfair set of laws that can only be adverse, not only to the Australian
working families, but the social fabric of our country.