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Wednesday, 1 April 1998
Page: 2105


Mr RICHARD EVANS (1:31 PM) —In starting my contribution in this debate on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Superannuation) Bill 1997 I should pass comment on the contribution by the previous speaker, the member for Wills (Mr Kelvin Thomson). I sat for half an hour trying to write down some of the key points in this speech. I took down about half a dozen or so. The example of the old Labor thinking is very typical of the member for Wills—the longing for the days of the 1980s when they had the glory of being in power in state parliaments all over Australia and being in power federally, where they could, as he quite rightly said, promote the labour movement and all things Labor. It is industrial age thinking, if you like.

Since the early 1980s when the member for Wills was working on his value system things have changed rapidly. We have moved away from an industrial aged system and into information systems and technology—the new age—with information and skill based and knowledge workers. We have to learn to be a bit more flexible and focused on what employees and employers want rather than what the labour movement wants. He said that it is okay to have two systems in place for superannuation for workers. Why not only one? We have one. It is law. By implication what he wants to do is increase the cost for employers. So, although he is concerned about the employees, he shows little concern for the employers who are there to provide jobs in partnership with employees.

He also talked about the lack of power. He made some spurious claims about women and part-time workers. There was no substance to support his claims. He did say that the Labor Party model is the best. I think it was deter mined at the ballot box at the last election that it was not the best. The electorate quite resoundingly decided that the Labor Party model was not the best.

The amendments we are discussing today ensure that, notwithstanding the bill's removal of superannuation as an allowable matter in federal awards, employers will be able to continue to use the notional earnings bases of employees determined by reference to federal industrial awards. This will enable employers to continue to use these notional earnings bases for the purpose of calculating their liability, if any, to pay the superannuation guarantee charge. The amendments also make a further minor amendment to the superannuation guarantee law consequent upon the removal of superannuation as an allowable matter in federal awards.

Is there a financial impact to the taxpayer on this particular legislation? The answer is clearly no. Is there a compliance cost impact? The answer is clearly no. What this all means and the reason we are putting this through is for simplification. The press release of the Minister for Workplace Relations and Small Business (Mr Reith) issued on 25 November last year stated:

Today there are two sets of prescription for the superannuation, namely, the superannuation guarantee legislation and awards.

The government's initiative will remove another layer of unnecessary red tape, whilst preserving the level of contributions for employees.

He went on to say:

With the passage of the legislation the AIRC will no longer have the jurisdiction in respect of an industrial dispute cover superannuation in the workplace and employers will only have to deal with a single set of obligations under the superannuation guarantee legislation.

The previous speaker, the member for Wills, did talk about disputation 15 to 20 years ago. Clearly there was disputation. There was not enough access to superannuation in those days. However, the Labor Party introduced the superannuation guarantee legislation which removed the need for disputation in that regard.

The removal of superannuation from the awards has long been government policy and was subject to negotiation with the Democrats in 1996. At that time, the Democrats signalled that they would be `prepared to support the consequential amendments to the Workplace Relations Act to repeal award coverage of superannuation' subject to a satisfactory legislative package being developed. It is here today.

To give you an example of how this new arrangement will operate, allow me to give you an example the minister has supplied. Immediately before superannuation is removed as an allowable matter under federal awards a fictitious company, say, ABC Ltd, was contributing to the ABC superannuation fund on behalf of an employee, say, Ryan in accordance with a federal award. The award was in place before 21 August 1991 and requires the employer contributions to be equal to six per cent of any employee's gross salary at the last birthday.

Ryan's notional earnings base is therefore determined in accordance with section 13 of the SGAA. Under this section, the notional earnings base is the earnings of the employee by reference to which contributions are calculated under the award—that is, the employee's gross salary at last birthday. In addition, ABC Ltd's charge percentage for superannuation guarantee purposes is reduced under subsection 23(2) of the SGAA since ABC Ltd is required by an industrial award to contribute superannuation for the benefit of any employee as a specified percentage of the employee's notional earnings base. Once superannuation is removed as an allowable matter under the federal awards—that is, when this bill receives royal assent—ABC Ltd continues to contribute to the ABC fund for the benefit of Ryan in the same manner as it had contributed before. No new arrangements or agreements relating to superannuation are entered into.

In this circumstance, Ryan's notional earnings base will still be determined under section 13 of the SGAA as if ABC Ltd were contributing in accordance with the industrial award and the terms of the award relating to superannuation contributions had not been varied. ABC Ltd's charge percentage reduction will still be calculated under subsection 23(2) of the SGAA as if ABC Ltd were required by the industrial award to contribute for the benefit of Ryan and the requirements of the award relating to contributions had not been varied—and this is covered under new subsection 12(a)(4).

Therefore, it is clear this new arrangement does not affect employees but has a substantial impact upon reducing the employers' needs of maintaining a system for the same result. This is quite contrary to the contribution from the member for Wills. If you had listened to the member for Wills's contribution, you would imagine that there will be a severe impact on employees, yet that example I have just given suggests that there will not be.

This amendment amends the Workplace Relations Act, and it allows me to talk about the particular act in some broader terms, as did the member for Wills. Since the government introduced this act, industrial relations has really been transformed. As we go through the industrial age into the information technology age, there is no need for the old industrial age thinking of the need to have confrontation between the employee and employer. There is no need for that under a new era of industrial relations.

We are moving towards 21st century workplaces. We are getting away from this `us' and `them' sort of thinking. We are moving into cooperative thinking with employers and employees. We need an industrial relations system that is able to cope with this flexibility, so we need to move away from the old, archaic industrial age thinking, which the Labor Party in particular is so keen to go back to.

The new act has placed wages and conditions in the hands of those who really matter. Previously, it was in the hands of the courts, union negotiations and industry negotiations, but with this act we have moved it to those who really count, and those people who really count are the employees at an enterprise working with their partners, the employers. Without either one, the enterprise does not exist. In Australia, we—in particular, the broader work community—have come to terms with the fact that information and knowledge based workers are a severe asset to an enterprise. So the enterprise then has to negotiate quite openly with its employees to keep that information and knowledge with that particular enterprise.

Within the new age workplace we have information workers. An information worker has a different range of skills now from the industrial age worker. They now have delegated authority. They now work in work groups. There are no more hierarchical structures, to which the ALP wishes us to return. Rather, it is more cooperative groups, and they require different skills. They need decision making skills, planning skills and independent thinking skills. They need to be able to participate in the process of an enterprise. They are working in partnership with their employers, and smart employers understand the importance of knowledge based and information based employees and, therefore, will work in partnership with them.

What are the ALP, the opposition, who would like to come into government at the next election, putting forward? They would like to go back to the confrontationalist past—the centralised approach to wage fixing industrialisation. But now we need to go enterprise to enterprise, and the new act allows for that. The new act has also boosted productivity because now that employees are having a say in their enterprise, having a say in what they can earn for the work they are doing, their productivity is increasing, which obviously is helping economic growth. Much more importantly, though, the employee has a much more valued say in the enterprise.

Workplace relations going into the 21st century means that it will be better for employees, better for enterprises and better in fact for employers. No-one likes giving up their power at all. Of course, the current union structures would not like this way of thinking for the 21st century. They would be very reticent to give up the power they have developed over the years and years of industrial confrontation.

There is a place for the new age with the unions in the new workplace, but they have to change themselves. We are going through massive change through our communities, our education systems and a whole range of different things. So too should the union movement change their way of thinking, their way of servicing their membership, and get away from this confrontation and centralisation approach and move more into enterprise representation. They have to adopt, change and move away from confrontation.

The industry awards have been developed over many years. Quite rightly, they were a major benefit for many employees over those years during the industrial age, but they are not suited to the 21st century. They really need to start thinking about how they can adapt their important role in the 21st century. With our act, we have allowed them to start thinking about that and representing employees a bit more effectively.

This is not just one-sided. It is not just the responsibility of the employees and their representatives—the union movement—to change but also the responsibility of management to change. They have to pass greater responsibility to their employees. They have to learn to trust their employees and provide them with the skills and the knowledge for them to be able to apply themselves within the enterprise. That is a real challenge for new managers, but those managers who are moving towards the 21st century are accepting these challenges and working with employees in partnership to ensure the enterprise operates.

If you do not have the investment in the first place, you do not have the enterprise. But, if you do not have the knowledge based workers, the information based workers, you still do not have the enterprise. It is a clear partnership, and those modern managers and modern employees today are learning that it is a partnership and they have to work together. It is going to be a challenging time for everyone but, in a competitive world and with the breaking down of national boundaries—there is a competitive world out there—people have to become more and more competitive. We cannot take things for granted as we used to, say, 20 or 30 years ago. We have to apply flexibility, and the Workplace Relations Act allows that to happen.

As the Workplace Relations Act evolves, as it becomes more well known and as people get used to dealing with this, it will be accepted within the business community as a flexible way for enterprises to work with their employees in a partnership relationship and to develop. There are too many memories of the past—union confrontation, employer confrontation, management confrontation, not dealing with one another, thick barriers between the managers and employees, not talking to one another, not sharing information and not sharing information about how well the enterprise was going. Those things really have to reduce in this new age.

It is worth while remembering that at the very core of the act is the agreement between employers and employees. As I said before, this is the modern age thinking. You have to deal with your employer. You have to deal with your employee. If you are working in a partnership, you come to an agreement and you move forward from then on.

The act also has a protection for the low paid. Last year, we had a $10 increase for the low paid. We also had a 3.2 per cent increase for the metal trades in a low inflation environment, which I think everyone would think was a good move. The act has also meant a typification of awards. It has allowed effective representation and freedom of association. It has banned the closed shop regime that we had for so long: unless you were a union member, you could not go and work for that enterprise. It has stopped all that, and I think that is a good move. There are also strong compliance measures, and the unfair dismissal claims that were in the old Labor Party act, which they want to go back to, have reduced by 51 per cent. That means that employers can now employ with confidence and employees can get on with their partnership with the employer.

Resulting from the act, employees now have a vital say in the enterprise. Some may reject this notion right now—and I am sure we will have a host of other speakers from the other side saying what a lot of rubbish that might be—but, as it evolves, employees will have a greater say in the operation of an enterprise. We have seen fewer industrial disputes. I believe that industrial disputation now is the lowest since the First World War, and I think everyone in Australia would be very happy about that. We have also seen over the last year or so real wage increases. That is a great benefit for the community, and it is something that the act has provided. Now that we are all focused on productivity and the success of an enterprise, this can be done through the operation of the act and the flexibility that allows employers and employees to work together in partnership.

Let us look at the opposition's position on this issue. We should never forget that the Labor Party's industrial relations system shrunk take-home pay packets and put real jobs at risk over the period they were in government. Under Labor, agreement making was complicated, highly regulated, time consuming and allowed excessive intervention by third parties. We do not want that. We want people at the enterprise to be working together. Under Labor, sanctions against irresponsible industrial actions were complicated, time consuming and frequently flouted and employers were averse to using them. Under Labor, employees and employers were restricted in the agreement outcomes they could opt for, and reform of work practices for improved pay were also limited.

Labor legislated to abolish junior rates in awards as from June 1997, which would have jeopardised 200,000 young people's jobs. Why would you jeopardise young people who were starting out in their jobs by abolishing those award rates? Under Labor, unions became distant and aloof from workers and formed large super unions which functioned like monopolies. They really did not get down to the grassroots. They forgot what they were all about, and that was representation. To move into the new world, they need to change their thinking.

Under Labor, employees were not able to make a free choice as to whether or not they wished to be a member of a union. Under Labor, non-union workplaces were subject to open-ended union right of entry. Labor's unfair dismissal cost jobs and broke the confidence of employers to hire new staff. It also introduced suspicion and antagonism into the workplace. Along with the Australian Democrats, Labor opposed the government's legislation to exclude small businesses with fewer than 15 employees from the unfair dismissal system. They did that for the second time just two weeks ago, allowing us, if we want to, to move to a double dissolution on that particular issue.

Under Labor, awards remained a complicated and detailed means of regulating workplaces. Under Labor, employers and employees were not able to deal directly with one another without a third party presence. That gives you an indication that Labor are really all about industrial age thinking. They have not modernised. They are old Labor. They want to move us back to the 1970s of super unions and confrontation. They have not quite woken up to the idea that it is all about discussion, communication and modern age thinking. They are still trapped in this old notion of union power. You cannot trust anything Labor say. They make one promise at election time and then break it a couple of weeks later. Who can remember the l-a-w tax cuts that never came and, of course, `We're not going to increase our taxes'?

Labor have no plans. They have no vision for the future. They have no policy for the future. They do not even think about the 21st century. They are locked into the past. They are locked into ACTU dominance. They really do not have an idea of the 21st century and what it is all about. It is time they allowed some of their new thinkers to step forward. (Time expired)