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Wednesday, 8 April 1998
Page: 2903

Mr SLIPPER (10:50 AM) —Madam Deputy Speaker, I was amazed by your tolerance at the pathetic performance by the member for Batman (Mr Martin Ferguson), who is just leaving the chamber. It was sad, because it indicates that the Labor Party is locked into the notion of the class warfare of the 1890s. The Labor Party does not appreciate that, following the election to government of this coalition just two years ago, Australia is now a fair place with a reasonable workplace relations regime.

Ms Macklin —Where you sack workers?

Mr SLIPPER —The honourable member for Jagajaga is one of those who obviously is an industrial troglodyte. She is a person who does not appreciate that one person's pay rise on many occasions has been another person's job. She ought not to yell in an undignified way across the committee floor—

Ms Macklin —1,400 wage earners have lost their jobs.

Mr SLIPPER —What she ought to do is to appreciate that her government in office over a period of 13 years put almost one million people on the dole queues.

Ms Macklin —You don't care, do you.

Mr SLIPPER —So you ought to stop yapping like a dog, you ought to stop making this noise—

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs De-Anne Kelly) —Order! The member for Fisher.

Mr SLIPPER —and you ought to appreciate—

Ms Macklin —Why don't you take some notice instead?

Mr SLIPPER —that we are talking about the Workplace Relations Amendment (Superannuation) Bill 1997 .

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member for Fisher, would you direct your comments through the chair, and the member for Jagajaga will please keep her comments to herself.

Mr SLIPPER —Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the honourable member for Jagajaga is an industrial troglodyte and she is a person who is a member of a political party which, in 13 years of government, put close to one million people on the dole queues. Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, these people opposite ought not to interject. They should support this particular legislation but they continue to push the outdated class warfare notions of the 1890s. They seem to forget that at the election in March 1996 they were reduced to an absolute rump.

Mr Cadman interjecting

Mr SLIPPER —The people of Australia, as the member for Mitchell points out, rejected them comprehensively. They have almost no members in this place. They are completely irrelevant, have run out of ideas and what they are doing is marching back to the past. The honourable member for Jagajaga, who is a nice person as an individual, unfortunately is someone they have brought into this parliament to push outdated ideas.

The bill before the Main Committee today amends the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to remove superannuation from allowable award matters in subsection 89A(2) of the act. This bill is part of the government's commitment to small business, whereby we aim to simplify regulation and red tape. The government has promised to reduce red tape for business by 50 per cent in our first term of government.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 10.53 a.m. to 11.11 a.m.

Mr SLIPPER —Before I was so rudely interrupted by the Labor Party's refusal in the main chamber to adopt the sale of the balance of two-thirds of Telstra, I was referring to the reduction in red tape which will flow on to small business as a result of the passage of the Workplace Relations Amendment (Superannuation) Bill 1997 .

At the present time, businesses have to comply with award superannuation obligations as well as separate requirements in the superannuation guarantee legislation. The passage of this bill will ensure that one lot of superannuation requirements is all that is around, making life much easier for business while ensuring that the superannuation entitlements of employees are preserved. The bill will complement the new choice of funds arrangement contained in the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 7) 1997 . The result of the combination of these two bills will be genuine superannuation reform.

As has been pointed out, these amendments will stop the Australian Industrial Relations Commission dealing with disputes on superannuation by arbitration. The commission will no longer be able to prevent or settle superannuation disputes by making awards or orders or maintain the settlement of such disputes by varying awards and orders. This is, of course, a very important and a very positive reform. As a result of the amendments, superannuation provisions will be removed from existing awards and one amendment to subsection 89A(7) will prohibit the making of exceptional matters orders about superannuation.

We ought to look at the history of the legislation before the chamber. The Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 1996 was a landmark bill introduced to this parliament by this government following the March 1996 election. It was legislation which will bring about reform of the Australian industrial relations system to better facilitate agreements between employers and employees. It is all about industrial harmony and not industrial disputation.

Ms Macklin —It's a joke!

Mr SLIPPER —It is not a joke. The legislation introduced to the parliament by the Minister for Workplace Relations and Small Business (Mr Reith) will bring about industrial harmony. What it will do is to remove the disproportionate power which some unions have had over their employees. It brings about genuine choice and fairness and emphasises the right that employees have to not join a union, as well as, of course, maintaining the rights that they do in fact have to join a union.

It is instrumental to note that over the years the percentage of the Australian work force in unions has continued to diminish. This is a recognition that the outdated class warfare notions espoused by the honourable members for Jagajaga (Ms Macklin) and Batman (Mr Martin Ferguson) are no longer in keeping with the ethos of the Australian industrial community and, indeed, of Australian workers. They are out of date, they are out of touch and they have run out of ideas.

While the former Labor government saw that there was some need to promote industrial relations reform, much of what they did was ineffective and did not go anywhere near far enough. Regrettably, the current opposition have decided to march firmly back towards the past. That is why they oppose the bill currently before the chamber.

When the original bill, the Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 1996, was introduced, it was intended that the allowable award matters would not include superannuation. So really what we are doing today is to fix up an anomaly which occurred when the original bill passed through the chamber.

We all recall that in September 1996, or thereabouts, an agreement was entered into by the Commonwealth government with the Australian Democrats. The key negotiator for the Australian Democrats was, of course, one Ms Cheryl Kernot, then a senator for Queensland. She was the person who at the time put the provision, which we are now seeking to remove from the act, into the law of this country. It was always envisaged that these amendments would proceed after a period of reflection. It was always planned, as part of the agreement with the Australian Democrats, that the inclusion of superannuation as one of the allowable award matters would be only a temporary measure, and that superannuation would be removed from the allowable matters in connection with the choice of funds legislative package. Indeed, that is exactly what is happening: we have had the choice of funds legislative package and now we are introducing legislation to give effect to what was originally intended.

I often wonder why the Australian Labor Party seem to have it in for small businesses. Do they not appreciate that small business is the backbone of the Australian economy? The workers referred to by the honourable member for Jagajaga are people who largely gain employment through small business. If we can continue to create the environment where every small business in Australia is able to put on just one extra worker, unemployment would disappear overnight. The opposition, in their purported support for workers, are effectively undermining the employment opportunities of workers. We, in the coalition, believe this is inappropriate.

It is interesting to note that when the Aussie battlers, in unprecedented numbers, supported us in March 1996 they voted with their feet. They basically said how irrelevant the opposition was and they voted with us.

Ms Macklin —They were hoodwinked, weren't they?


Mr SLIPPER —The honourable member for Jagajaga is the person who is seeking to hoodwink the Australian workers. I believe that the Labor Party will be rejected yet again at the next election.

Ms Macklin interjecting

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There will be order in this chamber. The member for Jagajaga will have an opportunity to speak shortly.

Mr SLIPPER —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I certainly welcome the honourable member for Jagajaga being called to order. She is a person who has intruded into this debate on very many occasions with outmoded and rejected ideas.

Mr Anthony interjecting

Mr SLIPPER —She is someone from the past, as the member for Richmond (Mr Anthony) points out. She is someone who now does not represent the attitudes of the Australian working community. She is out of date. Basically, listening to the honourable member for Jagajaga is like going back into the industrial history books.

It is entertaining but it is sad and tragic that a party that was once the party of the Australian workers is now the party determined to maintain and bring in legislation which will cast Australian workers onto the industrial scrap heap. This is the party that in 13 years of government put close to one million people out of work, and maybe it was two million people who were unable to find adequate work. Instead of saying that they got it wrong, what they are effectively saying is that they would have fixed it all up in the 14th year. Madam Deputy Speaker, that is not a credible response. Their response to the bill currently before the chamber is pathetic. It is outdated, it is inappropriate and it is simply plain wrong.

This legislation will simplify superannuation for business. It will continue the government's policy of removing red tape and giving business the opportunity to spend as much time as possible on what small business does best. That, of course, is being in business, being successful and creating jobs. This legislation will also enhance the continuing process of simplifying awards.

Mr Cadman —Hear, hear.

Mr SLIPPER —I am pleased, as always, to have the support of the honourable member for Mitchell. This bill will remove complex detail. In fact, it fixes up mistakes that were left by the former Labor government and brings forward our industrial relations system into the next millennium. This legislation will remove the burden from employers of having to comply with an additional set of obligations. What we are doing is reducing the complexity of superannuation while ensuring that the superannuation rights of employers are actually being maintained. Minister Reith said:

The Government's initiative will remove another layer of red tape whilst preserving the level of superannuation contributions for employees.

The minister is saying that this is good legislation; he is saying this is beneficial legislation. It is not about stripping away rights from employees. If one listened to the unfortunate contributions by the honourable members who have spoken on the other side, one would think that this legislation is about bashing the Australian worker and denying rights to Australian workers, whereas what we are doing is removing red tape and bureaucracy by creating a situation where business will be able to spend more time on business, grow, invest and create jobs.

The opposition has said also that we are trying to take away superannuation benefits. The opposition really is completely hopeless. One only has to refer to the Australian waterfront to see the sad impact of 13 years of Labor government—

Mr Cadman —Yes, terrible.

Mr SLIPPER —The member for Mitchell is quite right to interject. When we look at the lack of competition and the productivity on the Australian waterfront, it is clear that this government is the only government prepared to do something. Those people who are in the Maritime Union of Australia are people who are destroying the job and superannuation opportunities of other Australian workers.

It is now so costly to cross the waterfront in Australia that Australian businesses, Australian factories and Australian farms are finding it impossible to compete in the international marketplace. It is incredible that the opposition is supporting a situation where, in Australia, the stevedoring costs for loading ships amount to $5.60 per tonne, whereas in New Zealand it is a mere $2.20 per tonne. The difference is $3.40 per tonne. There is also an extra delay in Australian ports compared with the delay in New Zealand ports. In Australian ports, the ship turnaround time on average is nine days. In New Zealand it is four days, a five-day difference.

I find it impossible to comprehend how the opposition could possibly support the rorting and the featherbedding that continues on Australian wharves. They made a tentative effort in government to fix it up and failed dismally. Yet now we find that the opposition are marching to the tune of the Maritime Union of Australia. What about the workers in Australian factories? What about the farm labourers? What about the people employed everywhere in Australia other than on the waterfront? What about a fair go for them? How on earth can the Australian Labor Party continue to argue that Australian jobs should be lost everywhere but on the Australian waterfront, while Australian waterside workers are holding the rest of the economy to ransom?

The Minister for Workplace Relations and Small Business has been given a responsibility by the Prime Minister (Mr Howard). He has been given a mandate to fix the Australian waterfront—and we will fix it. In fact, a very important piece of legislation was introduced to the parliament today to go along the road of reforming the Australian waterfront. That legislation will ensure that the termination rights of redundant employees will be protected, including their superannuation rights.

I think that everyone is sick and tired and has had a gutful of the way that opposition members trot constantly into this chamber and berate the government as being totally opposed to Australian workers. We are a party that supports Australian workers and reform of the economy. We inherited a black hole of $10.3 billion. We did not create the problem, but we are correcting it.

We brought in worthwhile industrial relations reform to make sure that there is a better environment for employers and employees to sit down in the marketplace and talk about problems. We are seeking to fix up the Australian waterfront. The legislation before the chamber today, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Superannuation) Bill 1997 , seeks to remove an anomaly in the Workplace Relations Act 1996 which was put in, as a result of discussions with the Democrats, with the view that in due course it would be removed.

This is good legislation. It seeks to cut red tape and reduce bureaucracy, while at the same time protecting the superannuation entitlements of Australian employees. It is beyond me, beyond comprehension and beyond understanding why the honourable member for Jagajaga and others are not supporting this bill. Instead, we look at their contributions and we find that they are talking about outmoded ideas—class warfare from the 1890s. The honourable member for Wills (Mr Kelvin Thomson) said that this bill is being exposed as a vitriolic and unwarranted attack on thousands of Australian workers and their superannuation entitlements. Nothing could be further from the truth.

People in Australia appreciate that members of parliament have genuine disagreements and that there is dissension at times between the two sides of the House. That is normal and natural in a robust democracy.

Mr Cadman interjecting

Mr SLIPPER —What is not normal and natural, as the member for Mitchell points out, is the way that the Labor Party comes into the parliament and distorts the truth, weaving a web of deceit in this matter and wrongly claiming that this government is bringing in a retrograde bill, whereas the community appreciates that this bill is positive.

Mr Griffin —He is the ventriloquist and you are the dummy—right?

Mr SLIPPER —The members opposite, including the duty whip, ought not to interject, because they know that in this matter they have no credibility at all. The Labor Party have no credibility at all. The Labor Party, in relation to the bill before the chamber, have been exposed for what they are: a party of the past, bereft of ideas. All that they can do is come into the chamber, speaker after speaker, and talk about outdated notions. It is about time they realised that we are in 1998 and that we are moving forward to the next millennium. It is about time that they supported the continuing efforts of this government to fix up the industrial wreckage that was left by 13 years of Labor rule. I commend the bill to the committee.