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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16393

Mr McCLELLAND (2:44 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Is the minister aware that the dispute at the Morris McMahon can factory, in my electorate, will soon enter its 15th week? Does the minister recall telling the Morris McMahon workers on 23 May:

You have every right to ask for a collective agreement. Every right in the world.

Is it the case that, under the government's workplace laws, the employer can simply ignore their employees' request? Is the minister aware that Labor's good faith bargaining proposals would give employees a genuine right to seek a collective agreement with their employer? If the minister believes in the right of the Morris McMahon workers to genuinely bargain collectively, why won't the minister make that right enforceable by supporting Labor's proposals?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Barton for his question. Obviously, no-one likes strikes. The tragedy of this strike is that those workers who have listened to the AMWU are thousands of dollars out of pocket. That is because of this strike. I should point out that, while there are some workers still on strike, the majority of the work force of this particular factory are back at work under Australian workplace agreements which have been facilitated by the policies of this government. Yes, it is true that workers have every right to seek a certain sort of agreement. But employers have every right to seek a different sort of agreement, and that is what our system is about. It is about facilitating choice.

Mr Bevis —Just say one word!

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Brisbane!

Mr Bevis —Just one word!

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Brisbane!

Mr ABBOTT —This government believes in an important role for the Industrial Relations Commission. The Industrial Relations Commission should be an umpire and not an adjudicator. The role of the Industrial Relations Commission is to ensure that the law is observed; it is not to try to settle every single dispute. If members opposite want to go back to the good old days of Bob Hawke riding in at the last minute to settle disputes, that is fine. But what this government has done under its system—a system which facilitates choice—is deliver more than one million new jobs, a 12 per cent real increase in full-time average weekly earnings and the lowest number of strikes since records were first kept, in 1913. That is the industrial trifecta for the workers of Australia.