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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16402


Mr BARTLETT (3:19 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Would the minister inform the House of the government's commitment to requiring secret ballots before strikes? How can secret ballots help resolve difficult industrial situations? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?


Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Macquarie for his question, and I can tell the member for Macquarie that the reduction in strikes is one of the most significant achievements of the Howard government. The strike rate today is just one-third what it was in 1996 and just one-thirtieth of what it was in the early 1980s. Strikes cost jobs, they damage industries and they jeopardise investment. The real victims of strikes are normally the ordinary workers, who lose hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in pay while strike organisers—the union officials—keep getting paid. Strikes should be the weapon of last resort, not first resort, in industrial disputes.

The government believe in industrial democracy. We believe in democracy in the workplace. Workers should not be railroaded or intimidated into strikes they do not support. Workers and not union officials should make the decision to go on strike, and that means there should be secret ballots before strikes. The Leader of the Opposition is a convert to the cause of secret ballots. When his leadership was being undermined by people who did not know the meaning of loyalty, he decided that he supported secret ballots. He decided that he supported secret ballots, and 58 lemmings cannot be wrong.


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Under standing order 145, the minister has clearly strayed a long way from the question, Mr Speaker.


The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. The minister will return to the question.


Mr ABBOTT —I was asked about secret ballots. I simply put it to the Leader of the Opposition, who has just been supported by people who have gone for the union candidate rather than the people's candidate—


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister is deliberately defying your ruling. The question made no mention of—


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations was asked a question about secret ballots. I am listening closely to his response and I expect him to respond in a way that means the answer is relevant to the question.


Mr ABBOTT —A rooster would do better than the member for Werriwa in this position.


The SPEAKER —Order! The minister has the call. He will not defy the chair or I will deal with him.


Mr ABBOTT —Of course, Mr Speaker, and I apologise if you think I have transgressed. Let me simply put it to the Leader of the Opposition: if secret ballots are the way to resolve intractable political disputes, why can't they also be used to resolve intractable industrial disputes?