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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19220


Mr BAIRD (2:28 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. How is the government driving workplace relations best practice in the public sector? Would the minister give examples of public sector workplace relations practices, particularly in local government in Sydney. What problems have been created and what is the government's response?


Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Cook for his question, and I can assure him that the government is committed to driving workplace relations best practice, particularly in the way Commonwealth government agencies operate. I am pleased that the level of industrial disputes in the Commonwealth Public Service has dropped significantly over the last few years, and that managers are making much better use of the freedoms and flexibilities available under the Workplace Relations Act, such as non-union certified agreements and Australian workplace agreements.

There is a right and a wrong way to drive workplace relations change. When he first went onto Liverpool council, the member for Werriwa described local government as `a sheltered workshop'. As soon as he became mayor, the member for Werriwa tried to double the mayoral salary and to introduce a new $60 allowance for every meeting he attended. He then put the senior staff on individual contracts and, according to the local paper, set up a hit list of senior officers who did not meet with mayoral approval. This was so popular that council workers passed a resolution of no confidence in Mayor Latham by a margin of 243 votes to two! In response, Mayor Latham accused council staff—this is the respect he has for the working people of Liverpool—of sleeping under trees during work hours, rorting RDOs and having a featherbedding and jobs-for-life mentality.

The member for Werriwa says that he is against crony capitalism, and he has been particularly agitated about people making representations on behalf of family members. When he was on the council, one councillor asked: `Is it true that Mr Latham's sister was employed by council? If it is, was political influence used to get her a job?' That was the question put. According to the local paper, the member for Werriwa almost started a fist fight over this question—until the then mayor, Craig Knowles, intervened. In 1992, when the member for Werriwa was the mayor—


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I was never on Liverpool council when Craig Knowles was mayor.


The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat.


Mr Latham —The minister opposite is misleading the House.


The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat!


Mr Latham —I ask him to withdraw.


The SPEAKER —I ask the member for Werriwa to resume his seat! The minister was asked a question about workplace reform in the public sector with an emphasis on local government. If the member for Werriwa has been misrepresented, there are other forums of the House for dealing with that, and I will recognise him after question time.


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker—


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. I have not concluded my statement. There are other forums of the House for misrepresentation. I will recognise him after question time. What the minister said was not unparliamentary, nor did it require a withdrawal. The minister's remarks seem to me to be rather historic, but I will recognise him because he is consistent with the question.


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I take offence at the suggestion that somehow I have been involved in a fist fight, restrained by someone who was the mayor of the council, when I was not even there. I take offence—


The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat, or I will be forced to deal with him! I have indicated to the member for Werriwa the facilities of the House that are available to him if he is misrepresented. The minister has the call.


Mr ABBOTT —I can understand the member for Werriwa's consternation, but at the close of this answer I will table documents and that will put the member for Werriwa's mind at rest. In 1992, when the member for Werriwa was the mayor, Liverpool council gave the member for Werriwa's sister a job as a caretaker, including rent-free accommodation in a historic council property.


Ms Gillard —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order on a question of relevance. I listened closely to the question. It was about work practices—that is, present tense—in local government in Sydney. This is material from the last century. It cannot possibly be relevant, and I ask you to bring the minister back to the question.


The SPEAKER —The member for Lalor will be aware that I had already made reference to that. The minister has the call; the minister's answer is in order. The minister will, however, bring his answer to something relevant to the parliament.


Mr ABBOTT —The job was given to the member for Werriwa's sister without proper disclosure and without advertising the position.


Ms Gillard —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: he is defying your ruling.


The SPEAKER —The member for Lalor will resume her seat. The minister has the call. He will bring his question to something relevant to the issue currently before the parliament.


Mr ABBOTT —Let me say this: if the member for Werriwa is against crony capitalism, what has he been practising? Crony socialism? In fact, he is not so much a crony socialist as a phoney socialist!


Mr Martin Ferguson —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order, and it goes to a question of relevance and your previous ruling.


The SPEAKER —The member for Batman will resume his seat.


Mr Martin Ferguson —On a point of order, Mr Speaker—


The SPEAKER —I have listened to the member for Batman. He said—


Mr Martin Ferguson —No, you haven't. You haven't given me a chance to be heard.


The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Batman! Let me point out to the member for Batman: he said he had a point of order on the basis of relevance. I had deemed the answer was relevant, and it was for that reason that I interrupted him. The member for Batman.


Mr Martin Ferguson —Further to the point of order, Mr Speaker, you asked that the minister be relevant to the question asked, which was about work practices in the public sector. He is clearly defying the chair, and it is about time he treated you with some respect.


The SPEAKER —For reasons that will be self-evident, I listened very closely to the minister's response. The minister clearly was no longer making the reference he had been making and, for that reason, I allowed him to continue.


Mr ABBOTT —Mr Speaker, let me bring this answer to a close. In one of his books, the member for Werriwa said, `The ALP has always been an ideologically confused party.' It is not so much that the Labor Party is ideologically confused but that the member for Werriwa is a socialist failure. That is what he is; he is a socialist failure. I table the relevant documents.



The SPEAKER —The member for McMillan is warned!

Opposition members interjecting