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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19657

Mr LINDSAY (11:47 AM) —A person listening in a considered way to the contribution on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Improved Remedies for Unprotected Action) Bill 2002 from the member for Rankin but without listening to some counterargument might have felt that the Howard government was somehow or other an ogre as far as the working men and women of this country were concerned. But there is a statistic which would assist those listening to this debate to get a pretty good idea of what the Howard government has done since 1996 in respect of the beneficial changes that have been made to workplace relations. The statistic is simply this: there has been the lowest rate of industrial disputation in this country for decades. That is the current situation: the lowest rate of industrial disputation for decades. Something must be right; it cannot be all wrong.

The Labor Party continues to insist that the government's amendments to the Workplace Relations Act have been draconian, but the simple fact of the matter is that the workers of this country are now happy in their jobs and are not going into industrial disputation nearly as much as they did in the past. I think that is a fair comment. It is a credit to Peter Reith, Tony Abbott and the Howard government that we have been able to achieve industrial peace. The Howard government also believes that there is a role for unions in this country and there is a role for choice, that there is a right for the men and women who work in this country not to belong to a union if they so choose. That has worked very effectively in this country. Probably in private enterprise these days fewer than 20 per cent of workers have chosen to be represented by a union.

Mr Slipper —They have voted with their feet.

Mr LINDSAY —They have voted with their feet, as the parliamentary secretary quite rightly observes. There has to be a very strong message in that. It is understandable that in the public sector, union membership is significantly higher; there are reasons for that. But the underlying point I make is that the government believes there should be choice: the government supports workers who want to be in a union and supports their right to be in a union but it also supports the right of those who choose to opt out of being represented by a union.

Let me now turn to what I see as the absolute irrelevancy of the Australian Labor Party in this debate. I point to the amendment that was formally moved by the member for Rankin and which was seconded. Not to put too fine a point on it, I think `waffle' would be a kind word to describe what a fair person reading the amendment would think. The Australian Labor Party has made no attempt to be relevant in this particular debate. All it has done in the amendment is to say it `declines to give the bill a second reading' and then it goes on to make amendments that really are meaningless and no more than a political attack on the Howard government.

If the ALP were to be relevant in this debate, it would be thoughtful about its amendments and it would put up what it considered the position should be. But instead it has chosen simply to attack the government and, if passed, the second reading amendment would not move Australia forward one centimetre. Why go down that track? Why is the Australian Labor Party putting up amendments that if passed would not change the position in Australia whatsoever? I think that points to the irrelevance of the Australian Labor Party currently in debates such as this. Considering what the government has done in its term since 1996, I think that running a very strong economy—a stand-out economy in the world—is the best single thing that you can do to help the working men and women of this country. Running a strong economy with low inflation and low interest rates is the best single thing that you can do to help those on income support, and of course it helps those who are covered by unions.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has been attacked here today. It is bizarre the bitterness that you hear—again, it does not move Australia forward one centimetre—about Abbott's `dirty dozen' bills and the fact that he is—

Mr Slipper —It is bizarre.

Mr LINDSAY —It is bizarre; you are right. As for the minister allegedly trying to pander to the Prime Minister and trying to be promoted, I do not see any of that as a backbench member of this government. I absolutely reject the allegations that have been made about the minister. I invite the Australian Labor Party to be relevant on industrial relations and to avoid the bitterness and rhetoric that we hear in such personal attacks on a particular member of the government.

Mr Slipper —It is very sad.

Mr LINDSAY —It is very sad. I have worked on construction sites. I have been on a site where the union has been in control of the site. It was before I became a member of parliament. As a worker on the site, I was utterly appalled at the way in which the union's strongarm tactics and dominance worked against the interests of those who were working on the site. Such dominance, strongarm tactics and irresponsibility have to be reined in. The bill that is before the parliament for consideration is of assistance in that regard.

We see the Australian Labor Party debating this bill and saying that it works against the interests of working Australians. Let me tell you what that is code for. The Australian Labor Party is actually saying that it works against the interests of union bosses; it works against the interests of its power base. The government is determined to do everything in its power to help the working men and women of this country, and I can give a commitment that that will continue. The member for Rankin dealt with the issue of lockouts. It was a surprise revelation: he said that lockouts are implicitly covered in the bill and that that is a good thing; it works in the interests of the workers. But the Australian Labor Party is going to refuse to support the bill, even though the member for Rankin said in the parliament this morning that it actually works in the interests of the workers if they are faced with a lockout. The government says, quite rightly, that this legislation protects employers and employees alike. So I say to the Australian Labor Party: why are you opposing this piece of legislation?

Just as the member for Rankin is able to give examples of lockouts affecting workers, there are many more examples of improper industrial action that affects not only workers but also their employers. If employers are affected, it is a corollary that employees will be affected. Many heavies in the union movement do not seem to understand that that is the way the real world works. If an employer has his business damaged, the prospects of his employees are also damaged.

I now turn to an issue that occurred in Queensland in July 2002. The CFMEU was involved in this particular instance. It apparently encouraged the workers at Capricorn Coal to go on strike for 48 hours over an administrative mistake made by the company. It was an irresponsible strike because the company, as soon as it found out it had made an administrative mistake, apologised both orally and in writing, yet the work force was encouraged by the CFMEU to strike for 48 hours and, during that time, production was lost from the mine. That action took place despite the fact that a certified agreement with comprehensive dispute resolution procedures was in effect. You have to wonder how simple it would have been under the dispute resolution procedures for the union representing the workers to have gone to management and said, `We are unhappy with this mistake,' and for management to have said, `We are unhappy too; without reservation we apologise, and we apologise in writing.' You would think that that would have been the end of the matter. But no, those irresponsible union leaders forced production to be lost for 48 hours. That is quite sad and it is not in the interests of the working men and women of this country.

Capricorn Coal successfully applied for a section 127 order, which the bill covers, and the commission then criticised the CFMEU, noting that it had chosen to ignore its obligations under the dispute resolution procedure and had taken particularly excessive action. Any fair-minded person listening to this debate would agree with the commission that it was particularly excessive action. Despite the commission's clear indication that it would not tolerate this kind of industrial action, the CFMEU members took further industrial action in December—again, irresponsible. Do you know what that was about, Mr Deputy Speaker Price? That action was not even about anything to do with Capricorn Coal. The strike was in protest against the decision of the full bench of the Industrial Relations Commission relating to an unfair dismissal claim of another company. Once again, Capricorn applied for a section 127 order that the employees return to work. However, by the time the commission granted the order, 24 hours of mine production time had been lost.

I would indicate in this instance that, while legitimate industrial action within a declared bargaining period is protected, it is vital that businesses be able to access effective remedies that avert or minimise losses resulting from illegitimate industrial action. The provisions in the bill before the parliament this afternoon would effectively cover what happened to Capricorn Coal. For that reason and many other reasons, I certainly intend to support the bill that is before the House. I will strongly back the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations in his attempts to make workplace relations in this country fairer so that we can be more productive and so that the men and women who work in this country can be better off.

Debate interrupted.