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Thursday, 25 March 2004
Page: 27277

Mr LINDSAY (1:49 PM) —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker Gambaro—welcome to the Navy! I was on the HMAS Newcastle last year for a week and had a fabulous experience; but I do represent Townsville, which is Australia's largest army base, and have RAAF Townsville in my electorate. In relation to the Workplace Relations Amendment (Award Simplification) Bill 2002, we need a dose of reality in relation to what the Labor Party is saying. When you look at the track record of industrial relations reforms that we have been able to get through in this House, there is no doubt that every measure that has been passed has had an extraordinarily positive result. The doom and gloom that we hear from the opposition and have just heard from the member for Rankin simply do not occur in reality.

The most significant reform was the reform of the waterfront in this country. Everyone listening to this debate will understand and know about the huge debate that went on about waterfront reform. It was a very vigorous debate. Australia was told that you could not reform the waterfront and that you could not improve the crane lifting rates on the waterfront. After the bill went through the parliament—because the government was determined to take the hard decisions—Australia moved to world competitive crane rate movements. But no-one's wages got cut. In fact, wages on the wharf increased. Not only Australia benefited; the workers on the wharf benefited, the farmers and exporters in the country benefited and the employers of the workers benefited. Everybody had a win. But Labor told us it could not happen. Labor predicted doom and gloom. And so it is with this bill and a number of other bills that have been presented to the parliament: Labor continues to oppose much needed change and much needed reform in industrial relations.

Having a productive workplace with happy staff is the best way to ensure job security for workers and a strong economy. No worker needs to be concerned about these measures. A minimum wages safety net stays and minimum award conditions stay, but the result is a streamlined system—something that benefits both workers and employers. The result is fewer strikes, lower inflation, higher productivity and lower interest rates. I can tell the opposition that, when you talk to the workers of this country, they want to make sure that interest rates stay low, that inflation stays low and that prices on supermarket shelves do not rise rapidly, as they did when Labor were last in control of the government.

The government is not about shafting workers; the government is about building a more robust employment outcome and a world-class economy, because under a world-class and robust economy everybody benefits. It is not just the employer or the employee who benefits; it is the country that benefits. The Labor Party focuses on the casualisation of the work force. I am puzzled at that, because many workers tell me that these days that is the way they want to work. Things are changing. We live in a different world today from that which we lived in 30 years ago. The Labor Party apparently wants to take us back 30 years to the way industrial relations used to work in those times. That is not the way forward for Australia.

I ask the Labor Party to think very deeply about what employees actually want, because the government does. The government wants employees in the workplace to be able to negotiate the outcome that they would like to see and that suits them specifically, wherever they are in Australia. The Labor Party, on the other hand, wants a rigidly controlled central award system that does not deliver the flexibility needed across the country. The government's view is that what is okay for Melbourne may not be okay for Townsville. In general, Townsville employers and employees alike tell me that they want to be in control of their own destiny and employment conditions. This bill is about simplifying award conditions and facilitating local agreement making. That results in a more productive workplace, which means employer and employee are happier, and it results in a more competitive Australia.