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Wednesday, 31 March 2004
Page: 27699

Mr RANDALL (11:39 AM) —To save time, as this is a fractured contribution to the debate, which I began two days ago, I seek leave to table an editorial from the West Australian newspaper.

Leave granted.

Mr RANDALL —I would like to briefly summarise what I was saying two days ago. The Workplace Relations Amendment (Award Simplification) Bill 2002 is necessary to the flexibility of the work force in Australia. The flexibility that has been created in the work force has produced outstanding productivity results and a better deal for workers. It has resulted in more pay and better conditions for workers. It allows for some matters to be negotiated and for the simplification of the arrangements for AWAs negotiated between businesses and workers. As I have pointed out to this House on several occasions, the proof of the pudding is in the detail: for example, in Western Australia the state sponsored EEAs, the employer-employee agreements, have been so poorly received that something like 114 individual awards have been taken up, which contrasts with, in the same period, something like 65,000 AWAs registered to individuals. It just shows what people want: the safety, protection, flexibility and the better enterprise bargaining that is given by Australian workplace agreements rather than the union-sponsored EEAs.

As I said in my previous contribution, the fact is that the Australian Labor Party will oppose this. We know they will oppose it because they have been told to by the people that put them here—their union bosses. At the end of the day, they will oppose it because, as the member for Rankin himself said after the Labor Party's national conference, Labor and unions are as one again; they cannot act without each other. If you want any further proof of this you only have to see the blue going on in Western Australia at the moment between the state Labor Party and the unions. The unions are claiming responsibility for putting different people into positions. Michelle Roberts is the state president of the Labor Party and there are different preselections that are union sponsored. Because there is fracture over some of the details with some of the unions involved, they are now saying that these preselections are in doubt. There is no doubt that the unions are controlling the people in this House.

Dr Emerson —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order in relation to the relevance of these comments. The member for Canning cannot help himself. This bill is about award stripping, euphemistically called award simplification. It has nothing to do with the matters he is now canvassing and I ask that you draw him back to the substance of the bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lindsay)—I thank the member for Rankin. The member for Canning will link his comments to the bill.

Mr RANDALL —My comments are inextricably linked to the fact that the Labor Party are in here opposing this bill because they are in the control and the domain of the union movement. We know that; the member for Rankin said that himself after the national conference of the Labor Party. It is as simple as that—undeniable. This is somebody who is in a state of denial. He comes into this place and says that he will oppose every industrial relations bill that we have put up. He is on the record as saying that. Do not be ludicrous and say that we are off the subject here. We are totally on the subject because we are dealing with his comments as they relate to industrial relations matters in this House. This bill is just one of those industrial relations matters.

I want to look at the national media commentary on these workplace relations bills and the opposition from the Labor Party. But, before I go to the specifics of the national commentary, I want to say that one of the final provisions that the opposition and the member for Rankin have continued to allege is that this takes out the training component—`deskilling' I think he calls it. It is so far from the truth it is unbelievable. Since this government has been in place, we have gone from 105,000 apprenticeships a year to a number in the high 300,000s. In other words, we have almost trebled the number of apprenticeships being offered to young people in the workplace in Australia since we came to government in 1996. Compare that with Labor's record: they drove apprenticeships and training down to 105,000 per year in 1996, when we took over.

It is real skilling of the work force—not de-skilling but real skilling—when you can give young people an opportunity to train and, as a result of training in the industry that they choose, they get jobs. It is totally ludicrous to claim that there is de-skilling because it is not an award matter. This is something that is negotiated with your employer—and quite rightly negotiated, because you get a better deal when you can negotiate something rather than having the prescriptive award that the Australian Labor Party want. They want a prescriptive award because they want to maintain control. The award gives them an opportunity because one size fits all, and if one size fits all then they can control it. They do not like variables—loose ends that their union mates cannot control. That is why there is opposition here. It has nothing to do with training and prescriptions for training young people. We know that apprenticeships and training have grown; they have not diminished. We have a very proud record on that compared to the Labor Party when in government.

The fact is that, with the outlawing of workplace agreements by the state Labor government in Western Australia, what Labor say in the states is what Labor want to do federally. We know that. You only have to see what they will do in the states to see what they will do in the federal arena. The outlawing of these negotiated individual awards is an absolute disgrace because it is driving wages down in Western Australia and costing jobs. One has to look no further than the fact that in Western Australia a company called Consolidated Constructions went into liquidation—a company that had been an icon in Western Australia's building industry for years. They went into liquidation owing $10 million. They claimed quite readily that it was due largely to the interference by the CFMEU in their business and the conditions that they had given.

The involvement of unions through rights of entry granted under the state's Labor government and the harassment from people like Joe McDonald from the CFMEU have eventually driven a huge business in Western Australia into bankruptcy. Not only has this driven it into bankruptcy but it has cost something like 400 jobs, let alone the jobs of contractors and the businesses of contractors in Western Australia. That is the end result of union domination in the work force. It has crept back in Western Australia. As I said, you only have to see what they have done over there to realise what has happened. On Thursday, 4 March, the West Australian reported:

BIG WA builder Consolidated Constructions has collapsed with $10 million debts, leaving more than 400 staff and subcontractors uncertain about future work and getting paid.

The article goes on:

The collapse comes after a torrid year for Consolidated in which it has been enmeshed in contractual disputes and engaged in running battles with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union over its policy of employing sub-contract labour.

What a sin! They wanted to employ subcontractors and the CFMEU continued to harass them. The article continues:

Consolidated has launched multiple legal actions against the CFMEU and its officials claiming they had intimidated workers at its sites ...

You need no further proof than that. And you have Joe McDonald almost gleefully saying that they have been able to do it. There is further evidence in Western Australia, particularly in the mining industry. An article entitled `Miners wary of ALP policies' in the Australian Financial Review says:

Western Australia's biggest mining companies attacked the Labor Party's industrial policies yesterday, amid fears that a federal Labor government could centralise industrial relations and promote collective bargaining.

That is what we are talking about today—collective bargaining, because they are opposing the freeing up and simplification of awards. Collective bargaining comes from awards rather than from individual agreements. No less than BHP Billiton's iron ore president Graeme Hunt says:

The track record is very clear. We really can't afford to step backwards ...

Another quote in the article is:

We certainly hope Labor does retain a one-on-one working contract because our whole philosophy is a direct relationship ...

There is a further quote:

WA employers were increasingly using Australian workplace agreements, direct deals between individual workers and employers, that federal Labor has pledged to scrap.

Shame! At the end of the day, you are putting in jeopardy one of the great drivers of this economy, particularly in Western Australia—that is, the mining industry. And the examples continue. Another article from the West Australian, titled `Business goes cold on Gallop', by Fran Spencer, says:

SMALL and medium-sized businesses have lost faith in Geoff Gallop's Labor Government ...

... ... ...

The February Sensis Business Index, to be released today, shows the WA Government has been deserted by the State's small and medium enterprises with support for its policies slumping 9 per cent in the three months to the end of January.

This is just more evidence. Again, in the Sun-Herald—you can see this is a good sample of articles from all around Australia—on 21 March an article by Kerry-Anne Walsh, titled `Poll finds Labor lagging on economy', said:

LATHAM Labor is lagging significantly behind the Government on economic credibility, an exclusive Sun-Herald poll of business reveals.

On every indicator, they went backwards. There is further evidence. `Latham would hurt industry in WA,' say bosses in a West Australian article on Saturday, 20 March this year. The article continues:

WA's main industry body has warned that the election of a Latham Labor government would be disastrous for the State's economy.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Bob Pride said coast-to-coast Labor governments would severely disrupt WA's booming growth.

You can't get better than that! All around Australia, we have evidence. There was a very credible person speaking in the West Australian on 27 February: Michael Chaney—considered one of the best executives in Australia—from Wesfarmers. The article titled `Chaney blasts reform failure' says:

LEADING businessman Michael Chaney says businesses could suffer because of the State Government's industrial relations changes ...

... ... ...

... the Wesfarmers chief spoke about the Gallop Government's scrapping of individual workplace agreements in favour of the employer-employee contracts based on union-negotiated awards.

What state Labor does, federal Labor wants to do. Here we have all these eminent people from around Australia outlining just how it will hurt. The final coup de grace is an editorial in the Financial Review which is headed `Labor must pick jobs over dogma'. It says:

Let's start with Labor's promise to abolish Australian workplace agreements. Removing these has been an article of labour movement faith since formalised individual work contracts were introduced in 1997.

AWAs are a heresy to union officials because they exclude them from the workplace and deprive them of control and relevance.

Here is one of the most credible newspapers in the country—you cannot accuse it of any political bias—outlining what Labor would do if they could get hold of the award system in this country. If we had wall-to-wall Labor governments—six state Labor governments and a federal Labor government—workplace relations in this country would go back to the Dark Ages or to the dinosaur age that the member for Rankin is promoting on behalf of his Labor mates. The article continues:

... AWAs have become a symbol of waning industrial muscle that the unions, with Labor's support, are hell-bent on chopping down. Labor obediently promises to abolish AWAs if it wins office.

Compliantly and obediently the Labor Party are saying they will abolish AWAs if they win office. This is disastrous for Australia. The award system needs to be simplified to provide better flexibility and jobs for the people of Australia. I support this bill.