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Wednesday, 31 March 2004
Page: 27728

Mr TUCKEY (1:50 PM) —Contrary to the inferences throughout the speech of the member for Corio, there is nothing in this legislation designed to reduce the remuneration of Australian workers. The only employment group to have any fears relative to this legislation are those employed in the union bureaucracy. That is not an unsubstantiated claim. Throughout the life of the Howard government, Australian workers' remuneration, measured in what they can buy for their wages—technically known as real wages—has risen every year. Throughout the period of the Hawke-Keating-Kelty government, it was openly admitted, sometimes in a boastful way, that that government had achieved a reduction in the real wages of workers. Yes, every couple of months that wonderful accord delivered them more cash, but it flowed through the economy. By the time the wife of the worker got down to the shopping centre she could actually buy less, having received an increase in wages, discounted in the first instance by the extra tax they had to pay.

The first thing we have got to understand is that this is an attempt not to achieve a reduction in the real wages of workers but to remove the various hurdles to employment. I find it quite interesting that the member for Corio said, `Who do you think you are driving the boot into?' That is not only bad grammar; that is a ridiculous statement when you realise the facts I have just put before the House. Eighty-three per cent of workers have decided it is much more attractive to deal directly with the boss than to wait for a trade union bureaucrat to go off to their mates—frequently the same people as in the past—in the Industrial Relations Commission to put all these problems in their way.

The member for Corio runs this constant campaign that has been coming from those on the opposition benches throughout this debate—hand on heart: `I'm only here to defend the workers.' Well, 83 per cent of them have said, `Buzz off.' Of the other 17 per cent, half were recorded as voting Liberal. So who are the opposition looking after? I do not know what percentage of Australian workers are employed directly in the trade union movement or associated activities such as the IRC, but they seem to be the only ones that are worried about the change in the way Australia operates.

Let me give you another fact about what happens when you start putting hurdles in employment. There has been a massive change, well recognised throughout Australia, in the availability of technology. If you have done first-year economics, it is a well-known factor that employers have always had a choice, going right back to the days of the Industrial Revolution and the Luddites—the first people who tried to stop change. An employer can use capital to buy machinery or technology, and that technology extends today, as we know from reading our newspapers and from other media, to being able to employ somebody in India to do the job in Australia for you. That is what technology is doing.

Of course, in a regime of very low interest rates, capital gets an advantage over wages. Nobody in this House is arguing for lower wages, but if there can be an easier and more productive arrangement for employing people then there is a chance that employment will get a start over capital. There is another factor in that equation; that is, if you are a small business, you frequently simply lack the capital—and lack the borrowing power because you lack the resources to back it at the bank—and/or the type of machinery you could purchase would give you productivity levels well above your customer base.

Mr Zahra —So, lower wages for more jobs?

Mr TUCKEY —So one of the best opportunities for—

Mr Zahra —Lower wages for more jobs?

Mr TUCKEY —If the member who is interjecting had two ears, he might have heard me say this has got nothing to do with wages. He of course has to worry about his own wages, as he will not be back after the next election.

Mr Zahra —Why don't you come and run in McMillan, Wilson!

Mr TUCKEY —The redistribution has caused him a little bit of trouble. I will be sorry for him, because I once claimed him as a grandson. The reality is that a small business will typically seek to employ people, because that is the nature of small businesses and they do lack that capital opportunity to buy the technology and the fancy machinery to replace workers.

In the end, as we saw the other day, there is still the good old IRC putting more hurdles between employers and the work force, giving an employer every opportunity to go home to his wife one night and say, `Look, I've had enough of this. I know we're going to take a big risk. We'll mortgage the house and we'll buy a bit of machinery so I don't have to employ any more of these people.' That is just a fact of life. We have people sitting over there who are so worried about one little employment sector—that is, the trade union bureaucracy—that they cannot see that, unless we make it more attractive to employ people, there are other options available that will be used.

That extends right down to the fact that, if everybody in this place took off their shirt, eight out of 10 of the shirts would have `Made in China' on them. Why is that? The average worker's wife does not ask too many questions about `Made in China' when she has to clothe her kids on that wage; of course she does not. The member for Corio made a big thing about abdicating our wage structures to Asia. I love this place because I love the way the Labor Party can redefine history. The protective measures that used to exist—I thought, unwisely—called tariffs, were attacked by Gough Whitlam to the tune of an across-the-board cut of 25 per cent; then, within a few days, there was a revaluation of the currency, which was a double whammy for the ability of workers to get jobs. I think it has probably been beneficial, but we all know why the Hawke-Keating government lowered tariffs and why Whitlam lowered tariffs: it was their backdoor mechanism to deregulate the labour market, because they could not, for fear of non-preselection, come into this place and bring in sensible measures of the nature we are dealing with today to free up the labour market in a fashion that made it attractive to employ workers.

Yes, a good wage and good conditions—I can prove to this House when I continue this speech later—are very attractive to workers. They do not like awards, they do not like the constrictions and, what is more, if you go back to the fifties and sixties, they did not like them then. I could never find a truck driver who wanted to work under an award; he always wanted to work on trip money. He wanted to do that and he wanted to be a small-business man in his own right. This is a situation where the Labor Party wants to put roadblocks in front of employment to protect people in one sector of employment in Australia: they are of course the trade union bureaucrats.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.