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Wednesday, 17 August 2005
Page: 132

Mr LINDSAY (6:37 PM) —The Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Amendment Bill 2005 supports the people who are most important to the government—the workers of this country—and delivers to them a choice. I want to underline to the parliament that the Howard government are not against unions; we are not union bashers. There is a place for unions in this country, and the government will always ensure that there is a place for unions in this country. But there also has to be a place for those who do not need the services of a union or who do not want the mandated services of a union. What is wrong about that? That is fair. The opposition, of course, is in a position where it has to toe the union line. Everything it does and says is to support the continuation of a system which is now way out of date in this country—the world has moved on; the country has moved on. Certainly the union movement has laid the seeds of its own irrelevance by the way that it has operated politically rather than in the interests of the members it is supposed to represent.

The government believe in safe workplaces. It will come as a surprise to the member for Perth and others that these days workers and employers believe in safe workplaces. Why is safety the most important thing in a workplace? Because it is in nobody’s interest that the rules of safe workplaces be ignored. It is not in the employer’s interest, because productivity falls if there is a workplace accident. It is not in the employee’s interest, obviously, because nobody wants to have an accident. These days, if you go into a modern workplace, you will find, whether you are talking to the employer or to the employee, that safety is number one on everybody’s agenda. I have been into many workplaces, both large and small, and have confirmed for myself that, in formerly solidly unionised workplaces which now have no union membership at all in the workplace, safety is still number one for both employers and employees.

What does this bill do? In workplaces in the Public Service, where unions currently have a mandated right, this bill allows employers and employees, not just the unions, to consult with each other about workplace practices and to determine OH&S arrangements. (Quorum formed)

The member for Shortland clearly does not want to hear that the union membership in Centrelink in my electorate has now fallen to less than 50 per cent. That is because unions are irrelevant now in the Commonwealth Public Service. The member for Shortland wants the unions to have a mandated right to determine OH&S arrangements in the Public Service.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—If members are going to remain in the House, I ask them to resume their seats.

Mr LINDSAY —The government does not believe that that is fair. The government does not believe that that is right. The government has proposed the bill before the parliament this evening—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Mitchell and the member for Grey! If you want to remain in the House, resume your seats.

Mr LINDSAY —Fair go, Mr Deputy Speaker. Labor will oppose this bill because they are doing the bidding of the Commonwealth public sector union. I do not know why in this modern day and age they do not understand and recognise that the relevance of unions in the public sector is diminishing, and that it is diminishing because the employees themselves do not feel that they are getting value for money in being a member of a union.

Labor is saying that unions should have a mandated and preferential role in every workplace regardless of the wishes of the workers. I have news for the Labor Party: the government has an opposite view. The government believes that workers and businesses should have the freedom to choose all their working arrangements to best suit their needs. As the member for Hume has observed, this benefits all Australians. Labor wants union membership to the exclusion of all other options.

In relation to choice, an issue raised by the member for Perth, Labor is contemptuous of workers’ rights to choose an alternative to union representation, simply because for Labor—the member for Shortland—there is no alternative. Open your mind. Open your mind and understand that Australia is different these days. There are other models. Choice is good. There is no clearer example of that than in relation to Labor’s attitude to Australian workplace agreements. What marvellous agreements they can produce between employer and employee at the workplace, without the interference of unions.

As I said earlier in my contribution, the government is not opposed to unions. If an employee wants a bargaining agent in an AWA to be a union member or have union membership, they can. That is how flexible the government’s workplace relations program is. I think that Labor is still very much opposed to Australian workplace agreements.

But think of this too. Because it is tied up with the unions, as explained by its approach to this bill tonight, Labor would allow union bosses to walk into any business any time under the guise of a suspected OH&S breach even when there are no union members in the business. We cannot tolerate that. That is unfair. It gives the unions a privileged position to which they are not entitled.

The government has presented this bill to the parliament tonight because it recognises that members of the Australian Public Service want to have a say in OH&S arrangements in their workplace. I challenge the Labor Party to explain to me and to the government why they should not have a say—why individual members who are not union members should not have a say in OH&S arrangements in their individual workplace. Surely that is sensible. The position that the Australian Labor Party has adopted on this bill is indefensible. That is why I will be strongly supporting it in the parliament when the vote comes tonight.