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Tuesday, 8 November 2005
Page: 46

Mr TUCKEY (5:07 PM) —While speaking yesterday in this debate on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005, I was at great pains to give the Labor opposition some evidence as to why the issues that they think will be of such great political importance to them are probably not going to be so. It is on their heads if they continue this campaign, and particularly their misrepresentations of the issue over time will be found to be meaningless. When the GST was implemented people said, ‘What was all the fuss about?’ People get on with their lives and look to a government or opposition to have good policy that will maintain the economy, keep interest rates down, look after their children’s health et cetera. They are the issues. But people can be frightened. I received a letter the other day from a church group saying, ‘We as employers are going to be prohibited from certain actions with respect to our employees.’ Of course, these prohibited matters are prohibitions on duress.

Mr Burke —No!

Mr TUCKEY —I thought I heard someone say no. If that member can find anything in this legislation that prohibits an employer from giving a process worker $10,000 a week, I would like to read it. There is no prohibition on an employer making generous arrangements, but on the other hand there is a prohibition on registered organisations and others seeking to include as conditions of employment that certain matters be addressed—for instance, unfair dismissal and others. It is just a silly misrepresentation of the matter, and I think this letter was probably not written by the church leader who addressed it to me. It read very much like something that some trade unionist had written on their behalf.

But there have been misrepresentations to pensioners. The opposition are crying crocodile tears about the pulping of some paper; I would like to know how much Commonwealth government paper, along with postage stamps and envelopes, has been used to write misleading letters to the pensioners of Australia saying, ‘When this comes in your pension will be reduced.’ In fact, it cannot be reduced. It will never be less than it is today, and its next adjustment will be either by a percentage of MTAWE or relevant to the consumer price index. It will go up. Why write to elderly people and make them concerned?

In the minutes I have left, I want to make a few recollections. As I reminded the House the other day, I made my maiden speech on industrial relations. Those from the union movement might be interested to read it, because I suggested 25 years ago—with Bob Hawke sitting on the front bench listening, I might add—that we could look to the Swedish system where you have powerful employer groups and powerful unions that do not fight but work things out. I do not necessarily believe in that today, but I did 25 years ago. Another remark I made then was that what was really necessary was a bit of transfusion surgery to take some bone out of the heads of trade union members and put it into the spines of employers, because I held them equally guilty for the state of affairs that existed in Australia in 1981.

My family owned its own house and a motor car while my father, who was a motor mechanic, was on six quid a week. We were a middle-class family and we did not want for much. We did not bother about overseas trips and things like that, but we did not want for much. My mother was a heavy smoker. The reality was that six quid a week was enough. Now if you earn $1,000 a week you are probably battling. We have gone through this myth that things would be fine as long as wages kept increasing and were not matched by productivity. Of course, during the time of the Wehrmacht republic, inflation took them to the point where they needed a wheelbarrow to carry their money to buy a loaf of bread. So money is not the issue; it is purchasing power. We refer to real wages, I think unwisely. I think it is the buying power of wages that people are interested in. In fact, by keeping productivity and wages matched, we have prosperity. That is the target.

I wrote back to this church group and said, ‘What about Friday?’ If you have a genuine religious belief, such as do the Muslims in our community, you have to give them the same opportunity as you would the Christians. The Seventh-Day Adventists, of course, sit in the middle, but they get time-and-a-half. These are not issues for Australia today. Those who have strong Christian beliefs will take Sunday off. But there are a hell of a lot of people in Australia who want someone to give them service on Sunday, be it in a restaurant or elsewhere.

In Western Australia—this is a situation very close to this legislation—we had all the protest marches and everything and, when it was all over, people said, ‘What’s the problem?’ A bulldozer driver up in the Pilbara signs an AWA and gets an extra $20,000 a year and access to staff superannuation. There was just no question about it, but we are past the point where we can afford inflation as the result of industrial action that is not necessarily productivity driven. If we think we have the only natural gas and the only coal in the world, we should think again. Other countries are going to give us huge competition. We have seen a massive export of jobs to China and other parts of Asia. That is not smart if we can be competitive. (Time expired)