Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 8 November 2005
Page: 51

Mr LINDSAY (5:34 PM) —Writing in the Courier-Mail at the weekend, Chris Griffiths said:

Labor people believe Australians cherish the fair go and will be alienated by laws that put individualism and self-interest ahead of collectivism.

Equally, government’s strategists are convinced that Australians have moved beyond 1970s style us-and-them politics and have become what Howard calls enterprise workers—people who want the flexibility to get ahead and find rewards for hard work.

Clearly, one of these views is wrong ...

In the Financial Review on 3 November, Ken Phillips wrote:

The industrial relations system never empowered workers. It empowered unions to engage in war with employers, allegedly on behalf of workers. And have no doubt, Work Choices is a huge legal and cultural shift.

I guess that is what we are debating. We have heard a lot of debate run along the lines of scare or whatever, but we have not really debated the philosophy of all of this and the future direction of this country and its workers. The thing the Australian Labor Party refuses to accept or recognise is this: the most important right a worker has is the chance of a job in the first place. The Australian Labor Party, in this parliament, is opposing the workers’ right to have a job.

When I was elected in March 1996, the unemployment rate in my electorate was 11.9 per cent. It came down to 5.8 per cent last year and in June of this year it was 5.3 per cent. The government’s policies are clearly working. We want to do even better than that, and we can do better than that. In the last nine years I have spoken 25 times in this parliament supporting the government’s position on freeing up the workplace and arguing that Australia can in fact do better. On 26 June 1996 I said:

Ever since the Labor Party instituted the unfair dismissal laws I wanted to become a member of parliament. I have wanted to stand in this place and I have wanted to do whatever I could do to vote those laws down because, after 25 years of running a small business, I understand exactly what damage that has done to the business community in this country. I understand exactly what it has done to jobs. I understand how the community now employs people on a casual basis and gives them no security in their jobs.

I said that in 1996. So for me today is a historic day. I am going to make my last speech supporting the government’s landmark industrial relations reforms because these reforms will become the law of Australia, and they do so with my strong support. The country will change and it will change for the better, as it has over the last nine years.

I have seen many examples of why unfair dismissal laws are bad for this country because I have been an employer for a long time. I have employed many hundreds of people. I have never been the sort of person who would use the laws improperly or seek to exploit workers. There is a fundamental reason for that and this is what the Labor Party does not seem to understand. The best asset you have in a business is your staff. Why would you seek to unfairly dismiss somebody when you need every good worker you can get? And why would the laws of this country force you to keep a person in your employment when that person does not deserve to be kept in that employment?

Yes, there are always the bad apples—but they are on both sides. No amount of laws this parliament can make can protect anybody against the bad apples. The fundamental thing is that in the economy we have today employers are bending over backwards to find people to work for them, not to sack people. We need that to continue and that is why we are having a fundamental change in industrial relations through these new IR laws.

The government, to our very great credit and with the Labor Party opposing us, introduced landmark changes to Australian taxation law. We legislated a new taxation system for the country and nobody could deny it has been an outstanding success. It was fought tooth and nail by the Labor Party but it has now been widely recognised as being of great benefit to the country. Now we are legislating a completely new industrial relations system for the country. It will go the same way: in a year’s time people will say, ‘What was that that flew across the horizon?’ But the Australian Labor Party simply oppose for opposing sake, and I think the electorate will understand that.

In relation to unfair dismissals, I know of a charitable body that were having difficulty controlling an employee. That employee went to the AGM of the charitable body with his relatives, trying to stack the meeting to overturn the management of the place, and it caused that employee to have stress and the employee went on stress leave. Seven months later that employee was still on stress leave. The charitable body could have given the fellow notice after three months, but they persisted. They wanted him to come back to the job. But after seven months it was just too long to wait, so they made the employee redundant. Do you know what he did? He responded by claiming $6,000 for unfair dismissal. How unfair is that? He did it to a charitable body. So the charitable body said: ‘We’re not paying $6,000 in this circumstance. This is wrong.’ So the advocate for the employee said, ‘Well, we’ll take you to a five-day hearing and it’s going to cost you $10,000.’ He had a gun at the employer’s head. The charitable body paid $4,000 to settle the claim because there was no alternative. That is what is unfair.

Reliable employment is a foundation of a successful society. Nothing is more important to individual peace of mind, to family security, to vibrant local communities and to national prosperity. The best—indeed, the only—guarantor of a good, reliable job is a buoyant labour market. And the best—indeed, the only—guarantor of a buoyant labour market is a strong, growing and productive economy with laws that encourage firms to hire people, rather than discourage them. Any industrial relations system is only as good as the contribution it makes to Australia’s economic strength. All the regulations in the world will not save anybody’s job or push up wages if the economy is weak or if firms are uncompetitive.

We must take the next steps to generate jobs and wealth that will support future economic security of working Australians, and that means overhauling laws that are holding back business growth and employment. Unfair dismissal laws cannot magically preserve good jobs. High productivity is by far and away the best protection for jobs, which is why the government’s workplace relations reforms are designed to unleash a new burst of productivity growth in Australia.

While those who rely on fear and antibusiness prejudice are often quick out of the blocks in a debate like this, economic reality has a way of catching up with them. What has been so far largely overlooked in this debate on unfair dismissal laws is that economic reality offers not a threatening message but a comforting one. Economic reality says that employers need hardworking, honest staff to operate their businesses. The most valuable asset of any business is good staff.

In Australia today, we live as never before in a workers market. The biggest challenge that firms have is attracting and retaining good workers, not, ‘How do you deviously sack them?’ Small businesses, in particular, lack the commercial power to simply sack hardworking employees for no good reason. If we as a society are serious about getting more Australians into work, driving unemployment down further and creating better jobs in the future, we must face up to the fact that our unfair dismissal laws are not working. Australia’s economic strength depends on a culture of enterprise and calculated risk-taking in business.

We are keen to give more Australians a chance at a job and to drive down our unemployment rate even further. We are determined to put economic reality back at the centre of workplace regulation, where it should have been all the time. What is the Australian Labor Party’s policy? What do they stand for? Is it back to the past, the 1970s, or indeed to 1904? I was interested to read the following in The Latham Diaries:

Friday, 25th February

... Beazley has melted down ... he’s a windbag—he just talks too much and gets off-message.

... He is weak—he agrees with everyone and avoids conflict like the plague ... He has no interest in our policy structure and framework. He has done nothing to repair the problems of our policy culture.

…         …         …

Wednesday, 10th May

... Beazley ... spends too much, and he caves in to the unions.

That is interesting in terms of this debate. The diary continues:

Tuesday, 19th June

... The public have worked out that Kim stands for nothing and he uses slogans to cover up his policy vacuum.

I am reminded here of the slogan ‘extreme industrial relations laws’. It goes on:

Monday, 11th September

... our focus group polling shows that people see Beazley as a ‘gatekeeper’—nice guy but, like the bloke in the white coat at the cricket, he only opens and closes the gate for other people, never has a dig himself.

…         …         …

Sunday, 11th November

After six years of Beazley’s small-target strategy, we face an identity crisis. The True Believers don’t know what we stand for and the swinging voters have stopped trying to find out.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order! I remind the honourable member that this is an industrial relations bill. Although it is a wide-ranging debate, I ask him to be relevant to the bill.

Mr LINDSAY —Mr Deputy Speaker, it is relevant to the bill in that I began these quotes by observing that the Australian Labor Party has no policy. I will give one more explanation of that, and then I will move on. The diary reads:

Thursday, 22nd November

... Beazley’s last report as Leader.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I asked the honourable member to be relevant to the bill. I did not ask him to take issue with the chair. I again ask the honourable member to be relevant to the bill; otherwise, I will ask him to sit down and call another member.

Mr LINDSAY —I will move on. There are some very significant protections in the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005. If we want genuine bargaining, genuine choice and the freeing up of employers to get on with what works best in their workplaces, then we need protections against the five per cent of bad apples. For example, coercion will remain unlawful; existing employees cannot be forced into agreements they do not want; and dismissal for discriminatory reasons in any size business will remain unlawful and some financial assistance from government will be available to assess the merit of a case. Further, a safety net of five minimum conditions must be in each agreement, an AWA or collective agreement—this is protected by law and cannot be traded away; people can have a bargaining agent with them for negotiations; young people under 18 must have a guardian’s approval for any AWA; the OWS inspectorate will be increased from 90 to 200; education of employees and employers regarding bargaining; a better right of entry regime to protect employees; building and construction industry reforms—long overdue; independent contractors will not be deemed employees; secret ballots for strikes to protect workers from intimidation; and a ‘removal’ provision in awards that prohibit or limit part-time or school based apprenticeships. These protections are very important.

In relation to secret ballots for strikes, I am reminded of a very large investment that a Korean company made in my electorate of over half a billion dollars. A thousand workers on the site went on strike for four weeks. It was nothing to do with the company; it was a turf war between the CFMEU and the AWU. They were struggling for control of the site—four weeks. If secret ballots had been the law of the country at that time, that strike would have ended after the first couple of days.

The employees, the workers, did not want to be on strike. But because there was thuggery, intimidation and calls in the middle of the night, allegedly from union bosses, the workers were afraid to break the picket line. It is such a shame that they lost so much in that four weeks because of a union turf war. With the passage of this legislation, that can never, ever happen again.

There have been some uninformed public comments—uninformed because certain sections of the union movement particularly have been putting about misinformation. That is unfortunate. I will give the parliament some examples of emails from people in my electorate. Here is one claim:

Your legislation will allow an employer, at an interview, to state to an applicant that the job will carry only two weeks leave, no meal breaks, no overtime, no sick pay, a 10-hour shift and the salary will be—

something less than is currently in the award. It continues:

The hopeful will have to take it or leave it—especially if he/she is on the dole.

All of that is wrong, but it is the kind of misinformation floating around. You get people who say:

‘Increased productivity’ usually means produce more but pay your staff less. This is exactly what will happen if you allow the employers to force employees ... to trade off holidays, meal breaks and overtime payments for supposedly ‘increased wages’.

Again, that is wrong. You also get people who say:

Stop trying to take things away from the workers of this country just so the filthy capitalists can get even richer.

That is really wrong. This workplace relations bill, when it goes through the parliament, will be a landmark change to what this country has worked under for the last nearly 90 years. I look forward to seeing increased employment and increased security and prosperity for families, and I will take very great credit in the years ahead when I see Australia continuing to power ahead in this global village.