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Tuesday, 8 November 2005
Page: 87

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (8:05 PM) —The Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 takes the modern approach to industrial relations in this country. This bill will move Australia towards a single national system of industrial relations, a single system which has been needed for a long time and which is absolutely essential to ensure a stronger economy, a secure future and a fairer and simpler system for all Australians.

Since Federation, Australia has managed to accumulate something like over 130 different pieces of industrial relations legislation, more than 4,000 different awards and six different state based workplace relations systems operating across the country. This current system is holding Australia back. It is holding us back from being able to realise our full potential as a country able to grow and as workers able to mix their family and work responsibilities, and it is holding us back from growing our great nation’s wealth. It is also holding back business and workers alike from achieving their full potential. It was that great Premier of Queensland Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen who summed up the reason for this statement a long way back in 1987 at the HR Nicholls Society conference, and I will quote from his speech. He said:

At the heart of the problem of Australian industrial relations lies the extraordinary power of the ... trade unions.

It is unfortunate that nothing much has changed with the approach of the unions to industrial relations since that date. They have an extraordinary foothold on the Labor Party across Australia. This has recently been illustrated in this place by the bandwagon approach that Labor have taken to dealing with these industrial relations reforms.

The union said no to the Labor Party even before the legislation was produced. The Leader of the Opposition, as weak as he is, could have at least stood up to the unions and said, ‘We will have a look at this legislation,’ but he decided immediately to step into line with the unions and to march with them. The Labor Party’s policy approach to these modern industrial relations amendments that we have brought forward in this bill is dictated to them by people not elected to this parliament. That is the way the Labor Party make policy. The people in the constituencies of Labor members would want them to look at each piece of legislation and then decide their approach rather than to take their marching orders but, obviously, many Labor members have been threatened with their preselection if they do not step into line.

The Labor Party—I should say the unions, through the Labor Party—are running a misleading and dishonest scare campaign. The Labor Party have, once again, all stepped in behind this funded unions campaign. They have exposed the public to a dishonest campaign. They are causing confusion across the nation. It is dishonest and it is misleading. They stand condemned for those television, radio and newspaper ads that they are running across Australia, because they are misleading the people of Australia. To set the record straight, this legislation will protect workers’ rights. We are not taking them away. If the Labor Party had bothered to look at what we will protect, what will remain, in this legislation then they would understand. If they were thinking for themselves, rather than letting their union bosses think for them, they would see that we are offering more flexibility. Workers will be able to negotiate an agreement, or use a union to negotiate an agreement, which will assist them to manage both work and family commitments in our modern world.

The world has changed since Federation, but the Labor Party has not. Unions have played a role in the past and, under this legislation, they can play a constructive role in the future. But that will be at the will of the worker—if the worker wants the union to be involved in negotiating their wage outcomes. It is undeniable that this government has achieved a great deal for the Australian economy since we came to government a little over 9½ years ago. We have put the economy into one of the strongest positions it has been in for 30 to 40 years. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates since man walked on the moon. Interest rates are at historically low levels, and we want to keep them there. As a reform measure this legislation will ensure that the economy will grow and that we can keep downward pressure on interest rates with the productivity gains that can be shared between workers and businesses.

We stand by our record since coming to government. Members on the other side of the House ask us, ‘Can you guarantee that workers will not be worse off under this legislation?’ The Prime Minister’s and my answer, and I am sure all members on this side of the House’s answer to that, is that we stand by our record. We will compare our record of the last 9½ years with the record of the 13 years of Labor when they had the Treasury benches in this place prior to 1996. That measure of our success—our record—is demonstrated by the fact that, since we came to government, real wages in this country have risen by 15 per cent above the CPI. If you compare that with the real wage increases for workers in Australia when Labor was in government for 13 years, you will find that it was a little under two per cent above the CPI. Those figures speak for themselves.

Unemployment is currently at historically low levels. However, some of the highest unemployment that we have seen in this country since the Great Depression was the result of the then Labor government’s policies. We all remember the high interest rates and the recession that the country had to have. Then Treasurer Keating brought on a recession that destroyed many small businesses in this country. The dream of many Australians to own their own home was destroyed by the Labor Party and the recession that the Labor Party said that this country had to have.

I mentioned earlier that there are some 4,000 award conditions in Australia which workers have to try to interpret. Some of these are nothing more than ridiculous. In this House the other day, some of the award conditions relating to the pastoral industry were mentioned by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Given my electorate and my background, I am pretty well qualified to make comments about the ridiculous nature of some of those award conditions under the pastoral award.

Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, you and I have just come from the launch of Beef Australia 2006. Next year those beef producers will hold an expo in Rockhampton to demonstrate the modern approach that the beef industry is taking to genetics, marketing, breeding and processing.

I will read some of the provisions of the pastoral industry awards into the Hansard tonight. Under the federal award, for instance, you would get an allowance for a horse of $5.30 per week and an allowance for a saddle of $4.23 a week. Under a pastoral award in South Australia, you would access a similar allowance of $5.03 per week for supplying a horse and $4.02 for supplying a saddle. However, if you are employed by the Queensland Rabbit Board, you get only $3.16 for a horse and $2.50 for a saddle. Why are there different rates of remuneration between the South Australian award, the federal award and the Queensland Rabbit Board award for supplying a horse or a saddle or both? It is different under the cattle industry award in the Northern Territory: the saddle allowance is only $3.70 per week, yet in South Australia it is worth $4.02 and under the federal award it is worth $4.23. But in the Northern Territory, while you get $3.70 a week for your saddle, you get nothing for your horse. These are ridiculous, outdated award conditions that should no longer apply. They could be negotiated in a voluntary work agreement between the employer and employee. That agreement would reflect an outcome that would be agreeable to both the employer and the employee.

Having come from the wool industry, I remember the wide-comb dispute in this country’s shearing industry. I will never forget the bans that the Australian Workers Union put on shearers, their own union members, preventing them from using wide combs in shearing sheep. In simple terms, these combs would have allowed shearers to shear more sheep in a day and, because each shearer is paid on the number of sheep that they shear in a day, they would have earnt more money in a day. But, no, the AWU—the unions again—banned the use of wide combs in the industry, even to the point of sending union officials out to shearing sheds to make sure that no-one was using them. It was the eventual arrival of New Zealand shearers in Australia—to the frustration of many Australian shearers and encouraged, of course, by wool growers wanting to increase basic productivity within their industry—that ultimately broke the back of the union’s stranglehold on a measure that would have led to greater productivity and greater take-home pay for the shearers themselves. It is yet another example of the Labor Party and the unions being in a time warp. They are in another time in history.

The pressing need for Australia to have one industrial relations system can be illustrated by a real-life example from the Chief Executive Officer of Golden West Training Solutions in my home town of Roma, Bob Fulton, who is well known in the community. In a recent conversation that I had with Mr Fulton, he informed me he has to pay 500 employees of the Golden West Group Training Scheme under 60 different awards. That is obscene in itself. But even more frustrating for Bob was having to purchase a computer and computer program worth $30,000 just to handle the sheer volume of different pay awards and entitlements. He believes that with a single national award system he would have saved thousands of dollars and would have been able to put more people into work. He went on to explain to me that he has available 118 apprenticeship places that he cannot fill at the moment. He believes that the sole reason for this is that would-be apprentices are deterred by the low base salary and the highly complex and complicated system of additional entitlements. If only the Labor Party would listen to the people who are really at the coalface trying to put people into jobs, connecting workers to employers! They should listen to people like Bob Fulton of the Golden West Group Training Scheme. I repeat: Bob has to pay 500 employees of the Golden West Group Training Scheme under 60 different awards.

Another key significant figure in my electorate who has publicly declared his support for the legislation and highlighted how it will have a positive and strong effect on people right across Australia, although he was talking about south-west Queensland, is Ken Murphy, the Chairman of the South-West Region of Commerce Queensland. He stated on 28 October this year:

“Implementing the WorkChoices package will benefit the South West Region through higher productivity, more job opportunities, and scope for more productive and secure work which generates higher living standards.”

It is all about profits for the employer, because profits will create more job opportunities which will create a stronger economy. The current 4,000 different award conditions are complex and complicated and do not allow the flexibility that a modern worker wants. I think what Bob Fulton and Ken Murphy have said openly and publicly in my electorate has adequately illustrated how the current industrial relations system is redundant in a modern Australia.

Workers in a modern Australia want to be able to negotiate conditions which will allow them to easily manage work and family responsibilities. It is important to remember that the Australian family of yesteryear is now a moment in history and that, as family responsibilities and expectations change, so too do the working requirements of employees. The government recognise this fact, and the bill allows for the flexibility today’s modern workers desire—flexibility to negotiate their working agreement. In turn, business employees will assist in improving and growing their employer’s business and, equally, improving their personal wellbeing by having work conditions which they negotiated to suit their position and, importantly, their work location.

Before I conclude, I would like to quote some statements from the great former Premier of Queensland and former National Party leader, Sir Joh. He said at the HR Nicholls Society conference that he spoke at in 1987, which I mentioned at the start of my speech:

We will never increase our productivity whilst our industrial relations machinery is built upon foundations of an earlier age whose structures are now irrelevant ... entrenched opposition to change is a relic of the past which will continue to drag us down unless we outgrow it.

He went on to to say:

I know that, in the future, we will stand shoulder to shoulder in this great endeavour to restore our nation’s future.

Back in 1987 he was talking about people standing shoulder to shoulder to restore this great nation’s future. At that stage, the Labor Party had governed in this place for almost four years. Tragically, they went on to govern through until 1996. They brought on the recession. We saw the highest interest rates this country has ever seen and had record unemployment. Sir Joh was right then and he would be right if he were with us again today.

It is a travesty that the unions and the Labor Party are standing miles away from us in a bid to have the ingrained and outdated present system continue to hold Australia back from achieving its full economic potential. I commend the bill to the House. It has my strong support. I know that Australia will be a stronger and better place when this legislation is implemented across Australia.