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Wednesday, 9 November 2005
Page: 119

Mr KATTER (5:22 PM) —Like all good politicians, I look at issues on the basis of how many votes you are going to win and how many votes you are going to lose. My personal feeling is that the government will probably lose on both counts with the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005. One would hope that most members, when they analyse these things, will decide on what is best in spite of how the votes fall. In the industrial relations system that we have enjoyed for the last 100 years, there is great unfairness for small businesses insofar as they do not really have the ability to understand all the ramifications of awards and so they get themselves into a lot of trouble. I will endeavour to move an amendment in this place that will exclude small businesses that employ fewer than 20 people from actions which will take them backwards. To illustrate what I mean, I will use an example that I noticed was used by one of the other members. It is the example of a person who is employed in a small business—a little five-employee cafe. This person gets angry with his employer over something and makes a complaint to the industrial inspector. The industrial inspector finds that for four years the person has been working for half an hour after five o’clock and should have been paid penalty rates all that time. Two of the other employees also pull the same stunt, with the net result that the business is bankrupted, it closes its doors and seven people, including the husband and wife proprietors, lose their jobs in a small town. The desirable outcome is that we go back five weeks and pay them for those five weeks. Those people had been working for a protracted period of time under conditions which they had accepted, so that outcome is only right and proper and fair to the employer. It is not easy to move an amendment along those lines, but I will endeavour to do so.

Another issue is the right to hire and fire. It seems to me that an employer, whether we are talking about a big corporation or a little fella, really has to have an unrestricted right to hire and fire. I do not agree with the opposition that we should have a situation in which people cannot hire and fire. It is exactly the same principle as the right to withdraw your labour. The people on the government side will apply the principle that the employer has the right to hire and fire, but they will not give the same privilege and rights to the worker—an unrestricted right to withdraw their labour. Those are two areas in which I would disagree with one side and with the other side.

I have noticed that an awful lot of speakers do not understand what is happening here at all. Like some others in this place, I played rugby league for most of my life, and more recently I have been an official. What will happen with this bill will be like playing football without a referee. From my experience of playing football without a referee, I reckon someone is going to get killed—an awful lot of people get very badly damaged when you play football without a referee.

Prior to 1901, 1902 or whenever it was that the industrial arbitration commission was introduced—in Queensland it was introduced, with all its rigours, in the post 1915 era—when there was a dispute between an employee and an employer they would go out onto the grass. Then the arbitration commission came in, and it made a determination, and both sides had to accept that determination. My experience is that neither side is usually pleased, but we get on with the job and the business continues. With this bill, there will be no arbitration commission—that is being removed.

Listening to speakers on the government side, I think 90 per cent of the problem is ignorance. They really do not understand what is going on here at all. There will be a fair pay commission and it will set minimum standards. My first job was at Mount Isa Mines. I was on about double the basic wage, working as an unskilled labourer. I think I was on about $65 a week—average weekly earnings were about $40 a week. But the miners were on a colossal, whopping $500. When you added the lead bonus, penalty rates, a shift allowance and a living in the west allowance, you came up with the colossal figure of $500. Much of the Australian work force today has those kinds of arrangements. The unions or their collective action secured that extra $450 that those miners were enjoying at my first work place. We will still have the minimum pay, the basic wage—that will be delivered by the fair pay commission—but, for anything above that, you will be in the jungle.

Mr Deputy Speaker Somlyay, I spent some of my convalescing time—you can commiserate with me, having had the same problem—writing a history book of Australia. The chapter on the modern era is called: ‘Rule of law or fang and claw?’ What you have here today is fang and claw—a reversion to the jungle. That is what is happening here today. We are playing football without a referee.

From now on, above that very low-level base of fair pay, it will be a case of the law of the jungle: you can sit out on the grass as long as you like and starve to death and when you come back with your tail between your legs the employers will pay you nothing. If it is a contest, my money is well and truly on the employers. During my time in politics, whenever something has come forward, the first question I always ask myself is: who is going to win out of this and who is going to lose? We can switch the television on any night of the week and see all the workers screeching that they are going to lose—they are saying that this is terrible—and all the employers, including the big corporations and the Business Council of Australia, trumpeting that they will do terrifically out of it. So we know who the winners and the losers are. There is not a person in this country who does not understand that.

We have heard all these great geniuses getting up in this chamber and saying how wonderful this will be for productivity. I was quite a successful businessman before I came into parliament—and for a long time after it, too. I have not had time to fool around with business over recent years, but I have been in the marketplace and I have stayed alive on my wits, my resources, my risk taking, my hard work and whatever else you need out there in the market place. Of all these people who have been giving us lectures, there may be four or five who have been successful businessmen—there probably are but I do not know one of them who has been. The vast bulk of them would not have a clue what the hell they were talking about.

In small businesses—particularly in country towns—if the worker has less pay in his pocket then there will be less money going through the till in the local clothing store. It is very simple. If there is less money going through the till in clothing stores, small business in this country will suffer—and suffer by a pretty fair margin—because the employers in Australia are no longer Australians. Our employers are foreigners, so the less money that goes into the workers’ pockets, the more money goes overseas.

We have had numerous speakers getting up and saying how wonderfully the economy is going. I will tell you something. Someone said—I will not say where this is from—that the economy had plateaued out and could be expected to stay at the present successful level indefinitely into the future. That was a comment that was made by arguably the leading economist in the United States in August 1929. Every single economic indicator that you could point to in the United States in the middle of 1929 was showing that they had a boom that had been unprecedented in human history. But speculation was creeping and beating out there; it was a boom created by speculation.

There was a marvellous heading to a Maxine McKew interview in the Bulletin magazine some months back. It said that Australia was in an artificial boom created by property speculation fuelled by overseas borrowings which have to be repaid. That is profoundly true. If you want to have a look at how well this country is going, compare it to other nations. If you take away the mining industry—and it will be taken away shortly—

Mr Hockey —What? Why?

Mr KATTER —It is interesting that the minister asks: why? I am going to explain this to him, because he is an intelligent minister and he deserves an explanation. We have had the ball game to ourselves. We are a big country. We are a new country. We have not been mined. Other countries have been mined and the easy stuff has been mined out. But there are two countries which, for political or historical reasons, have never been mined—Mongolia and Russia. They have four or five times the landmass of Australia.

Minister, listen to what I am saying. It is profoundly important that you hear what I am saying. Russia has four times our landmass. It has never been mined. I can tell you that Mr Urquhart was a famous international miner when Mr Hoover became President of the United States. He got the first mining going in Russia, but when the communists took over they booted him out and no-one would touch Russia with a 40-foot pole for the next hundred years.

Mr Hockey —Where did they get their gold from? Where did they get their oil from?

Mr KATTER —Yes, there was some gold and some oil and some aluminium mined, but there is a difference between the level of mining taking place in Russia and the level of mining taking place in Australia. I am sure that the honourable minister, if he were an investor, would not have been investing in any mining ventures in Russia or Mongolia in the last hundred years. But now these places are expected to come on stream.

The minister may not be aware of this but I strongly recommend he speaks to some of the bigger mining people in Australia. I have had the very great honour of speaking to them from time to time. They give us eight or nine years of mining, at the outside. Some of them are quoting me figures of as little as two years—and then the party will be over. I most certainly know that to be profoundly true. We hope it is not as bad as some of them are speculating that it will be.

People come in here and quote the unemployment figures to us. Don’t they do any homework at all? My figures are a few years old, but I am sure that when they are updated it will be the same trend. Yes, when the Treasurer gets up and says, ‘We reduced unemployment by 400,000,’ this is true. He did, and that sounds terrific—except that, if you do a lot of homework, you find out that the numbers of people on disability pensions increased by 396,000 above what they normally increase by. You do not have to be a genius. We have heard the Treasurer and the Prime Minister saying that we have a very serious problem with the disability pensions.

We have doubled taxation. This government, which everyone lauds as being for private enterprise, has doubled taxation. I asked: ‘Where the hell has the money gone? I haven’t seen any of this money in Kennedy. Where has it gone?’ There are only two areas of the economy which increased over CPI. One was health, by $30,000 million, $40,000 million or whatever it was, but the colossal increase was in welfare, in the order of $70,000 million or $80,000 million in a budget of $200,000 million. That was the order of the increase. It was absolutely colossal. That is where the increase occurred, and it occurred because there are all these extra people on disability pensions. There are all these people who have decided to stay home and look after their kids as single mothers. God bless them for doing it. But do not come in here and quote figures to us which, if you have any brains or any energy to do homework, you must know are flagrantly deceitful, if not mischievous.

Let me move on. Mr Keating in fact was the great deregulator of the wage structures in Australia, and every trade union official I know will take it back to the days of Mr Keating. When Mr Keating removed the tariffs, I was absolutely fascinated that a Labor government would do that. This was incredible, because only two things can happen: (1) you close down industry or (2) you work for coolie wages. There is no in between. We had 12 American members of parliament up in North Queensland recently, and I had the honour of going to dinner with them. I said, ‘Well, you blokes have your huge subsidies, of course; you’re laughing.’ And they said: ‘You’ve got to have subsidies. How are you going to compete against China if you haven’t got subsidies?’ And all of them, whether Democrat or Republican, said: ‘That’s right. We can’t compete against China unless we get subsidies and protection.’

But this government thinks it is the only nation on earth that does not have to have any tariffs or subsidies. I am sorry; you cannot. You are running a current account deficit which is the highest in the OECD. You are exporting nothing. When I say that, we are still exporting a lot of things, but all of them are really on the decline. In agriculture and manufacturing there is a spectacular decline.

Mr Hockey —That’s not right. Tourism’s up. It’s our biggest export.

Mr KATTER —I take the point by the minister, and I think—in fairness to him, it is a serious question—that tourism will increase. But my reason for saying that is that tourism is cheap labour country. Korean wages, as a lot of people are probably aware, are probably higher than those in Australia now. They are most certainly soaring past us. As we become cheaper in wages, I think tourism will improve, and God bless the government, the minister and everyone for trying to get money in from that sector. But I am only talking about $4,000 million or $5,000 million in a problem of $200,000 million. The current account deficit is not that high, but it is very high.

Mr Keating decided that either we were going to close industry or we were going to work for coolie wages. It gives me great sadness to say that there is no doubt in my mind about what this government intends, whether intentionally or not—the ‘intend’ word leaps to my mind—because that is what must happen here. If you have no tariff protection and you free up the labour market then there is only one thing that can happen.

In South Africa they decided to bring in cheap labour, predominantly from Europe. They decided to bring in cheap labour because, they said, they could not work the mines without cheap labour, so a massive number of people came in on six-month permits. Suddenly the South Africans woke up one morning and said, ‘You Europeans: go back where you came from.’ In Australia, on the aeroplane three days ago, I was talking to one of the contractors. I asked, ‘How are you going for labour?’ He said: ‘The new government arrangements are terrific. They’ve really done a good job.’ I said, ‘Yes?’ He said: ‘We have 12 tradesmen, and we got six of them from Indonesia. They work for very reasonable pay and conditions.’ I am sure they were very reasonable. So one can see where we are going here.

If you want to know what happens when you deregulate, ask the wool industry. They were deregulated. Within four years, they had lost 50 per cent of their income. Ask the dairy industry. Within four years of their deregulation, they had lost 30 per cent of their income. Ask the tobacco industry. Sorry—you cannot ask the tobacco industry. There ain’t any tobacco industry after their deregulation.

We know what it is like when you live in the jungle. Prior to 1901 in Australia, we lived in the jungle. It was fang and claw. Where we are going now, the free market is going to look after it. Let us have a look at how the free market looked after us. The major industry by far and away, the overwhelming, singular industry in this country, was mining. One in 32 people who went down those mines perished, and perished by the most dreadful and horrible deaths. That is not a figure picked out of my head; that is a figure emphasised by the leading Australian historian, in my opinion, Geoffrey Blainey—a great doyen of the conservatives. That is the figure that he cites in his book, effectively. One in 32 died.

In the sugar industry we had thousands, literally, die of Weil’s disease until we took collective action, which will become almost impossible under these laws that we are passing here today. They say every man can look after himself. Tell that to the men who died in the cane fields of Weil’s disease. Tell that to the men who went down the mineshaft and died dreadful deaths from miners’ phthisis or worse. Tell it to them.

There is the proposition that the checkout chick at Woolworths is going to go and negotiate a good wage for herself. Are these people serious? Has a miner or a sugar mill worker got the time or the knowledge to be able to work out a private agreement? Of course they have not. This is about going back to the period prior to 1901. If they accuse us of moving into the future, this is really back to the future. (Time expired)