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
Wednesday, 9 November 2005
Page: 147

Ms HALL (7:24 PM) —There are defining moments in the history of all nations and one of those moments was the last federal election—the election that delivered the Howard government control of both houses of this parliament and released it from the requirement to justify its extreme and reactionary legislative program. Since that election, the Howard government has resurrected its most extreme reactionary policies—the ones it fantasised about—and now is seeking arrogantly to force them onto the Australian people. These are policies it did not dare take to the last election and tell the Australian people about—policies like the industrial relations legislation that some of us are debating here in the House today but which the government will prevent all members from debating. Why didn’t the government tell the Australian people about this policy? If the Australian people had been told that the government intended to introduce this draconian piece of legislation, they would not have returned the government at the last election.

This is an arrogant government. It is a government of ideologues. It is a government that is a slave to its extreme reactionary philosophy and to its bosses in big business. While ignoring the needs of ordinary, average working Australians and their families, this government arrogantly and very subserviently follows the demands and the desires of its mates in big business. The Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 is just that type of legislation. It is bottom-drawer legislation. By that, I mean this is legislation that you keep in the bottom drawer and hope one day to be able to push through parliament. It is legislation that fantasies are built on. This is the kind of legislation that the government used to sit around the table discussing, saying, ‘One day we may be able to push this through parliament.’ It is the type of legislation that, on the other side of the House, dreams are built on. The sad part about this legislation is that it will change the face of Australia. With this government arrogantly ramming these changes through the parliament, there has been a betrayal of all Australian workers and all Australian families. It is arrogance in the extreme.

This government has shown its absolute contempt for the Australian people by spending $55 million on a propaganda campaign. That is a gross misuse of taxpayers’ money. I am not opposed to the government undertaking legitimate advertising campaigns, but I believe that it should give unbiased information to the Australian people and tell them what the government is really doing. But that is not what this legislation is about. Unfortunately, it is legislation that looks after the government’s mates. Look at some of the questions that have been put to the government this week in question time—questions that I think go to the very heart of this advertising campaign. The other day, the government admitted to having spent $50 million—I think it is now up to $55 million—on this propaganda campaign. The government produced 458,000 booklets—nearly half a million—and then pulped them. Those booklets were pulped at a cost to the Australian people of $152,000. If producing these booklets were not bad enough—these one-sided booklets that do not give the full information—the government has made it twice as bad by pulping them. Add to that the fact that these booklets were printed by Salmac and that one of the directors of that company has donated almost $120,000 to the Howard government.

Debate interrupted; adjournment proposed and negatived.

Ms HALL —Mr Speaker, thank you very much for allowing me to continue my contribution. I was aware that there was an agreement that this debate should be allowed to continue until eight o’clock. I was just a tiny bit upset when I thought that it was going to be closed down.

This legislation will be very detrimental to the Australian people. Workers’ jobs are going to be less secure. Families will suffer as people work longer hours. Workers will be on their own. They will have to sign contracts or they will not get a job. As I have already mentioned, the Howard government has spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars on propaganda for this legislation. The choice will be signing a contract, taking a cut in pay and conditions or not getting a job. There will be no job security. If you change jobs, you will be exempt from protection under the unfair dismissal laws for the first six months. That is not good enough.

Workers in Australia need a strong safety net of minimum award wages, a strong independent umpire to ensure fair wages and conditions, the right to bargain collectively for decent wages and conditions, proper rights for those workers unfairly dismissed and rights to join and be represented by a union. All these things will go under this legislation; they are under attack. The final nail in the coffin will be the removal of the role of the Industrial Relations Commission to determine increases in award wages.

Let us look at the history of this government when it comes to the minimum wage. If the Howard government had had its wish all Australian workers would be $50 a week worse off—that is $2,600 a year they would not be receiving. In 1997 the Howard government recommended an increase of $8 per week, and workers were awarded $10 per week; in 1998 it was $8 again, and workers received a $14 per week increase; in 1999 it was $8 a week, and workers received a $12 per week increase. Finally, the Howard government fought to give workers an increase of $11 a week but the Industrial Relations Commission awarded $17 a week. It is a very poor record that shows where this government is coming from.

The government’s approach to getting this legislation through parliament has been to ask: ‘How far can we go?’ and ‘How can we trick the Australian people into believing our rhetoric?’ It is all about smoke and mirrors and pushing through extreme legislation. The reality is that this legislation is designed to exploit workers, not to create opportunities. In a strong economy, you do not need to undermine families. This legislation is undermining workers and families.

Under the current system, which is supposed to be so bad that we need these draconian changes, these extreme changes, we have a strong economy, a historically low level of industrial disputes, sustained productivity and economic growth and strong and record high profits for companies. That is hardly a system that is broken. Why change a system that is working so well? If it is not broken, don’t change it. I remember very distinctly the Prime Minister arguing that way when the republic debate came before this parliament—if it ain’t broke, don’t change it. To my way of thinking, this system is not broken, so why should you change it?

This legislation will allow businesses to unilaterally determine the pay and conditions of workers, without involving unions or industrial tribunals and without collective bargaining or awards. It is legislation that will give maximum power to the employers and minimum power to the workers. That is the Howard government’s approach to all issues. It will create an imbalance of power. It is taking Australia back to the 19th century. It is a return to the old master-servant situation, where we had seven-year-olds up chimneys. These days it will not be seven-year-olds up chimneys, but it will be the equivalent.

This legislation is a disgrace. The approach is not one that should be sanctioned by a civilised society such as ours in Australia. These laws strike at the heart of our democracy and take people’s control over their lives away from them. It is a move towards a US system, a system of working poor. In eight years, there has been no increase in the minimum wage there: the minimum wage is $5.13 an hour.

The unfair dismissal provisions of this legislation allow for the removal of protection for millions of Australians. There will no longer be an award system or the safety net that underpins the labour market. The legislation gets rid of penalty rates for weekend work and gets rid of shift allowances. Over time they will be gone. Allowances, public holidays, annual leave loading and meal breaks are all under threat from this legislation. You name it: it is up for grabs. There will be pressure on workers to sign AWAs. If they do not sign them they will have no job. Proposed new section 120B outlines very clearly that if an employer insists that an employee signs an AWA in order to get a job it will not be considered to be duress.

This legislation will strike at the fabric of our society. This will happen because of the actions of the most arrogant and extreme government in Australia’s history. Despite this government’s massive advertising and propaganda campaign, which is an assault on the Australian people, the government has not been able to dupe the Australian people. The Howard government has failed there.

Let me give people an idea of the situation. Numerous people have contacted my office. I have had two public meetings that a large number of people within the electorate have attended. This is an issue that ordinary, average working people are concerned about. Mr Ross Iserief of Budgewoi says:

If the I.R. law is passed will the government be under the same obligation as the rest of the workers of Australia or just hanging onto the pay rises of the judges? I don’t believe that the government of the day will give up that perk.

He does not believe that the government of the day has the authority to do this. He is very critical of the advertising campaign that the government has launched. Another constituent, Mr Bob Crawford, of Belmont, has gone through the advertisement that the government has put in the papers. He picks out a few areas. He speaks of the workplace relations system. He says:

Current workplace relations systems are standing in the way of what? Please explain.

He wants the government to explain. He does not agree that it has been undermining the prosperity of the country, for the reasons I have stated. He highlights all the issues in relation to this legislation. I seek to table his letter.

Leave granted.

Ms HALL —I thank the House. I felt that I needed to table the letter as I have limited time remaining. I would now like to focus on two speeches that were made in the House on Monday night. One was made by the member for Throsby. The other was made by the member for Dobell.

In his speech, the member for Dobell spent considerable time attacking the opposition frontbench and very little time justifying the position that he has taken and how these changes will improve the lives of the workers in his electorate. He talked about the fact that he does not believe that the reforms will have any impact on job security. He says the legislation will not remove protection against unlawful termination. It is not unlawful termination that is going to make over two million workers’ jobs insecure; it is the removal of the unfair dismissal provisions that the member for Dobell supports all the way.

The member for Dobell talked about unfair dismissal claims being just go away money to avoid the costs involved in disputes. He should have some respect for the workers in his electorate. He should be aware of the fact that most workers are dedicated and really care about ensuring that their place of employment prospers, because the prospering of their place of employment ensures the security of their jobs.

The member for Throsby highlighted the fact that the member for Dobell was parroting the lines that had been prepared for him. That was shown again in the Main Committee today when I challenged him by asking him a question and he refused to answer it. If it is not written, he cannot say it. The people of Dobell deserve a member that understands the issues that are important to them.

I would like to challenge the member for Dobell to have a debate with me on the Central Coast on the issue of industrial relations. I will be arranging a public meeting in the very near future, and I will be asking him to come along and debate this issue so that I can tell the people of the Central Coast why I have opposed this legislation and why I will oppose it all the way along. He can share with the people of the Central Coast why he thinks that making their jobs less secure, attacking their working conditions and putting in place legislation that will lead to a loss of pay should be accepted by them. I am looking forward to debating this issue at great length with the member for Dobell.

This legislation is a disgrace. It is un-Australian. It is removing fairness and decency from our society. It will lead to lower wages and poorer conditions for the most vulnerable people in our society. When these industrial relations changes are coupled with the Howard government’s welfare to work legislation, the least secure, the lowest skilled, the people with disabilities and single parents will become Australia’s working poor, and this government will have achieved the Americanisation of Australia’s workplace.

We will have a situation like the one I viewed in the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine, which depicted parents going to work early in the morning and returning home after dark. It does not end with workers. Every pensioner will be affected by this draconian legislation. As average weekly earnings are pushed down, so will the pension be pushed down.

Who will benefit? The government’s mates in big business—the people whose approval this government sought before releasing details of the legislation. That can be verified by the fact that the Business Council of Australia is conducting a $6 million advertising campaign to sell the government’s legislation. (Time expired)