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Wednesday, 9 November 2005
Page: 153

Ms GRIERSON (7:54 PM) —I rise to speak on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005—or the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices Not) Bill—to register my complete opposition. Perhaps it will not make the sky fall, as the member for Forde said, but it will certainly rock Australian families to their foundations, which are quite fragile. In the little time that I have, I would like to give some Newcastle perspective on this legislation. Firstly, the Prime Minister has claimed it rests on the great productivity gains that will flow from this legislation. Quite a few economists have disagreed with them and have quite bravely put their views.

I draw attention to Ross Gittins, for one particular reason. His articles—and there are many of them—have been very consistent. I have them here. He talks about the real value of work. He talks about the identity, dignity and self-worth that attaches to people from their work. He talks about the relationships that are strengthened by the work in our communities. He talks about the economic integrity and rigour that is needed to analyse this legislation and its impacts. He talks about family and community life, about the value of collective thought and action and the strength of our democracy—not individual choice—and working together to keep this country strong. He talks about the real wealth in this country.

I have to say that you can take the boy out of Newcastle but it is wonderful to see that you cannot take Newcastle out of the boy. The member for Forde talked about battlers. I proudly represent a city of battlers who are proud that they strive and thrive in spite of governments and in spite of any adversity that is thrown our way. It is also important to note that this legislation shifts the most important principles in our legal constitution—the way we work and the way workplaces relations are run in this country—from the labour power to the corporations power. What does that mean? We are no longer talking about arbitration. We are no longer talking about two parties—the worker and the employer in their workplace—we are now talking about corporations power and about economic and employment costs. We are talking now about commodities and simple units of production. They are, of course, human people with human lives, human relationships and very human needs. That is one of the most draconian parts of this legislation. It is an insult to the heritage of this nation.

I will also mention another Newcastle person whom I do admire: Neville Sawyer. He is the Chairman of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I admire him for his success in business. He has been a great employer. He has built up a business and control that has created wealth not just for him but for his employers. It has a national and international presence. It is a leading exporter. It is also a leading investor in training and research in our region. He set up a chair of research in power engineering at the university. I heard Neville speak at an industrial relations seminar conference in Newcastle at the end of October. Neville proudly said that, in the 37 years that his business has existed—and it is now all around the country—there have been three disputes. It interests me that the chairman of ACCI would say that, knowing full well that his business was built on enterprise bargaining agreements and on the goodwill that exists between him and his employees. He could have rested on his laurels—and I wish he had—but he did go on to make the point that these changes are well and truly supported by ACCI. What a pity. He also said, ‘It’s our money’—the bosses’ money—‘that is on the line.’

It is the bosses’ money on the line, but it is also workers lives on the line and the harmony and cooperation that come from having real choices in the workplace. He said that, now, employers have choice over their workers just like they have over their suppliers. It sounded pretty impersonal to me. It does not do credit to the way Neville Sawyer has conducted his business in the Hunter and in Newcastle. Now we see business reality that will not match the rhetoric of the Prime Minister. We have had 15 years of economic success that has been built on the back of Labor reforms. That is the reality, but apparently ideology will prevail.

In the last minute I have to speak on this legislation, on behalf of all the Labor speakers who will not have the opportunity to put themselves on the record in this debate I give a commitment that Labor members will oppose this bill in all its forms and in all its implementations across the country. We will be the watchdogs over this legislation and how it impacts on people in our electorates, on people dear to us. We will do all we can to protect them and, when we win the next election, we will return their rights and make sure that these are destroyed. I seek leave to continue my remarks when the debate is resumed.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.