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Wednesday, 30 May 2007
Page: 62

Mr GIBBONS (1:53 PM) —Labor remains totally opposed to the Howard government’s draconian Work Choices laws because there is very little in these changes that will make the government’s Work Choices philosophy acceptable to the majority of Australian working people or make it any fairer. Nor will they stop Labor getting rid of Work Choices completely if we form government after the next election.

Mr McArthur interjecting

Mr GIBBONS —The member for Corangamite interjects. I listened to his contribution earlier today and I would have to say that if he were any drier he would shatter.

These changes to Work Choices are a pitiful attempt at clever politics from a tired government—a government in decay and decline. We should not forget that the Prime Minister kept his plans for extreme industrial relations reform from the Australian public prior to the last federal election. But once he gained control of the Senate, the Prime Minister introduced these Work Choices laws to rip the balance out of Australian workplaces. Now, with an election around the corner, he responds to his polling and hastily creates changes to his Work Choices laws. To use the Prime Minister’s own words, it has been done because of ‘perceptions’. But actions speak louder than words.

The government arrogantly announced these laws on Friday, 4 May, and said all businesses must comply with the changes to the Work Choices laws from the following Monday. During the following weeks, the Prime Minister deliberately refused to provide details to the Australian public. But he did approve a multimillion dollar advertising campaign highlighting these changes—an advertising campaign that should have been funded by the Liberal Party. This is clearly politics before policy, and public relations before parliamentary process.

These amendments will not stop these unfair laws continuing to hurt working families. These changes to Work Choices will not fix the lack of balance in Australian workplaces. Labor will support this amendment, on the outside chance that it may benefit just a few working Australians and their families. We are not convinced it will, but we cannot see how it will make the laws any worse.

Importantly, these changes to Work Choices will not protect basic conditions Australian families rely on, like notice of changes to rosters or redundancy pay. And these changes to Work Choices mean that a huge government bureaucracy will decide, in secret, what can be in an Australian workplace agreement. It will not even have to listen to the employee, but it will need to know all of the employee’s personal and family circumstances.

The bill still has a huge escape clause and does not necessarily apply to employers and employees, depending on their industry, location or specific circumstances. This bill will not change the fact that the Prime Minister and this government have lost touch with Australian working families. There has been enough uncertainty and delay created by these changes—we believe there should be a speedy passage of this bill through the parliament. This shows once again that the Prime Minister is a clever politician but is only interested in clinging on to power. And at the next election, these changes will remind the Australian public just how arrogant and tricky this government is.

In introducing the Work Choices bill over twelve months ago, the Howard government, by listening to the right-wing bigots and ideologues amongst its own ranks, and those who represent a minority of employers—employers who are more focused on ideology than on managing their own businesses—have done Australia a major disservice. They have participated in a foolish and damaging disservice not only to millions of working Australian men and women but also to our economy and therefore the entire nation. It is my intention to present some evidence to support this assertion, which is supported by well-grounded research and authoritative opinion from a range of internationally recognised experts. I will start by providing the House and the public with a few background facts. I will then proceed to demonstrate how this malicious and vindictive Work Choices legislation has begun, and will continue, to undermine Australia’s prosperity and growth and the standard of Australians’ working lives and Australian living standards.

Members will be aware of the disturbing testimony of the Governor of the Reserve Bank on 21 February, 2007 that Australia had enjoyed an average annual growth in its gross domestic product of 2.6 per cent for the period 1990 to 2004. Since that time, however, it has grown at the alarming rate of just 0.9 per cent—well below the rates of our competitors. In addition, and according to the Productivity Commission, ‘import penetration’ of our domestic markets increased from 25 per cent to 36 per cent. The number of jobs targeted for outsourcing overseas—or ‘offshoring’, as it is known—is also increasing. The Australian Industry Group believes that by 2008 our manufacturing sector may have lost 60,000 jobs overseas. A 2005 OECD report identified that up to 19 per cent of the Australian workforce was employed in occupations potentially affected by offshoring. These are truly alarming figures and most of our OECD competitor countries face similar challenges. Most, however, are trying to balance the need for flexibility and reform with the need for stability. The Howard government’s response has been to implement the most unfair and unbalanced legislation since 1904—legislation that is designed to drive down pay and conditions and to prohibit and prosecute the legitimate activities of trade unions in this country.

Our traditional sources of competitive advantage, and therefore productivity, have changed. Indeed, over the past 20 years, Australia’s and the rest of the world’s economies have changed, and the pace of change will only accelerate. During what is referred to as the industrial age, from the late 1930s through to the mid-1970s, companies could rely on the protection of proprietary technology and import tariffs to ensure market domination. A company would not now, as Xerox did in 1959, expect that its product would dominate the world market for 13 years. Now it appears that most leading economists, as well as many industrialists and governments from the Western world, recognise and acknowledge that it is people—

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.