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Wednesday, 30 May 2007
Page: 107


Dr JENSEN (5:07 PM) —Wow! I have heard quite a bit of rhetoric in my time, but that was right out there. ‘Clever politician’—let us think about that a bit. This is said by members opposite as a derogatory statement. What is the opposite of it? A stupid politician? Is that what your leader is? Clearly, being a clever politician is something bad. Then we have the member for Rankin saying that we are misrepresenting Labor policy. Maybe representation or misrepresentation of policy is in the eye of the beholder. But there can be no misrepresentation of the results that the Labor Party had last time they were in government. Have a look at what we had with their IR policy: a huge number of people unemployed, high interest rates and a large amount of industrial disputation. The problem is that the member for Rankin does not seem to realise that in life, in reality, there are no such things as absolute, cast-iron guarantees. He said, ‘The Prime Minister didn’t guarantee no-one would be worse off.’ I guess, by implication, he is saying that the Labor Party guarantees that no-one will be worse off. The Labor Party had the sorts of policies where they made those sorts of guarantees back in the early nineties, including the introduction of things like unfair dismissal and so on. But what do you say to the person who loses a job? Suddenly they become a lot worse off. How do you define and categorise that person in terms of your ‘not worse off’ policy?

Quite frankly, the Labor Party would do very well to follow the industrial relations legislation that this government has introduced, because what you have seen is that the further you deregulate the workplace market the better off the results will be. It has been clear right through our liberalisation of the industrial relations market. Indeed, if you look around the world you see that the level of economic performance of a nation is pretty much proportional to how deregulated their industrial relations market is. Labor’s position: let’s re-regulate the market. You can see in old Europe the results that would flow from that. I think that old Europe is starting to realise the problems with a highly regulated labour market.

Having said that, clearly there has been a problem as far as the Work Choices act is concerned, as far as some of the fairness provisions are concerned. The Workplace Relations Amendment (A Stronger Safety Net) Bill 2007 recognises those issues and seeks to address them by establishing a Workplace Ombudsman and a Workplace Authority Director as statutory officeholders appointed by the Governor-General, creating an office of the Workplace Ombudsman and the Workplace Authority as statutory agencies, requiring the Workplace Authority Director to be satisfied that specified workplace agreements provide fair compensation in lieu of modification or exclusion of protected award conditions that apply to an employer or employee and establishing a compliance framework to ensure effective operation of the fairness test.

What has Labor offered? So-called policy that will take Australia back to an antiquated system that belongs to the last century. Let us look back once again at the antiquated system that Labor want us to have. Think back once again to when they were last in government. Go back to 6 May 1993 when this exchange took place with Kim Beazley on the 7.30 Report. The interviewer said:

So this group are being told, in their twenties, by society, effectively: You’re the losers; go to the scrap heap.

Mr Beazley said:

Well, those who haven’t made it into work and who are among the long-term unemployed, that’s a reasonable statement.

What an absolute disgrace. Labor’s policy—(Quorum formed) Labor clearly cannot take the truth. Indeed, have a look at the last time they were in government. They had such a bad performance on unemployment that they tried to redefine unemployment so that the numbers did not look so bad. Let us have a look at it. Back on 30 May 1993, Kim Beazley—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Order! The member for Tangney will refer to members by their seat or their title.


Dr JENSEN —The Sydney Morning Herald quoted the member for Brand as predicting that a new definition of full employment would involve a fundamental reassessment of the make-up of the workforce, including deciding whether some people then counted as unemployed should be excluded from the definition, and that unemployed people over the age of 55, with virtually no prospect of being re-employed, formed one such group. What an absolute disgrace. With unemployed people at the lower end of the scale, it was a case of: ‘Stiff, if you’ve been unemployed for a little while and you’re in your 20s, you’re on the scrap heap. You’ll never work again. And, by the way, if you’re over age 55, we’ll take you right off the unemployment list, because that’s not convenient to our data, either.’ That is Labor’s heritage, which they want to reimpose on Australia.

Labor plan to scrap Australian workplace agreements, which have delivered large wage increases and flexibility to Australian workers. The fact is the Labor Party find it very difficult to cope with any form of flexibility. There is rigid thinking right throughout their structure. You can see it in the way they go about preselections, you can see it with respect to solidarity, where anyone who dares to disagree with any of the dictates from on high are thrown out of the party. The simple fact is that flexibility is critical in the modern workforce and, quite frankly, people like the option of having flexibility in the workforce. But it is something that Labor do not want to have. According to most recent statistics, workers on AWAs earn nine per cent per week more than those on collective agreements. This shows the strength of flexible work arrangements and individual workplace agreements. Significantly, these workers earn 94 per cent more than employees on awards. So why would Labor then decide to scrap AWAs?

The Leader of the Opposition is captive to union ideology. He has let the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the ACTU boss, Greg Combet, create a policy that would reimpose the rigidity of pre-1996 reforms to workplace relations. Why would you do that? Why would you move back to a system where you had high unemployment rates and a large amount of industrial disputation? It just staggers belief. The problem is that it would actually be worse now than it was back then because the rest of the world has moved on from those days, so we would not be competing on the same playing field we were competing on then. We would be competing on a playing field that is vastly more competitive than it was then, so our relative position would be that much worse. Quite frankly, Labor policy spells chaos for small business—the backbone of the nation—and, if implemented, would ultimately destroy many jobs.

The fairness test ensures that employees receive fair compensation when a workplace agreement removes or modifies protected award conditions, such as penalty rates or overtime loadings. In most cases, this will mean a high rate of pay in lieu of protected award conditions. The Workplace Authority will conduct the fairness test. In exceptional circumstances, and where it is not contrary to the public interest to do so, consideration may also be given to the industry, location and economic circumstances of the employer and to the employment circumstances of the employee. For example, the Workplace Authority may decide it is appropriate to consider the economic circumstances of an employer when a workplace agreement is part of a reasonable strategy to deal with a short-term crisis. The issue of a short-term crisis is a reasonable one.

I am reminded of the case of a certain canning company back in the early nineties—that of SPC. SPC had got into some difficulties with their business and wanted to change the awards and conditions of the employees to ride out the crisis. What was the reaction of the union movement and Labor? They wanted to have a situation where SPC was forced to continue those award conditions, which quite frankly the unions knew were going to break the company. Their argument was: ‘There are other companies that are profitable. Why can’t SPC be profitable? If they can’t afford the pay and conditions that the other companies have to pay then they should be out of business.’ Thank God there was some sense shown in that dispute and there was a restructuring of the awards and conditions. SPC managed to ride it out. Those workers, particularly in that period of high unemployment, managed to keep their jobs and indeed reaped the benefits when the company regained profitability. The Labor view is that, in that case, the business should just go bust. That is why Labor has such a dismal record when it comes to unemployment. We have talked about workplace guarantees. The only guarantee seems to be that under Labor there would be a higher rate of unemployment.

Under Labor employees will have a union application form stuck under their nose every single time they start a new job. Under Labor there will be no limit to what the union bosses can demand in agreements. Labor’s policy document Forward with fairness states at page 14:

Under Labor’s system, bargaining participants will be free to reach agreement on whatever matters suit them.

Therefore, unions will be able to force employers into having the following requirements in workplace arrangements: deductions from an employee’s pay or wages for trade union membership subscriptions; paid leave to attend trade union training or meetings; and—and this is the one that really bites—bargaining fees to trade unions. Labor argue that people should have the right to democratic process and freedom of choice in the workplace, but the reality is that, when it comes to the trade union movement, they want no choice whatsoever. You can belong to the union or, if you choose not to belong to the union, you can belong to the union in another form—and that form we will call ‘bargaining fees’ and it will cost more than union dues. This is the way in which the Labor Party want to fund their re-election campaigns in the future. They will also look at providing unions with information about employees bound by the agreement and at mandating that any future agreement must be a union collective agreement and mandating union involvement in dispute resolution.

Under Labor employers will be compelled to invite union bosses to be a party to every agreement they make with their employees. The amount of compulsion from the union movement under Labor’s policy is absolutely staggering. The union bosses will have the right to be a party to an agreement where just one employee in a business is a union member. Workers will be bound by union agreements even where they have chosen not to be a member of unions claiming coverage of a site. ‘Fair Work Australia’—once again big inverted commas are required here—will tell the parties what they must put in their agreement before it is approved. Fair Work Australia will decide whether or not employees genuinely agreed to their own agreement. Labor policy will also withhold approval unless it believes the employees are better off overall, even if economic circumstances dictate otherwise or new flexibilities are required. It is all there in Labor’s Forward with fairness policy document.

The Howard government’s fairness test would not apply to Australian workplace agreements covering employees with full-time or full-time equivalent base salaries of $75,000 or more—in other words, the fairness test covers employees with a base salary of $75,000 on an Australian workplace agreement and all collective agreements. It will be applied to these agreements when there are changes to protected award conditions. It covers agreements lodged on or after 7 May 2007.

Under Labor’s policy, however, what will we have? We will have ‘no ticket, no start’ again. Unions will be able to demand that only union members be employed at a business. How are we supposed to have a productive workforce with this sort of compulsion from the unions? The unions are sitting like a heavy Damocles sword over every business in Australia. It is unconscionable behaviour. Labor has said that it will support the government’s proposed amendments to outlaw union bargaining fees that give unions the power to collect fees from workers who have chosen not to be union members. But how can Labor be trusted when its policy Forward with fairness once again effectively says exactly the opposite? Dean Mighell, the Victorian branch secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, was quoted in the Australian Financial Review on 30April as saying:

“I welcome particularly the policy that lets us put anything back in agreements that we can coerce our friendly employers to put back in,” he said. “That’s going to be fun.”

We have seen how much fun he has with some of this union compulsive behaviour of threatening employers. We have seen that the Labor Party have run away from the statements he made last year that were made public yesterday. (Time expired)