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Thursday, 13 March 2008
Page: 1715

Mr KEENAN (11:52 AM) —It is an unexpected pleasure to be able to talk on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill 2008 today. I do not have a lot of prepared remarks and I do not doubt that there will be somebody outside the chamber scrambling to find our next speaker. The issues in respect of the bill were certainly raised with me by my electorate during the election campaign. I take the member for Werriwa’s point. The coalition parties are aware that the Australian people passed judgement on the Work Choices legislation in the 2007 campaign, but I will place it on the record that in Western Australia the climate was quite different. I listened very closely to the member for Riverina, and I would say that the idea that everybody is against having flexibility in our workplace is completely false. The reality is that we have an extraordinarily tight labour market at the moment, and the complaints that I get from employers in my electorate are about their inability to find labour. We talk about a skills crisis in Australia, but what we really have is a labour shortage as a result of record low unemployment.

Employers are very keen to work with and keep their employees; in fact, it is a business requirement to keep your employees happy and to do what you can to keep them. On the opposite side, we often have a view of industrial relations that harks back to an earlier era. I do not think that we now have a situation where the bosses are out to screw their workers; what we have is a workplace that is a far more collaborative place than it would have been in decades gone by. Employers and employees work together to get the best out of a business because, if a business is working well, both the employers and the employees benefit.

I come from a family that has always relied on a small business to maintain an income. When I was growing up, there were certainly times when that family business paid its employees but there was not a lot of money to bring home for the business owners themselves. We prided ourselves on working extensively with our employees. Good employees were prized, of course, and that family business took very good care of the people who worked for it. This is the nature of industrial relations in Australia now. It is not some sort of system where the bosses are out to screw their workers; the situation has largely changed.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I note that our next speaker has entered the chamber, but I am not sure by which mechanism I might pass the call to him. If I may, I will defer to the member for Menzies so he can continue his remarks on the bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—I thank the honourable member for Stirling. The calling of the next speaker is a matter for the chair. If the minister at the table has no objection, I will call the honourable member for Menzies.

Ms Plibersek —I have no objection.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —On that basis, I call the honourable member for Menzies. I thank the minister.