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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6096

Mr TRUSS (3:37 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. I refer the minister again to her award modernisation process that will more than double wages paid to strawberry pickers on Sundays and public holidays. Does the minister have a plan to ensure that strawberries only ripen on weekdays or does the minister expect consumers to pay double for strawberries picked on holidays?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for his question and I thank him for the fact that he voted for the award modernisation process he is now criticising. I would correct him: it is not my award modernisation process; it is one that was voted for in this parliament, and he voted for it, and it is being undertaken by the independent industrial umpire.

Now I understand that members of the opposition hate independent industrial umpires. That is why they brought Work Choices to this country: to ensure that working people could be ripped off without the protection of an independent umpire. That is what they believe in so I know that they hate independent industrial umpires. But this process is being undertaken by the independent industrial umpire.

I do not accept the figures put in the question by the member. I did not accept the figures put in the question by the shadow minister. But what I can say to the members opposite, as I have explained before and as the member is obviously completely ignoring in his question, is this: this is a reform long sought by employers. This would be a simple modern award. Why should employers who are maybe around border regions between states be under two completely different systems? He would find those employers saying to him that they want a more efficient system, and this will be one.

Then we are talking of course about a five-year measured phase-in that the industrial umpire is working through now. And for the member’s information, from time to time as necessary, if there has been a significant issue with award modernisation, I have varied my award modernisation request, and I continue to consult with employers, including employers who represent the sector that he raises in the parliament today.

Mr Anthony Smith interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Casey!

Ms GILLARD —But I also say to members opposite, and it is something that I find really remarkable: I would have said about the past Liberal government that there were some people in it who actually came to this parliament to engage in reform. There were some people in it who actually understood that when you are engaging in reform that matters for the future that is a difficult process. It requires work with stakeholders. We are engaged in a difficult process that requires work with stakeholders. It is a process that was too difficult for the former Liberal government and instead they went down the rip-off route of Work Choices. When you are engaged in a reform process, yes, I understand that there is anxiety for people and they are watching the process carefully. I absolutely understand that, which is why I maintain a very strong dialogue with the employer organisations that represent sectors like the one the member has raised in this parliament. But when you are engaged in reform, you work with the reform process.

At the moment the opposition are carping and whingeing about this government’s reform and, at the same time, they are not clear about what they would do. I suspect that they are not clear because they are internally divided, not on the outcome but on the process. Their internal division is: ‘Should we go to the next election loud and proud as Work Choices supporters or should we try and hide that fact?’ Why don’t they try resolving that and being honest about it?

The SPEAKER —Deputy Prime Minister, have you concluded?