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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7854


Ms OWENS (3:39 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion. Will the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on reactions to the commencement of the new Fair Work Act on 1 July?


Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for Parramatta for her question, and I know that she cares about fairness and decency at work. On 1 July the government’s Fair Work Act came into operation. This is, of course, the act that will make sure Work Choices is buried in a coffin, and the government wants to nail the lid of that coffin shut forever. The Fair Work Act ensures—I quote here one of its objects—that we have a ‘guaranteed safety net’ that:

… can no longer be undermined by the making of statutory individual employment agreements of any kind.

I am asked about reactions to this. Of course, there have been a variety of reactions, but immediately following the promulgation and coming into effect of the Fair Work Act I would have to say the battlelines on fairness and decency at work were well and truly drawn. That is because this book I am holding was published by the member for Warringah—obviously not in the chamber now. But he is a man of uncommon frankness.

Government members interjecting—


Ms GILLARD —I would have to say to my colleague that I actually paid for this copy, because the copy was out of the library—Jenny was using the copy in the library. So I have contributed to the sales of this book. But what we see in this book and what we have seen from the member for Warringah is some honesty, finally, on the position of the Liberal Party about Work Choices.

We know the present leader of the Liberal Party is cowering. He does not want to face the Work Choices debate, so he says Work Choices is dead. We know that the first alternative leader of the Liberal Party, the member for O’Connor, is making a run for the spot, because there is no-one else so uniquely qualified to lead a party of dinosaurs. He is unbeatable in that comparative advantage. If you want to lead dinosaurs then the member for O’Connor is definitely your man. The second alternative for the position of Leader of the Opposition, the member for Goldstein, is pretty much prepared to fight the Work Choices battle, and he is on the record as saying:

Above all, WorkChoices is critical to a strong economy.

So, if he stepped up to the plate, the cowering would be over and the Work Choices battle would be on. But you would have to say that the man with the most honesty and gumption when it comes to this debate is the third alternative Leader of the Opposition, the member for Warringah. When he was giving his round of publicity interviews trying to sell this book, he was asked by Kerry O’Brien on The 7.30 Report:

So you do want to revisit WorkChoices?

The member for Warringah said:

Well, if we are going to have productive workplaces, we can never ring down the curtain on workplace reform.

He then went on to say:

But things, I suspect, will be a little different by the time the next polling day comes around … I think people will be readier for reform from us … than they were at the last election.

Then he has added to the 7.30 Report comments today in this House, where he said that he claimed as an important part of productivity ‘the ability to offer people a statutory non-union individual contract’—his words, not mine.


Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: while the standing orders are silent on the matter, I would ask you to rule on whether it is appropriate for a secondary book launch to occur in question time.


The SPEAKER —I am pretty sure that the Manager of Opposition Business understands that that was not a point of order and is in fact an abuse of points of order.


Ms GILLARD —I well and truly understand the sensitivity of the member for Sturt about anything that promotes the member for Warringah, who is obviously after his job as Manager of Opposition Business. I have a position in that debate: the member for Warringah would be a lot better at the job. There is no doubt about that. But moving past the member for Sturt’s sensitivity, obviously with these quotes from Tony Abbott we are well and truly seeing a return of the Work Choices debate. What I would ask the member for Warringah is: can he really say to the Australian people that Australian workplace agreements that strip away pay and conditions for working people are more appropriate during a global recession? Can he really say that during a global recession what Australians want is Australian workplace agreements that would enable their entitlement to redundancy to be stripped away, which would enable them to be dismissed for no reason at all? I thank the member for Warringah for his honesty, I thank him for the title of his book—Battlelines—because he is absolutely right. When it comes to the debate for fairness and decency at work the battlelines are drawn: this side of the House standing for decency and that side of the House standing, as always, for Work Choices, no matter who leads them and no matter how many of them the Liberal Party goes through.