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Thursday, 15 May 2014
Page: 3881

Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (12:28): It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Werriwa, who is from an iconic Labor family, who is clearly knowledgeable on the subject he just spoke on and who does his research. It was also interesting to hear the member for Moreton in his address. He is obviously passionate about occupational health and safety because of his experience with his family in workplace situations. All of us, every one of us who comes into this place, bring what I would call our own baggage. It is the baggage of our past, our experience, our experience with the union, our experience with business—wherever we have come through.

My desire to have more flexible workplaces in this country is because in my business activity we had a flexible workplace, just as the member for Werriwa described. He even said that there is a place for flexibility in the workplace. In my years in business, many of the people who worked for me wanted to work between nine and three. They did not want to work from nine till 5.30. They wanted to be home when the kids came home from school, so we allowed in our business for that to happen. I do not know whether it was lawful at the time under the award—it probably was not—but that is the way they wanted to work. We were quite prepared to be flexible in that approach and bring in other staff when needed.

Innes Willox was mentioned by the member for Werriwa. As the head of an industry body, he was asking for more flexibility in the workplace. In this place, we have flexibility in the workplace. I cannot say it is an even workplace, for members elected after 2004, but I can say we have some flexibility in what we do here. The dividing line between the Liberal and National parties and the Labor Party, which is born out of the union movement, seems to be our position on industrial relations. But at least in this great south land we can have a discussion. We can hear from the member for Werriwa—and I believe we will shortly hear from the member for Charlton a passionate address in defence of the current legislation as it stands. But that current legislation as it stands is harder on the workplace than even that put in by Hawke and Keating in previous governments. It goes further on behalf of the worker and reduces the flexibility and the opportunity for the workplace to be a driving force of economic uplifting for the participants—for the employer and for the employee.

I know in this country right now that every employee is not perfect and every employer is not perfect and we do need industrial relations laws that say, 'Here are the things you cannot do.' We do not want workers in this country treated poorly by their employers—and there will always be rogue employers. But we need flexibility in regional areas. You heard the member for Werriwa talk about how a 25 per cent reduction in penalty rates was supported by the hospitality industry. I have had delegations of employers come to me and say, 'We can't open on the weekend because we can't pay the penalty rates.' You have heard me say this before, Mr Deputy Speaker Kelly. The only businesses that are open on the weekend are those family-run organisations where it is mum and dad and the kids behind the counter, running the show. A mayor came to me and said, 'In my tourist town on the highway, which we have encouraged to grow by having tourists stop, the businesses are all closed on the Sunday and Monday of a long weekend because they can't pay the penalty rates that are needed.' He was pleading with his own businesses to stay open. These are the sorts of issues that we will grapple with.

The member for Eden-Monaro was mentioned. He is a passionate advocate for more flexibility in the workplace, as I have been in the past. I have never walked away from the position that John Howard put to the Australian people, where we opened up the opportunities for better workplace activity and greater opportunity. I have been described sometimes as a Liberal leftie, and there have been all sorts of angry other notions about my position in life—

Mr Robert: That's appalling!

Mr BROADBENT: Absolutely appalling! But, every time rates go up, every time the minimum wage goes up, somebody at the lower end loses their job, and I have always been annoyed that the union movement did not care about that. Do I want to support low-paid workers? Absolutely, I do. But I also do not want them taken out of the market because the employer cannot justify the minimum wage in their case. I believe, if the minimum wage were lower, the government could top it up with benefits for families, for employers and for low-paid employees, as we already do through family tax benefits and other payments for what I call the working poor. It is more important for me that they have a job.

I am not against a nurse who chooses to work on the weekends—Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights—and gets a very heavy penalty rate for that. I am totally supportive of that because it is the choice of that person and the employer for them work on those difficult nights—probably their busiest nights sometimes, as far as casualty goes. They get more money for doing that, and they choose to do that, rather than working through the week, because it suits them to work on the weekends, when their husband or partner—or whatever you have got to call it these days—is at home. They choose to work on the weekends and they choose to work nights. They provide a magnificent, amazing, valuable service for every one of us that needs their services, and they provide it 24/7. Because of my own experience with ageing parents and other issues, I know that, yes, we do need them in the middle of the night sometimes—and, yes, we have received, as a family, magnificent support from Casey Hospital and the services around Casey Hospital when in need. And the private hospital of St John of God at Berwick does magnificent work.

I dare say they have rules and regulations. I noted the importance of occupational health and safety when I went and visited the Bonlac—or Fonterra, it is called now—milk factory at Darnum. In our visit, they explained to us the occupational health and safety rules that we would have to adhere to, just on a visit in a suit—we were not gearing up and going into wet areas. Even to walk down the stairs from the office, we were told, 'You will hold the rail on the way down the stairs.' I was thinking, 'They're taking this occupational health and safety to extremes here.' No. They have had experience whereby they know they need these standards of occupational health and safety in that factory. Who is it for? It is for the benefit of the workers in that factory—no other reason. It is not for the health and wellbeing of the factory and its operators or Fonterra, the international operator; it is for the health and wellbeing of the workers in that factory.

Mr Thistlethwaite: It's for the health and wellbeing of everybody.

Mr BROADBENT: Well, the health and wellbeing of everyone, including those of us who visit. It was a real eye-opener how much time is taken, how many meetings are held and how much work they put into occupational health and safety in that factory, and their record since the introduction of these things has been magnificent.

This legislation I support because our party and this government are putting forward some worthwhile changes. It is not about the money; it is about the families that work in industry right across this country. If we can do a little bit to make it easier to grow the opportunity for work and young people especially—I am passionate about them getting into work in the first place. There have been some budgetary measures—we will talk about them when we come to the appropriations bill—that make some changes to the way we encourage young people into the workforce. Some see them as harsh; I see them as a philosophical change of how we look at getting young people into the workplace. The greatest gift we can give a child is an education, but after that the greatest gift we can give anybody in the community is an opportunity to work. Their self-esteem is enhanced. They do not go onto a benefit straight away; they go into a job. They go into a place of opportunity. They go into socialisation. They go into a workplace where they have other people who will encourage them to do better as we chase excellence in this country in every area of our workplaces.

It is a changed community, as the member for Werriwa said, and a lot of the changes are happening regardless of what governments legislate. It has been put to me that the very-high-unionised areas are diminishing in their place in our economy and the more flexible areas are a place of growth in our economy. I dare say there will be those members who present arguments to show me that is wrong. I look forward to those arguments. But I cite our car industry and say—not our car industry but international companies' car industry—they could choose when, where and how they come and go, to the detriment of this nation. No-one was more passionate about football, meat pies and Holden cars than me. I loved the life that I lived near the Lang Lang Proving Ground, having friends working at the Lang Lang Proving Ground—a Holden proving ground—and noting that General Motors-Holden are going to continue with the Lang Lang Proving Ground for the work that they need to do with the cars they are going to import into this country. We went through the best of times with strong manufacturing supported by government. I am afraid we have run out of money, and the downside for all of us is to not have Holden or Ford produce here. I think that is an absolute tragedy, but you cannot continue propping up organisations forever at any cost. I am not an at-any-cost person.

I hope that when this legislation is passed there will be people who get real opportunities in the workplace that they would not otherwise get. I hope that we can have in this House a very strong debate, a good debate. There might be an opportunity out of this debate or out of all the debates that go on for business and the workforce to begin to set some parameters in Australia that we can both agree with. I am not talking about an accord; I am just talking about some basic tenets of where we are coming from in this nation with regard to industrial relations. That is a cooperative event between unions and business.

They should not need to have the government legislate to have the workplace be the workplace we want it to be in this nation. We will all have different views about that workplace; but, if we can just give that flexibility and opportunity for employees and employers to come together, I have no problem with union involvement in that. I think there is a place for the union movement in this country—I have never walked away from that—but it should be a matter of choice, it should be a matter of opportunity for people and, if you are going to have access to the workplace, it should be genuine access to the workplace for all the right reasons. I am probably talking about a perfect world. So be it. What is it—shoot for the moon and you may end up in the stars, but at least you've had a go. I think that, with this legislation, there is a great opportunity here for us to do better than we are doing today. I encourage the parliament to have that conversation. Thank you.