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Tuesday, 19 November 2002
Page: 6714

Senator TCHEN (2:06 PM) —My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Senator Alston, and it is of particular significance to Victoria. Is the minister aware of reports that the developer of the $200 million Saizeriya Japanese food processing plant in Melton, Victoria, may pull out of the project because protracted union action has almost brought the project to a halt? Is this another example of the failure of the Bracks government to stand up to militant trade unions and protect jobs and investment in Victoria?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I understand what Senator Faulkner is saying. The Labor Party think they are cruising to victory in Victoria and that we are a long way behind. I understand the basis of that assessment, and that is presumably why the Bracks government think that they can treat the voters with contempt. The Victorian public ought to be quivering in their shoes at the prospect of the declining standards of living that will inevitably occur because of the Bracks government's pusillanimous approach to industrial relations anarchy in Victoria. Senator Tchen, as a Victorian, has followed these issues closely and has precisely the same concerns that the majority of Victorians ought to have. The Saizeriya project is a tragic example of the devastation being wreaked on Victoria by unchecked trade union militanism.

Senator ALSTON —Senator Faulkner might think it is amusing, but the fact is that this project, a food processing plant for the giant Japanese food chain—and there are about another seven food chains that are looking very closely at Victoria to see how these things play out—was to be worth up to $400 million.

Senator ALSTON —Senator Conroy might not think that is very big, but that is a pretty substantial project—up to 3,000 jobs. I know you do not understand job creation, but that is a pretty significant contribution to the Victorian economy. But now we find that the company have had a gutful—that is their expression—of union problems and the state government's inability to resolve disputes at the Melton site. It is quite clear that the company are sick to death of the Victorian government's approach.

All that has happened to date is that there has been a huge demarcation dispute between the George Campbell forces on the one hand and the Simon Crean forces on the other. We all know that Senator George Campbell represents the AMWU in this chamber. They all have their representatives. Senator Campbell's mob were not preferred by the state government or by the company, but of course, in their usual easy-going, friendly manner, they had to be injuncted in the Federal Court to stop the sort of thuggery that goes on. And what did Mr Bracks do? He wrote a limp-wristed letter asking Craig Johnson to pull his head in, basically. Of course, that got nowhere, so as a result this whole project is about to fall over.

The Bracks government appointed a so-called facilitator. What the company said about that was that it was extremely disappointing that the IR consultants, appointed on-site by the state government, basically hindered progress for a period of 10 weeks, because they caved in on all sorts of rorts that are commonplace in the industry. Of course, the Bracks government turned a blind eye to those rorts, but the idea of appointing a facilitator who turns a blind eye is, I would have thought, a first.

Nonetheless, the Victorian government have now promised to provide at least $2 million of taxpayers' money, in a secret deal, in an attempt to placate the company. The exact amount of money, of course, is not known. But we do know from senior public servants that other restaurant chains in Japan are watching the progress of this dispute very closely indeed. In other words, we have faced the real prospect of a mass exodus to Queensland, New Zealand or wherever else. Mr Beattie must be rubbing his hands with joy because Victoria is going to be a no-go zone for industrial development, manufacturing and the construction industry, unless you want to pay a premium of 25 per cent extra over New South Wales to appease the unions. That is what it is all about.

Senator Carr —What a load of drivel!

Senator ALSTON —You can imagine the Senator Carrs of this world—who are they barracking for? Are they in favour of jobs or an expansion in productive capacity in Victoria? Of course they are not! They are all in favour of encouraging employers to cave in to militant trade unions. That is what you are looking at. If Mr Bracks thinks that he is cruising to government—(Time expired)