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Monday, 28 November 2005
Page: 89

Senator JOHNSTON (6:10 PM) —I can say, in the very short time that is available to me, that there is one constant in this debate—one rock solid fact and that is that when it comes to self-interest and self-preservation members on the other side of this chamber will call white black and day night. They will talk under wet cement. They will mislead the Australian people. Let us look at the facts. Let us look at what happened in 1996. That is when the first outbreak of hysteria from the opposition hit the place. In 1996 the then Leader of the Opposition, and I think he is again, Mr Beazley said:

The Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill strikes at the heart of the desire by all Australians for a fair as well as a productive society. If we pass this bill into law, we will return the workplace to the battleground it used to be ...

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... the government is attacking the very basis of people’s living standards ... Attack wages, and you attack families.

That was in 1996. Then we come to the present day and here he is again—it has been a roundabout but again he is the Leader of the Opposition and he said:

The Government’s objective with Industrial Relations is not reform but suppression of wages. That is what they want to do. That is how they’ve performed when they’ve handled minimum wage issues in the past. They don’t want a package that is about improving the economy they want a package which is about oppressing wages.

Back in 1996 the current opposition spokesman on industrial relations had a go. He said:

The Howard model is quite simple. It is all about lower wages; it is about worse conditions; it is about a massive rise in industrial disputation; it is about the abolition of safety nets; and it is about pushing down or abolishing minimum standards. As a worker, you may have lots of doubts about the things you might lose, but you can be absolutely sure of one thing: John Howard will reduce your living standards.

I pause to say that the opposite is exactly correct. That was the current shadow spokesperson, Mr Smith. He said that in 1996. He goes for a rerun this time around. At a doorstop on 23 May he said:

Firstly, these changes will be unfair, they’ll be divisive, and they’ll be extreme. And secondly so far as they impact upon Australian employees and their families they’ll have the affect of reducing their wages, stripping their entitlements, and removing their safety nets ...

If you ever wanted to see a group of self-interested and self-preservation motivated people looking after their powerful friends who have given them all their jobs, look at the Australian Labor Party in this place. Let us look at the facts. Between 1996 and the present day real wages have increased by 14.9 per cent.

Senator George Campbell —It’s a lie.

Senator JOHNSTON —Of course the opposition will call it a lie. Where else can they go? It has to be a lie because they have not got a feather to fly with if it is the truth—and it is the truth. Let us talk about jobs. Since March 1996 over 1.7 million jobs have been created—900,000 full time and 800,000 part time. Between March 1989 and March 1996, guess how many new jobs were created by the Labor Party? It was 107,000. It is an absolute disgrace in this place. And they proudly had one million people sitting at home taking the dole.

Senator George Campbell interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brandis)—Order! Senator George Campbell, persistent interjection is disorderly.

Senator JOHNSTON —Of course, the current Leader of the Opposition wants to talk about the proud Labor record. On 1 April he said:

We achieved 13 years of wage restraint under the Accord. The wage share of GDP came down from 60.1 per cent when we took office down to the lowest it had been since 1968. We left office with the wage share of GDP at 55.3 per cent.

They sacked the workers of this country. They ripped them off—the accord denied them any real wage growth. And John Howard has given them 14.9 per cent in real wages since 1996. These are the facts that these people cannot abide. There is only one institution in this whole country that is more irrelevant to current workplace reform than the ACTU and affiliated unions, and that organisation is the ALP. You cannot find a more irrelevant organisation.

Under the Workplace Relations Act, industrial disputes have consistently remained at the lowest levels of strikes since records were first kept in 1913. That is the 1996 act. In 2004, the level of industrial disputes was 45.5 working days lost per 1,000 employees. The yearly average of disputes in the 13 years from 1983 to 1995 was 192 working days per 1,000 employees. That is a factor of four, five or six—unbelievable stuff, and yet we hear the opposition, standing in this place, saying the sky is going to fall. There is only one organisation more irrelevant and more vestigial to this argument than the vested interests of the ACTU and that is their brothers and sisters in this place: the ALP. They are irrelevant and looking after their mates who are on a very cosy little number.

The opposition are in utter denial about this legislation and are pronouncing doom and gloom. Let us have a look at some of the things that have been said. Mr Della Bosca came before the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee and alleged this legislation was a piece of fascism. What an absolute, outright insult to all of the victims of fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain, the fallen in World War II and the fighting men and women of this country. It is a disgrace to compare to fascism this legislation and the proud record in the workplace of the Howard government. How low can they go? They are desperate and dishonest. To support my contention, I bring to your attention, Mr Acting Deputy President, the handiwork of one Fran Tierney. On the World Today on Friday, 27 May, she was being interviewed by Liz Foschia. Liz Foschia opens the discussion with Fran Tierney by saying:

Fran Tierney is a community worker in the not-for-profit sector and relies on the ACTU’s annual wage case for a pay rise.

Then Fran Tierney says:

We have no other way of getting increases. So with that, with those minimum clauses gone, we’re gone. And we didn’t get an award ’til the early ’90s, so it’s not long that the social and community services sector people have had an award. People with degrees were being paid $5 and $6 an hour and probably that’s what it’ll go back to.

Then the journalist says:

What are you currently paid an hour?

Ms Tierney says:

About $16 an hour, yeah, so we’ll lose that.

The journalist continues:

Ms Tierney says the changes will make it even more difficult to attract people to work in the sector.

Fran Tierney’s last quote is:

It’s hard enough to get workers now. It’s going to be impossible.

There you have it. Guess who is spreading this wave of fear and hysteria about being on $5 or $6 an hour? This is Fran Tierney, who is actually the New South Wales Vice-President of the Australian Services Union. She is actually president of the community and social services sector. She also failed to disclose that she is a councillor for the Lane Cove Council in New South Wales, for which she receives a $1,000 salary per month as a Labor Party councillor, as I understand it. She also failed to disclose one other important aspect—that is, that she was an ALP candidate for the seat of North Sydney. Here is a person telling everybody that the sky is going to fall and we will all be on $5 or $6. I ask the question: is anybody in New South Wales—and I asked this of the Australian Services Union, which came before the committee—receiving $5 or $6 an hour? The answer was, of course, that nobody receives that; it is below the award. But, no, it would not stop Ms Tierney.

This was curious: Michael Wright, the Minister of Industrial Relations in South Australia, came before the committee and alleged that this legislation will cut the guts out of the safety net but, when asked, he did not even have a clue which provisions in the act actually did what he alleged. He clearly had not read the legislation. What is more worrying is that he did not appear to understand that the three principal industrial drivers in his state and the three biggest employers—and, let us face it, his state is only surpassed by Tasmania in terms of economic dimension—General Motors, Mitsubishi and the Australian Submarine Corporation, are all employed under the Commonwealth system. Minister Wright appeared not to know this. He appeared not to understand that AWAs and the Commonwealth industrial relations system govern three of the largest industrial employers in his state.

We then have the hysteria of Greg Combet, who alleges that this legislation will increase the number of workplace fatalities. Just how desperate are they and how low will these people go to protect their cosy positions in these very well-funded unions? Bob Carr is another classic example of those spreading hysteria. Bob Carr, before he retired, wrote to his nurses in July this year suggesting to them that they would lose terms and conditions and that they would be adversely affected by this legislation. The simple fact is that all nurses in New South Wales who are in the state system are employed by the state—they are not even part of the Commonwealth system—but that did not stop Bob Carr from sending out a letter that worried them, upset them and threatened them with losing their terms and conditions.

This is just disgraceful stuff—hysterical and quite unfair. But out of all of that, guess what? In 1996 there was massive workplace reform—very successful—with massive jobs growth and massive real wages growth, and we have seen a huge amount of union backlash against those changes and these. And what has happened? The most telling and important fact that spells the demise of the union movement in this country, or highlights how they do not earn the fees that they receive, is that their membership through all of this has continued to decline at a steady and very obvious rate.

The reality—if I can go on in the brief time that I have—is to simply look at a real leader and a real party that has some concept of what good economic management is all about. I quote Prime Minister Tony Blair at the British Trade Union Congress of 1997:

You should remember in everything you do that fairness at work starts with the chance of a job in the first place, because if we as a Government and you as the trades union movement do not make Britain a country of successful businesses, a country where people want to set up and expand and a country that has the edge over our competitors, then we are betraying those we represent.

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We are not going to go back to the days of industrial warfare, strikes without ballots, mass and flying pickets and secondary action. You do not want it, and I will not let it happen. I will watch very carefully to see how the culture of modern trades unionism develops. We will keep the flexibility of the present labour market, and it may make some shiver but, in the end, it is warmer in the real world.

When will this vested interest of an opposition, sitting opposite us here, come into this real world?