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Tuesday, 29 November 2005
Page: 18

Senator POLLEY (1:45 PM) —I rise to speak on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005. Scrooge, John Howard—remember Scrooge?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Murray)—Senator, please refer to Mr Howard as ‘the Prime Minister’ or ‘Mr Howard’.

Senator POLLEY —I was actually referring to Scrooge, and then I went on to say ‘John Howard’.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —It is proper to refer to him as ‘Mr Howard’ or ‘the Prime Minister’.

Senator POLLEY —John Howard will deliver Australia into a bleak Christmas future with this Work Choices legislation. Choice? There will be no choice. John Howard’s attack on workers’ rights continues his rampant abuse of power. Scrooge, Mr Howard, Scrooge. Cardinal George Pell urged John Howard to sustain civilised conditions—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Polley, I have asked you twice. It is the practice in this place to refer to Mr Beazley as ‘Mr Beazley’, not ‘Kim Beazley’, and to Mr Howard as ‘Mr Howard’ not ‘John Howard’. You can refer to him as ‘Mr Howard’ or ‘the Prime Minister’; you cannot refer to him as ‘Scrooge’, and you cannot refer to him as ‘John Howard’.

Senator POLLEY —Cardinal George Pell urged Mr Howard to sustain civilised conditions and family time for Australian workers. Family time will be a thing of the past. Children will no longer have mum and dad to take them to the footy or netball on a Saturday morning. Aspiring musicians will not have mum or dad available to take them to their annual end-of-year production. Community theatre groups will fade. Volunteers will be a thing of the past, because we will become a nation where survival of the fittest rules—a shadow of big brother America.

Why do we have to follow America? Why cannot we continue as one of the world’s most egalitarian societies? Australian workers have been productive, and industrial action has become a rarely-used tool of the trade union movement. Australian workplaces have evolved to a system of collective enterprise agreements. One man’s old and tired dreams will fast become Australia’s nightmare. With arrogant power in the Senate, there will be no holding the Prime Minister back as he tries to succeed where Peter Reith and his balaclavas and alsatians on the waterfront failed.

For Labor, a cooperative and progressive industrial relations system is a core value: workplaces where employees are confident and secure, and where wages and conditions are fairly negotiated, not stripped away. The Prime Minister’s claim that he has a mandate to now change unfair dismissal laws to give exemptions to businesses of less than 100 employees is simply untrue, and his record proves it. But Mr Howard has long been guilty of misusing information to push his extreme unfair dismissal changes.

This government’s extreme industrial relations changes will slash workers’ wages and cripple their ability to pay their mortgages. It will threaten living standards and destroy family time. What happens to the weekly family budget when breadwinners lose their penalty rates? These extreme industrial relations changes make families vulnerable. Cardinal Pell rightly reminded Mr Howard of the moral obligation to provide a minimum wage. Arrogant Mr Kevin Andrews effectively told the church to mind its own business.

Mr Howard’s dream will be the working person’s nightmare. Mr Howard has a Scrooge-like vision of a 24-hour workplace, seven days a week, without penalty, or additional costs for working overtime, night shifts or public holidays. It is the Labor Party’s duty to fight for the rights of Australian working families—and fight we will. Australia was built on a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Australia became strong on the fair go, and it will all be undone by one man’s dream of creating a little America. Of course these laws are unAustralian. They are American in their intent.

This government will also criminalise the rights of Australians to challenge wages and conditions. Work Choices and Welfare to Work are legislative monsters which will mature and resemble their Uncle Sam in all his cultural ugliness. But still this government have made it clear that they have no intention of listening.

Together, Work Choices and Welfare to Work will increase the demand on groups in the community supporting needy families in our community. Combined Welfare to Work and Work Choices will not liberate the most vulnerable in our community. Is it not time that Mr Howard and his arrogant government stopped and listened? If they did they would hear why women, especially, are concerned about these changes. Australian families understand the full impact Mr Howard’s industrial relations nightmare will have on their lives. Mum and dad in suburban Australia do not want their children bullied into unsafe, low paid jobs.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Sterle and Senator Kemp, we are trying to listen to Senator Polley. Thank you, Senator Polley.

Senator POLLEY —Parents are starting to become alert to the full impact of Mr Howard’s nightmare on their children and their grandchildren. Many parents remember the labour market of their adolescence, and what it was like to work for $1.50 an hour, off the books. The race to the bottom will be particularly painful for those workers who are only allowed the worst possible conditions as their workplace benchmark. That is the lowest of the low. What argument does the government present that the worst is as good as it will get for many Australian workers? Our most vulnerable will be rorted through this legislation. Young people and older Australians will have no choice. Workers at the bottom end of the labour market will be worse off. It will not take long for the hospitality industry to transform Australia’s restaurants and cafes into Americanised workplaces where unreliable tips are the core of the person’s income.

Under this legislation, hospitality workers’ only legal entitlement is to those very lowest of the low standards, which I believe are not appropriate. The market forces will operate the way they have always operated in this unmediated fashion and employers would have the capacity to place any workers on the lowest of low standards. Each day, this arrogant Howard government eats into the heart of Australia’s democracy by abusing the functions of this chamber.

Australians have always had a reputation as reliable and hardworking. Our workers are acknowledged and recruited worldwide. We have a fine reputation for producing hardworking and reliable employees. Why go down the American track? These changes are an insult to this country and to the men and women who have made it great. This out of touch government really have no idea. Mr Howard is trying to make Australian workers compete with Third World workers. Instead of growing the clever country, the coalition are slashing conditions and taking Australian workers to the Third World. Why? Because they can.

Instead of confronting the skills crisis, Mr Howard’s government is slashing wages and conditions. He is even importing apprentices. I pray that Australian wages will never compete against those in China, India and other developing countries. Labor wants Australians to take the high skills road. This hardworking nation must invest in education, infrastructure and training, not be dumbed down but be skilled up. Labor wants Australian workers to compete on skills, not wages. No worker will be worse off? You know that is untrue. Work Choices? Pardon me! Choices for whom? Not for the workers in Tasmania or other Australian workers. Protected by law? Pardon me! Laws protecting whom? Not Australian workers. There will be no choice for the single mother forced by Welfare to Work and Work Choices into a low-paid job where her earnings go into providing after-school care for her children. When it all gets too much and she cannot cope, what will this mean Howard government do? It will take away her benefits for eight weeks. These laws are designed to stitch up Australian workers now and into the future.

What does Mr Howard say to workers who do not like their pay and conditions? ‘Find another job.’ What he is really saying is that any job is better than no job at all. The Salvation Army has said that greater use of contracts would exploit the vulnerable in our society. During these nine or so long years, Mr Howard has encouraged families to put their children into private schools and into private health insurance, to take out bigger mortgages and to buy new cars. A lot of that expense relies on both parents working, access to child care, overtime and substantial penalty rates. Australia’s 10 million workers deserve a voice. They deserve the traditional checks and balances of this chamber. John Howard, what sort of Christmas are you planning to deliver to Australian workers?

Mr Howard has stolen Christmas. Christmas Day will not be protected. This means that employees can be forced to sign an agreement that makes them work Christmas Day without appropriate compensation. Come January, Mr Howard’s awards task force will release its report. While many Australians are spending family holidays at the beach, their rights and conditions will be further eroded. Mr Howard and Mr Andrews continue to refuse to guarantee that no individual employee will be worse off. It is Mr Howard’s obsession to take industrial relations away from the states. This government is not serious about creating a fair and uniform system. I am particularly concerned about this legislation’s impact on small business. What will happen to small business?

Senator McGauran —You’re finished. You’re in another world!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator McGauran, you are being provocative and unruly.

Senator POLLEY —My state thrives on small business culture but, under this arrogant government’s plan, small business will have no rights when they are not incorporated. Labor challenges the Prime Minister to guarantee that his proposed workplace relations legislation will not remove the rights and protections for small business operators. At the moment, a selection of small business operators, including contractors, owners and drivers and builders can use state industrial relations acts to remedy disputes. Mr Howard’s changes to industrial relations appear to remove these important mechanisms by overriding the state laws. There are tens of thousands of small business people who deserve an answer and protection from these extreme industrial relations laws. Under this government’s extreme plans, Tasmania’s healthy small businesses, particularly Tasmanian farmers, will be urged to incorporate. If they incorporate, they lose beneficial tax arrangements. What message are you sending to small business in Tasmania? Claims traditionally settled in the Tasmanian Industrial Commission will end up in the High Court. Small businesses and their loyal employees will not know whether they are covered by state or federal employment laws.

The king of fudge, Prime Minister John Howard, has fudged his way out of guaranteeing a minimal wage. What happens if a person goes to an interview and is offered employment subject to signing an AWA and refuses? Will that person remain eligible for unemployment payments or single-parent or part-parent pensions until they get a job offer not compelling an individual contract? What about a prospective new employee with religious convictions? Will workers still be able to claim religious belief to avoid signing an individual contract of employment? Remember penalty rates? They were introduced to discourage antisocial working hours. For heaven’s sake! They were introduced to encourage the eight-hour day. Scrooge, Mr John Howard, Scrooge! Where is John Howard taking this country? Back to his future. Australian families will lose 150 years of hard-fought and hard-earned wages and conditions because of one man’s obsession. (Time expired)

Debate interrupted.