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Thursday, 1 December 2005
Page: 17

Senator RONALDSON (10:47 AM) —In the short time I have to speak on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 as we try to accommodate others who wish to speak on the bill, I will just say some quick words. I say from the outset that I passionately support this bill. It is good for Australia, it is good for Australia’s future, it is good for Australia’s workers and it is good for Australia’s employers, particularly small business employers.

I have noticed with some interest the change in body language of those on the other side over the last 10 days. I remember during other debate when reference was made to their trade union roots and the fact that 18 of them came straight of the union movement that there was a bit of kicking of the ground, a bit of shuffling and a little bit of embarrassment because they know, as we do, that the union movement now covers about 17 per cent of the private sector work force and less than 30 per cent of the public sector.

It just made me wonder whether Shazza Burrow might have been on the phone to these guys. Perhaps the conversation was along the lines of: ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Who are you going to talk about when you are speaking on these bills? Who are you going to protect?’ They might have answered: ‘Well, Sharan, we are going to protect the workers and talk about them.’ You can imagine Sharan Burrow saying: ‘You fools. Why would you talk about the workers? What have they done for us over the last 10 years? They have re-elected the Howard-Costello government. What have they done?’ You can imagine those on the other side saying: ‘Well, they might have a point, Sharan, because this is a government that has created 1.7 million jobs, about 900,000 of which have been full time, and I am a bit embarrassed to say it but they are also a government that have delivered about a 14.6 per cent increase in real wages over the 10 years they have been here. And, Shaz, as you might remember, under us it was only about 1.2 per cent. So we do have some sympathy.’ You can then imagine Sharan Burrow saying: ‘Listen, knuckleheads, you are here to protect the union movement, not the workers.’

Time after time, we have seen the proud-to-be-union badges put back on. All of a sudden it is proud to be union. This debate has not been about the protection of Australian workers; this debate has been about the protection of the trade union movement. That is why the language of those opposite, who are beholden to the trade union movement, has changed in the last 10 days. They have been rummaging around in their top drawers trying to find their proud-to-be-union badges. This is what this debate has been about. The most disappointing thing about this debate is the fact that it has been characterised by lies and deceit.

I have just been given even better news. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. I have a couple more minutes than I originally thought I had. I am very grateful, and I am sure that that is by agreement. If you look at what underpins this legislation, it shows the fallacy of the trade union argument in relation to this debate. I know that Senator Parry, who has just come into the chamber, has also referred to that. This debate has been characterised by an obscene attack on the goodwill and the good grace of Australian workers.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Forshaw)—Order! There is too much discussion on both sides of the chamber.

Senator RONALDSON —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. As a former chief whip in another place, I am acutely aware of the negotiations that go on prior to matters being put to the chamber. However, I am pleased to be able to continue my comments in some silence. I can understand the trade union movement wanting to protect itself. We all want to protect ourselves. But when that is done to the detriment of Australian workers, many of whom will not read this bill and will not know the intricacies of the act, they are entitled to rely upon a fair and objective assessment of what it means to them. That has not been done in the last six months. There has not been a fair and objective assessment of what the outcomes will be. Why, for example, haven’t the workers of Australia been told that it is absolutely pivotal for the future growth of this country, the sustenance of the jobs growth that we have had and the sustenance of low interest rates and low inflation that we do not stand still?

Australian workers have shared in the outcome of the industrial relations changes this government made some four or five years ago. They have shared the fruits of that investment in industrial relations through jobs, real wage growth and low inflation. So they are far more guaranteed than they were under the Australian Labor Party that they will have a job and they can afford to buy a house. There was fear in the Australian community for many years, with high inflation and high interest rates, and Australian workers were the ones who suffered. It was not the well-off, because they can always afford to buy a house. They are always the ones who can afford to buy share portfolios for their future superannuation. But Australian workers could not—until the election of this government. It is no secret that one of the reasons that we now have the highest private share ownership anywhere in the world is that Australian workers are finally empowered to start investing in their own futures. That is a matter this government is extremely proud of.

Senator Parry interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —It is, as Senator Parry said, one of the many things that we are very proud of.

I want to turn briefly now to the engine room of the Australian economy, the small business community, which we should all be so incredibly proud of. They employ some 50 per cent of the private sector work force. They produce about 30 per cent of our GDP. They are subjected, at the moment, to 130 different pieces of legislation. They are subjected to 4,000 awards and six different workplace relations systems. They are strangled by the red tape of complexity. I have to say, on behalf of the small business community, that I have found some of the comments that I have heard over the last 10 days quite objectionable. The principle on which the comments have been made by the other side is that all employers are bad. That is the basis that underpins the comments made by those opposite: that all employers are bad and people should be protected from that bulk of people who are bad employers. The bottom line is—and I have been in small business myself—that your most important resource in small business is your staff. This notion peddled by the other side that we are trying to do something to diminish the rights of small business workers is patent nonsense.

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator RONALDSON —Senator Abetz I think has really hit the nail on the head with his comment. It is about re-endorsement. And when Shaz Burrow picked up the phone and said, ‘You are going to talk about the union movement. Don’t you talk about the workers, who have let us down over the last 10 years,’ she said, ‘You know and I know that I own you.’ The trade union movement, regrettably for the Senate, owns the majority of those on the other side. I wonder how the others got there without the trade union movement. I would like to see their photo albums.

Senator Abetz interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Forshaw)—Senator Abetz, you are interjecting out of your seat.

Senator RONALDSON —In finishing, I am as confident as I can be about anything that these changes will enable this country to deliver the standard of living that we have seen over the last 10 years. The people that the Australian Labor Party says this legislation is designed to impact on are the very people, quite frankly, who will be the great winners under it. I say, with some excitement, that these changes will generate another surge in this quite extraordinary economy, an economy of 20 million people which, on any proper assessment, is punching well above its weight. It is punching well above its weight because we have one of the most important partnerships we have seen in this country’s history. That is a partnership between a government that wants to invest in its people and in its workers and the workers themselves. The Australian working men and women of this country have voted on four occasions to reinforce and re-endorse that the coalition government is a party for Australian workers that wants to help them invest in their futures.