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Rudd unveils IR plan -

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Rudd unveils IR plan

Broadcast: 17/04/2007

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has detailed the central elements of his industrial relations
battle plan. The Federal Government says it is a disaster for small business but the business
community is not so emphatic.


KERRY O'BRIEN: The national political debate around industrial relations here has become one of the
most potent of our time. John Howard remains determined to push forward with his WorkChoices
reforms despite growing anxiety in the electorate. And today Kevin Rudd detailed the central
elements of his IR battle plan which he says will deliver both flexibility and fairness. Labor
would introduce a new, limited unfair dismissal clause, and a national industrial system for the
private sector, but strikes will be illegal unless they've been approved by a ballot box or by a
secret ballot.

The government says it's a disaster for small business, but the business community is not so
emphatic, and Mr Rudd's announcement coincided with revelations in the Sydney Morning Herald, that
figures leaked from the Government's Office of the Employment Advocate suggested that up to 45 per
cent of all Australian Workplace Agreements had stripped away all award conditions that were
supposed to be protected by law. Political editor Michael Brissenden reports.

KEVIN RUDD, FEDERAL OPPOSITION LEADER: Labor's way forward is a better way forward for both
employers and employees. It will be simpler, fairer and in our judgment, more flexible, and will
not throw the fair go out the back door.

JOE HOCKEY, FEDERAL WORKPLACE RELATIONS MINISTER: This is a disaster for small business and it's a
disaster for job creation. It's bad policy, it's old Labor policy, and the union bosses are back in

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: This Government has been the best friend that the workers of Australia
have ever had.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Industrial relations was always going to be one of the key battlegrounds of the
coming election. The Government's WorkChoices changes have made sure of that. But the new
industrial environment has also presented big challenges for the Labor Party. It's something Labor
has been struggling with for some years now. The expectations of a booming small business sector
and the growing army of contractors on the one hand, and the trenchantly held views of Labor's 20th
century industrial base on the other, have proved to be a difficult political terrain. In between,
the 21st century workers who want flexibility, and those who are worried about the erosion of their
rights. Today, Kevin Rudd laid out a plan he says will deliver both flexibility and fairness.

KEVIN RUDD: We believe Australia can go forward without throwing the fair go out the back door.
These unfair laws have stripped away basic conditions and the take home pay of hard working
Australians. And then they have Mr Howard still telling them they've never been better off. A
Federal Labor Government will create a new workplace relations system that is simple, fair and
flexible, and we will get rid of Mr Howard's unfair laws once and forever.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As we know, Labor plans to scrap AWA's altogether. But today Mr Rudd put some
more flesh on the policy he'll be taking to the next election. Labor will introduce a national
industrial relations system for the private sector. The states have yet to agree to that one. And
under Labor's new policy, unfair dismissal laws will be back but with significant caveats.
Businesses with less than 15 employees will be exempt from unfair dismissal laws for 12 months.
Those with more than 15 workers will be exempt for six months.

KEVIN RUDD: We believe this passes the common sense test for small business. A full year should
give any small business operator the time to make an evaluation about whether new staff are going
to fit into their businesses.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Government's response has been tough and predictable. This is a step
backwards, bad for small business and bad for jobs. Yesterday, Joe Hockey and Kevin Rudd were
telling us how they were such good mates. But gentle Sunrise banter was one thing. The full glare
of real politics is another.

JOE HOCKEY: The Labor Party is still committed to tearing up nearly 1 million AWA's at the next
election. The Labor Party wants to reintroduce patent bargaining. There's nothing in the statement
today about union's right of entry, something that every small business in Australia should fear
now the Labor Party has confirmed that they're going to reintroduce the unfair dismissal laws.
Kevin Rudd is running around trying to tell small business that he is going to deliver them Phar
Lap. Today, he delivered them a donkey.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The initial response from small business has been disappointment rather than
angry rejection. The Council of Small Business says it prefers the current WorkChoices legislation,
particularly in respect of unfair dismissals. But the group has indicated that should Labor be
elected to Government, it will engage on the development of a proposed process for unfair dismissal
claims to be dealt with by a mediator, a new fair dismissal code. But what about the big end of
town? The Labor Party has put considerable effort into wooing business since the dark days of the
Latham leadership. Here too, the initial response to today's IR announcement has been cautious.

GARRY BRACK, EMPLOYERS FIRST: The economy will turn sometime down the track. When it does there are
going to be savage job losses and unless we do something pretty significant in order to improve our
productivity, our flexibility in business, the way we produce things, the way we utilise people at
work then the consequences are going to be dire. And one of the ways of trying to ameliorate those
problems is the Australian Workplace Agreements.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: One aspect of the Rudd plan the employers are happy with is the move to outlaw
any industrial action unless there is a secret ballot. Even the unions appear to have swallowed
that one.

SHARAN BURROW, ACTU PRESIDENT: Look, we're cautious about secret ballots, but provided they are
efficient, then it's a very fair way of saying to working people you have a right to strike in the
context of bargaining for a fair deal. If good faith bargaining principles are not respected, then
you have an avenue of strike action. When working people are treated unfairly then they will take
action and a secret ballot will not be an impediment.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It all seems too easy. But there is, of course, a lot of politics at play here.
Labor has to counter the strong argument that comes from the Government that it's beholden to the
unions. There will be some in the union movement who find it all a bit too hard to stomach, but
that's a fight Kevin Rudd seems more than happy to bring on. With the polls riding the way they
are, he knows it's a fight he'll win.

KEVIN RUDD: Obviously, various members of the trade union movement will have reservations about
this. Some of them have expressed those reservations to us. Our challenge however, is to get the
balance right between them on the one hand, and small business needs for flexibility on the other.
We think we've got the balance right and this will be the policy we take to the election.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Labor believes IR is a vote changer. Analysis of research conducted by the
Office of the Employment Advocate leaked to the Sydney Morning Herald suggests that 45 per cent of
AWAs have stripped award conditions that the Government promised would be protected. These include
shift loadings, annual leave loadings, compassionate leave and parental leave. This is information
the Government has refused to make public after some preliminary research that came to light last
year produced some embarrassing conclusions about the impact of WorkChoices. In the past Mr Hockey
has defended not releasing the data because there's nothing to compare the analysis to. You can't
compare apples with apples, he says. Today, although he said he hadn't seen the new figures, he
didn't accept the analysis.

JOE HOCKEY: We have no reason to believe that the Fairfax analysis is accurate or the methodology
is accurate. We are waiting to find out whether the information they have is in fact correct. But
certainly, the claims and the methodology they've used are their own methodology, they're not the
methodology of the Government or the Office of the Employment Advocate.

Accurate analysis or not, the polling on WorkChoices also shows a considerable level of anxiety
about the impact of the laws. But there are now more than a million workers on AWAs and they can't
all be unhappy about it. If Labor wants to win their votes, they'll need to be convinced that they
really will be unaffected by a return to the future.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political Editor Michael Brissenden.