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Miners rail at Labor's IR policy -

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KERRY O'BRIEN: As business hardens its opposition to federal Labor's industrial relations platform,
the plan to scrap Australian workplace agreements is shaping up as a key flashpoint in the build-up
to the next election. Some leading employer groups are moving to finalise a heavily funded campaign
against the policy and say AWAs will be the focus.

The mining industry has been heavily reliant on AWAs for several years and says it has the most to
lose if they're axed. As the battlefront, widened even former primer minister Paul Keating weighed
in with the charge that individual workplace agreements were essentially anti-productive. Tomorrow
in Melbourne, mining industry representatives will start a fresh round of talks with deputy
Opposition leader Julia Gillard to try and reach a compromise, though Labor is adamant the
individual contracts must go.

The Prime Minister meanwhile cranked up his rhetoric against Labor as "bully boys", while
announcing a $1.4 billion package over 10 years to help the manufacturing and services industries.
Heather Ewart reports.

HEATHER EWART: The battle lines are drawn and it's the mining sector that's railing the hardest
against Labor's plans to scrap Australian Workplace Agreements. That's because it has most at stake
with eight out of 10 of its employees in Western Australia alone on AWAs.

STEVE KNOTT, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF MINES AND METALS ASSOCIATION: It's a $110 billion export-earning
industry. There's over $60 billion worth of projects in the pipeline in WA alone and so the
investment community needs industrial certainty.

JULIA GILLAD, OPPOSITION WORKPLACE RELATIONS SPOKESWOMAN: We said to the resources sector that we
want to work with them.

STEVE KNOTT: Well, from the mining perspective we simply just want to retain the status quo. The
ALP are telling us we can't have that, so I don't see a compromise position.

JULIA GILLARD: Our policy as announced on Saturday will be the policy Labor takes to the next
election. We will keep talking to the resources sector about the implementation of that policy but
certainly under Labor, Mr Howard's laws will go and Mr Howard's unfair Australian Workplace
Agreements will go.

HEATHER EWART: But in the mining sector, it's not quite as straightforward as that and the federal
Opposition knows it. Flexibility in the form of individual contracts has been the name of the game
for almost 20 years.

STEVE KNOTT: It's the predominant form of industrial arrangement and again, it goes back before the
Howard reforms as well because they were in place when the Court government was in power in WA.

HEATHER EWART: Western Australian premier Alan Carpenter knows it too, today repeating his concerns
about preserving the industry that's booming in his sate.

ALAN CARPENTER, WA PREMIER: AWAs need to go. Absolutely no hesitation in saying that. What we need
to do is replace the AWA model with a model that produces a balanced system, a fair system, a
flexible system critical to the West Australian resource industry.

STEVE KNOTT: A lot of these workers in the mining industry wouldn't know what an award was, haven't
seen a union official, don't want a collective bargain, so I can understand what Alan Carpenter is
saying - be wary of the mining industry's success here and make sure you don't disturb that because
there's a lot at risk.

HEATHER EWART: Tomorrow, at the headquarters of the Australian Mines and Metals Association in
Melbourne, mining industry heavyweights and Julia Gillard will get together to thrash out the one
area Labor has failed to tackle. In moving to scrap AWAs, it's highly aware it doesn't have a
strategy to fill the vacuum in the booming resources sector, as the workplace relations
frontbencher outlined in this interview just before the ALP national conference last week.

JULIA GILLARD: We don't want to do anything that would disturb the resources sector which is
generating so much of this nation's wealth currently.

HEATHER EWART: So might you just give AWAs for that sector another name perhaps or talk about
individual agreements?

JULIA GILLARD: No, I need to be clear about this. There will be no AWAs, there will be no statutory
individual contracts under Labor, they will be gone. But getting to a circumstance where they are
gone, we are still working through the details of that.

STEVE KNOTT: We've already said to Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd they can call them BWAs for all we
care, as long as the statutory instrument does the same thing and that is, take them out of the
award system, take them out of a collective bargaining regime, take them away from industrial
tribunals and let people get on with the job of having a productive, efficient and safe enterprise.

HEATHER EWART: Things are not off to a great start, with BHP taking the unusual step of issuing a
statement slamming Labor's plans and Julia Gillard was quoted in one newspaper this morning as
saying politics was a contact sport and not a wise place for business to be if it didn't want to
get injured on the field.

JOHN HOWARD: When you talk about companies getting injured, that sounds to me like Julia Gillard,
who'd be deputy prime minister in a Labor government, saying to business, "If you speak out in
support of Coalition policies and we win, we'll bash you up".

STEVE KNOTT: I've just come from a luncheon that the CEO of Rio Tinto addressed, Leigh Clifford,
and that issue was put directly to him as well and I thought his response was quite good, and that
he said, "We're not going to have a one-hand clapping debate here".

PETER HENDY, AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: We benchmark any political parties' industrial
relations policy against what we think is best for the business community and best for the
Australian community, so we articulate our views without fear or favour.

HEATHER EWART: And that flushed out one of the hard men of the game who was champing at the bit.

PAUL KEATING: Business, most of them like Hendy, he's just a Liberal Party stooge, Hendy, you know,
don't take any notice of these people. Chip Goodyear, you know - in America, real wages haven't
increased since 1982. We don't need Americans telling us about social equity in Australia. Thank
you, thank you.

PETER HENDY: Business have a legitimate point of view to put forward. Whether we agree with it or
not is a separate matter. Free country, I'm relaxed about all that.

HEATHER EWART: He may not be so relaxed if business groups move on preliminary discussions to set
up their own fighting fund to campaign against Labor's plans.

STEVE KNOTT: It was something that had been considered prior to the weekend. That issue is getting
far more active consideration as a result of looking through the detail of the ALP's IR policy
announcements. So the short answer is, I'd expect there to be some form of campaign that will
commence in earnest in the months ahead.

HEATHER EWART: The only reason the mining industry would back away now is if there's a major
breakthrough in its latest round of talks with Labor over the AWA conundrum.

(To Steve Knott) Would freeing up common law contracts, could that work or not?

STEVE KNOTT: If they gave the current law contracts the same status as AWAs, that they could
override union awards and agreements, yes it could.

HEATHER EWART: Is that one option you'll be putting to Julia Gillard?

STEVE KNOTT: It's an option we've already put to the ALP and we haven't had a response to that.

HEATHER EWART: The Prime Minister, never one to miss an opportunity, today pounced on the growing
rift and announced his $1.4 billion package to help manufacturing and service industries compete in
the global market. And here was the rub.

JOHN HOWARD: This policy has been put together by the Minister after a year of consulting large and
small firms within the broad spectrum of manufacturing and other industry in this country.

HEATHER EWART: John Howard also moved to issue a reminder of the Keating era when he claimed Labor
victimised opponents.

JOHN HOWARD: The Housing Industry Association in 1993 campaigned in favour of the Coalition and for
two years after Mr Keating's re-election, nobody in the Government spoke to them.

PAUL KEATING: When you say to people, "you can't get together at work, you can't organise your
conditions," you're back to the earlier part of the industrial revolution and that's where Howard
belongs. You know, he's a pre Copernican obscurantist. That's where he belongs. But let's not have
all these turkeys in the business community saying, "oh, isn't this shocking".

HEATHER EWART: But the fact is they don't look set to stop their cries of complaint any time soon.
The top end of town is not happy and says the final siren hasn't gone yet