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Combet prepares for IR action -

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(generated from captions) floor of this Federal council the Senate, but it didn't on the floor of this Federal council and

much to his disapproval on that key

question he went down. Jim, thanks

for your time. Pleasure. And now to our program guest, the Secretary of the ACTU, Greg Combet, who will this week coordinate a national week of action -

protests around the country against the government's plans to change our industrial relations laws. Greg Combet is here in the studio.

question he went down. Jim, thanks for your time. Pleasure. To what

extent will the public be inconvenienced as this extent will the public be inconvenienced as this plan action

swings in? We're ensuring there'll

be minimal disruption. There's a

culmination on Thursday in a number

of capital cities. There might be

disruption then, but it's been

carefully planned and we're

obviously keen to win community

opinion not alienate it. Are these

people stopping work or taking

advantage of flexible working

arrangements? A mixture of both, I think.

arrangements? A mixture of both, I think. What we're really trying to

do is to reach into the workforce

and the wider community to ensure

that people know about the

industrial relations changes that

the Government has announced and in

particular, to know how it's going

to affect their rights at work.

But what's the point, though, when

you know whatever you do, no

you know whatever you do, no matter how much publicity you attract you

know the reality in the Senate as

know the reality in the Senate as of July and the Government won't be

budging on these changes? Well

there's two important things that

the unions are trying to achieve there's two important things that the unions are trying to achieve

the unions are trying to achieve and this is for people whether they're

union members or not. Firstly

union members or not. Firstly we're trying to make sure that people's

pay and employment conditions and

job security is protected as much

job security is protected as much as as is possible under the new system

and so we'll be working at the

workplace level to achieve that.

But secondly, in the medium to

long-term it's our view that it's

porn that the community comes to

understand how these changes have

come about, how it affects understand how these changes have come about, how it affects their

rights at work, how it affects

rights at work, how it affects their family and social and community

family and social and community life and that they give a good bit of

thought to it in the lead-up to the

next election. Ultimately,

political change is going to be

needed in order to restore a decent

set of working rights. But in the

end won't they wait and see, no

amount of advertising will convince

them, it's the reality of it and

that might take a year or two

that might take a year or two before they really know just how they're

going to be affected? they really know just how they're going to be affected? We recognise

that it takes some time and we'll

need to campaign over a

need to campaign over a considerable period of time. But we've done a

fair bit of research in the lead-up

to this campaign and some of the

discussion, politically amongst the

commentators about the change in

commentators about the change in the Senate this coming week, that's

Senate this coming week, that's very poorly understood in the community.

People don't necessarily know that

John Howard will have a legislative

blank cheque from next week. They

don't really know much about the industrial relations changes, don't really know much about the industrial relations changes, let

alone how they'll affect them. And

so an important thing for the

so an important thing for the unions to be concentrating on in coming

months will be to inform people and

make sure they do understand what's

coming. What they do know, though,

is the country wen through this in

1996 you predicted all sorts of

things. What happened was a 16% in

real wages 1.6 jobs were created?

Let's keep this in a bit of real wages 1.6 jobs were created? Let's keep this in a bit of context

here. In relation to

here. In relation to the economy,

industrial relations cannot be put

as the key economic priority in

as the key economic priority in this country but secondly, John Howard

hasn't had control of the Senate

over the last nine and a half years

and a lot of these industrial

relations changes that will now go

through were positive over the last

nine and a half years but were

defeated in the Senate. So the

things we were saying about it in

1996 were quite right, however due

to our political campaigning the

to our political campaigning the support that we achieved from the

Labor Party, the Greens, the

Democrats and others in the Senate,

these changes were blocked.

these changes were blocked. They're now going to go through and what

we're saying is not misleading in

any sense. These are very

significant changes, the biggest

industrial relations changes in

industrial relations changes in many generations, and they will hurt

people's rights at work. The

Government is proposing to be able

to allow employers to sack people unfairly for as

to allow employers to sack people unfairly for as many as four money

people in the workplace, to sack

them unfairly without a right of

appeal or any remedy. You notice,

though, I'm sure what's happened

with the Liberal council meeting

yesterday, that they're opposed to

yesterday, that they're opposed to a centralised system. They want that

to stay in the States. Are you

going to take the support wherever

you can get it? Well, of course.

We'll work at any level. But

obviously John Howard's strategy in

this runs counter to a lot of

obviously John Howard's strategy in this runs counter to a lot of

long-standing Menzieian philosophy

if you like and that is a

if you like and that is a Federalist approach from the Liberals. This

approach from the Liberals. This is highly centralist. This is

highly centralist. This is knocking out the State industrial relations

system which has protected people

well and worked well with the

employer community over many years.

It will wipe those out and impose a

centralised system with a very poor

set of rights for working people.

The entirety of the award system, State and Federal over

The entirety of the award system, State and Federal over the last 100

years is about to get jumped and

replaced with only five minimum

standards which will leave

standards which will leave employers in a very powerful position to

remove overtime rates, weekend

penalty rates, pay for working on

Christmas day and public holidays,

allowances, annual leave loading,

casual loadings - the list goes on.

This has the potential to force

This has the potential to force down people's living standards. But

that's not what was concerning people's living standards. But that's not what was concerning the

Liberals yesterday at the

conference. I'm sure it wane.

What they say is Labor will be in

office one day and they'll be able

to take advantage of that control.

to take advantage of that control. Is it worth talking to them and

getting their support in the Senate

on that basis, do you come at it

from opposite direction? We're

talking to National and Liberal

senators every opportunity we get

about these issues and how it will

affect States' rights. Some of these people are

affect States' rights. Some of these people are more beholden to

their States' than to John Howard.

So it's as the Labor Party draws

So it's as the Labor Party draws up its policies running up to the next

election, you'll be making certain

demands upon them. What's the

bottom line say , for example, or

unfair dismissals that apply to

companiesgot a number in mind you'd

like the Labor Party to write into

its platform? I think as a like the Labor Party to write into its platform? I think as a general

principle, employees should have a

remedy if they are dismissed

unfairly and that's a principle

unfairly and that's a principle that Kim Beazley enunciated at the NSW

labour conference a couple of weeks

ago. It's a fair enough principle

to have to say regardless of the

size of the company you work in the

employer shouldn't be able to treat

you and dismiss you unfairly. Your

job is the most important element you and dismiss you unfairly. Your job is the most important element

job is the most important element of financial security for you and your

family. That needs to be respected,

but we've got to have a flexible

system that respects also the

system that respects also the rights of employers to organise their

business and run it appropriately

and I think what could have been

looked at had there been a serious

attempt to deal with this unfair

dismissal issue is ways of

dismissal issue is ways of improving the system that we've had, rather

than just throwing out all of the

employee rights. Well if Labor was

to pick up on the things you've to pick up on the things you've been talking

to pick up on the things you've been talking about, how do they handle

the politics of rollback which

the politics of rollback which Kevin Andrews is already running given

that the GST experience that

that the GST experience that they'll need to unscramble the egg? I don't

think - rollback is an expression

that the Conservative side of

politics is going to throw into it.

Given the significance of the

changes that are being made

what'sing going to need to happen over the next couple of what'sing going to need to happen over the next couple of years,

something the unions have starteded

to think about, is what sorts of

rights will employees need once

changes are enacted and we'll want

to start to get a better system in

place in the future. In the early

'90s if unions with a Labor

Government, the Hawke and Keating

Governments decentralised the

Governments decentralised the system to an enterprise level if you like

on the basis of collective

bargaining. What John Howard is

bargaining. What John Howard is now proposing to do is to give the employers the power to proposing to do is to give the employers the power to further

decentralise it if you like and to

force people onto individual

contracts. All of that trashes

people's rights if you like to

people's rights if you like to union representation and more importantly,

really, the right for people to

really, the right for people to join together to collectively bargain.

That's what is in threat. We're

starting to think about, "Well OK

what are the fundamental principles

that would underpin a decent IR system?

that would underpin a decent IR system?" Well one of them is the

right for employees to collectively

bargain. We're looking to the US,

Canada, UK and other advanced

economies to look at how these

issues are dealt with there and,

issues are dealt with there and, for example, one important right that

the Blair Government brought in,

the Blair Government brought in, for example, after the thracher period

was the right for employees

themselves to vote in favour of

collective bargaining and if that

took place then the employer had an took place then the employer had an obligation to negotiate on that

basis. We're a long way that here

but we're thinking about issues

but we're thinking about issues such as that. Kim Beazley's reshuffle

during the week, by and large it

seems to be the same old faces, is

that good enough? I think it's

strengthened Labor's frontbench. I

don't think there's any doubt about

that. Also in the medium to

long-term the most porn thing for

Labor to do is to continue to renew

the depth of talent, the breadth Labor to do is to continue to renew the depth of talent, the breadth of

experience. How does it do that,

given the restrictions, the rules

given the restrictions, the rules on pre-selection? That's a significant

problem that Labor has to address

and if it's going to present I

and if it's going to present I think a more comprehensive, positive and

persuasive argument to the

Australian community, I don't think

there's any doubt that more people

need to be brought into the Labor

caucus who have a wider level of

experience with the economy, in law, important experience with the economy, in law, important parts of Australian

political, economic and social life.

And for that experience and talent

to be taken in there. That's

important for Labor in the future.

important for Labor in the future. How do you do that, though, how do

you bring people in when at the

moment it's in the hand of the

moment it's in the hand of the branches and the fraction factions?

You don't want a discourse on the

rules at the moment. You'd like to

see changes? It's an issue for the

leadership at all levels in

Parliament, at State and leadership at all levels in Parliament, at State and Federal

level and outside Parliament.

It's a challenge for Kim Beazley?

It's a challenge for Kim Beazley? Not only a challenge for him, but

for many in the Labor movement,

because to have an effective opposition in Australian political

life, I mean in a broad sense, the

Labor movement needs to be vibrant

have good ideas, strong values and

beleafs and be able to articulate

them to the community. There's a

challenge in that regard I think,

there's no doubt about it. Lindsay Tanner will be there's no doubt about it. Lindsay Tanner will be shadow Minister for

Finance. He said as a starting

point, taxes are too high, spending

is too high. How will that go over

with the industrial wing? We've

thought tax is too high on a lot of

workers for quite some period of

time. None of these things are too

shocking for us. Spending is too

high? The key thing as I said

earlier stretion industrial

relations isn't the key economic

priority. The country faces many challenges and

priority. The country faces many challenges and it's been disguised

by this 14 years of growth we've

had. But that growth has been

largely fueled by reliance upon

domestic consumption. Not a good

sign. Not a wonder there's

sign. Not a wonder there's interest rate sensitivity with the level of

debt people have. A slight change

in the economy and an increase in

interest rates and we could see the

economy slow down and go into

recession. Very poor trade performance, low recession. Very poor trade performance, low levels of

investment in infrastructure,

investment in infrastructure, skills shortages, low level of investment

in skill generation in the economy,

low levels of investment in

low levels of investment in research and development falling levels of

exports in elaborately transformed

manufactures. These are

manufactures. These are fundamental economic issues and the economy is

vulnerable because of those

vulnerable because of those elements of the Australian economy at the

moment. Those are the of the Australian economy at the moment. Those are the economic

issues that Labor and the Labor

movement more broadly needs to

highlight and focus on, as well as

things such as health and education.

A lot of people are missing

opportunity. When you say

opportunity. When you say industrial relations is a sidebar issue Doug

Cameron complains Stephen Smith

shouldn't have industry and

industrial relations, is he right

industrial relations, is he right on that? Is it too much? Industrial

relations will be a significant issue over the course of relations will be a significant issue over the course of the next

couple of years and then up to the

next election, so we shallquestion.

It is important that Labor intends

to that issue as well as develop

some economic argument if you like.

Industrial relations, of course

impacts on the economy. By

impacts on the economy. By argument is that it's simply not the most

important issue that we face at the

moment. When you say "we shall see"

Kim Beazley's made the judgment now,

this is the shadow cabinet he's

this is the shadow cabinet he's taking into the next election, did

he get it right? Stephen Smith

he get it right? Stephen Smith might do a fantastic job, I'm not going

do a fantastic job, I'm not going to pre-judge that. It's an important

issue. It's an opportunity for the

Labor Party and the labour movement

more generally to articulate what

they stand for and reach out to the

community and win support. The

community and win support. The most commonly asked question in many of

the workplace meetings I'm doing at

the moment. I've spoken to

thousands of people over recent

thousands of people over recent months and that is - people

understand that their rights are

under threat. They understand that

they will campaign in the

they will campaign in the workplace to protect their rights their pay

and condition, but they're also

wondering what the Labor Party will

do and it's a great opportunity for

Labor to stand up over these issues

and reach out to people and win

and reach out to people and win back the support of the battlers. So

industrial relations very

politically important, but what is

crucial also is that an economic argument is made about

crucial also is that an economic argument is made about the issues I