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Transcript of press conference: Commonwealth Parliament Offices, Sydney: 9 September 2006: Peter Brock; collective agreements; Queensland election; Harry Quick; PM's comments re NSW voters; interest rates; triple whammy.

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Subjects: Peter Brock; Collective Agreements; Queensland Election; Harry Quick; PM’s Comments re NSW Voters; Interest Rates; Triple Whammy

BEAZLEY: A night on, it’s been tremendously moving to pick up the papers and see the commentaries and the electronic media that enormous outpouring of grief from ordinary Australians, from people in the industry, people in the sport, all absolutely stricken by the passing of Peter Brock.

We’ve had a week book-ended by two tragic losses of great Australian icons and it’s a bit of a challenge to the soul of the nation, really. It certainly is a challenge to our hearts and it’s been an opportunity for many people to get out there and say just how much they’ve valued these men and their contribution to Australian society, but what a terrible way to get that opportunity.

In these sort of circumstances, people want to do something and I do note that Peter Brock, for example, has a Foundation and the Foundation has as its slogan, The Energy of Caring, so perhaps there’ll be an opportunity here for those who are managing that Foundation to receive donations from a grieving public to make sure that the hard work that he put in, that what he got from Australia, he put back in. That hard work that he put in can actually be continuing in his name for the people who’ve benefited in the past from it, the sort of people who’ve benefited in the past, benefit in the future as well.

I do notice and detect in the sorts of statements that we’ve seen, a desire on the part of ordinary Australians to do something that recognises the passing of these icons.

Now, I’ve also had out in some of the media, a discussion of what is the centrepiece of the Australian Labor Party’s approach to industrial relations. So, I want to say one or two things about that.

I am passionate about a fair, flexible, modern industrial relations system and I’m passionate about collective bargaining at the heart of it. Collective bargaining presided over by a fair, independent umpire. A powerful, independent umpire. In John Howard’s Australia, if workers want a collective agreement, they cannot get

it. In Kim Beazley’s Australia, if workers want a collective agreement, they will be able to get it, and that agreement, the determination of the outcome of that agreement, will be presided over by a fair, independent umpire. This is good for Australian workers. It’s good for new workers, Australian kids, but it’s also good for the economy because it is collective agreements that produce the best outcomes on productivity.

So, what we’re about is a fair thing. We don’t want to see any more of the sorts of cases that we’ve seen with the FA-18 workers at Boeing in Newcastle, workers who want it, if a majority of them wanted it a collective agreement and couldn’t get it, and what we’re seeing now in South Australia with the workers at Radio Rentals, wanting a collective agreement but the boss can say to them, “No, under John Howard’s laws, you’re not entitled to that”.

Well, no more of that. The centrepiece of our industrial relations policy, which we know will ensure both fair outcomes and also productive outcomes, is going to be collective bargaining.

Now, of course, we’ve got an election on in Queensland at the moment and I just want to say this. Peter Beattie deserves to win because he’s got a plan for the future. He’s been a good Premier but he doesn’t take that for granted. He has gone to the Queensland people with a plan for Queensland’s future.

It’s also an opportunity today to send a message to John Howard about his industrial relations laws. Queenslanders should not miss that opportunity - sending a message to John Howard about his industrial relations laws is very important indeed. It’s also important to get in place a Government and a Premier with a plan for the future - and that’s Peter Beattie. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: Can you explain how your collective bargaining (inaudible) the majority or workers wanted collective bargaining, individual agreements won’t be allowed?

BEAZLEY: No. If workers want a collective agreement, that will have to be discerned by the independent umpire. Of course, if the employer is not resistant to it, or the employer is happy with it, it’s irrelevant. But if the employer is resistant to it, that is determined by the fair umpire, by the Industrial Relations

Commissioner. It will be his job to ascertain whether or not in fact the majority of workers want that. If the majority of workers do, then that’s what goes in.

JOURNALIST: So, individual agreements in those circumstances wouldn’t be allowed?

BEAZLEY: Well, AWAs are out altogether, as far as we are concerned. But where workers want a collective agreement, that’s what would be obtained. Where a majority of workers want it, that’s what would be obtained.

JOURNALIST: So, if you’re in the minority of that group and you didn’t want a collective bargain, where does that leave you?

BEAZLEY: These days the flexibility comes from collective agreements. The truth is, in fact, there are within many collective agreements these days, capacities for individual agreements. There is always going to be a capacity for an individual agreement within the framework, not always but often, of a collective agreement, within the framework of a collective agreement, the opportunity for an individual outcome. And that will continue, of course. The point is here, the real overwhelming problem in the industrial relations system at the moment is that if you’re workers and you want a collective agreement, you can’t get it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, one of your MPs, Harry Quick, has said that you are on probation, that you have until the end of November to prove yourself. What do you have to say to Mr Quick?

BEAZLEY: Well, firstly, I’m glad that Harry’s sticking around. And what we want from Harry is what we want from every Labor Member, including himself, and that’s a 24/7 operation to put out Labor’s constructive alternative policies to Howard and the defeat of the Howard Government. That’s Harry’s job, along with mine.

The second is, I do have a deadline. The deadline’s 12 months from now. That’s when I go toe to toe with John Howard with our alternatives - my nation building agenda, my agenda for a fair Australia in relation to our industrial relations system, and John Howard’s tired 10 year-old backward-looking vision. Now, that’s the deadline and that’ll be the battle.

JOURNALIST: So, what’s this November deadline that Mr Quick is referring to? I mean, where does he get November from?

BEAZLEY: Oh, that’s Harry! Harry presents those every couple of months, you should know that by now.

JOURNALIST: It doesn’t help you though, surely, with your own backbench, that putting out these stories (inaudible)?

BEAZLEY: I’m just happy that Harry’s decided that he is going to stick around so that his constituents are not put to the inconvenience of a by-election. And in the interests of the Franklin constituents, I’m prepared to cop any amount from Harry.

JOURNALIST: He says there’s whisperings going on in the NSW Right here in Sydney. Are you hearing the whispers?

BEAZLEY: Harry’s not an expert on aspects of the Labor Party elsewhere around the country. So, don’t worry about Harry’s view on those things.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to any leaders of the NSW Right to see what’s going on?

BEAZLEY: I speak to the Labor Party leadership and the trade union leadership on a daily basis, right around the country and I can tell you exactly what’s going on in the Australian Labor Party and the trade union movement now - an absolute determination to obtain a unified attack on what this Government has done to industrial relations laws and what it has failed to do about nation building.

I’ve been in the Labor Party a long period of time and I can say, in all honesty, I have never seen the Labor Party and the labour movement so united in the direction in which it’s going. It may well have been, of course, the fact that John Howard’s mounted such a savage attack and existential threat on the rights of

people to organise themselves collectively - that may have inspired it - but nevertheless, it’s a fact.

JOURNALIST: So, shouldn’t you call Harry in for a bit of a word?

BEAZLEY: You’re kidding. Look, Harry rows his own canoe. Harry’s rowed his own canoe for a very lengthy period of time. Harry will keep rowing his own canoe. I’m simply happy he’s going to row his canoe until the next election!

JOURNALIST: What if he’s rowing his canoe … it might be sending you up a certain creek?

BEAZLEY: We’ll survive it!

JOURNALIST: Labor’s doing well at a state level, but not federally. Are you going to get tips from Peter Beattie and others?

BEAZLEY: You always learn from your colleagues. We are providing good government at state level - that’s what we’re doing. And that is an indication to the Australian people that the Labor party can deliver quality outcomes. Now we have very clear-cut differences between ourselves and our political opponents at the Federal level. We are about nation building. We are about a fair thing in the workplace. We are about creating opportunities that young Australians need to get themselves trade skills and the like. Now Howard’s stood against that national investment agenda. So what we have now, and maybe it hasn’t been so clear-cut in the public mind until now, but what we have

now, is a very clear-cut difference between the Australian Labor Party at the federal level, and John Howard, and we’ll se where that takes us.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has said that NSW voters are unhappy, and do you agree (inaudible)?

BEAZLEY: Well, I had a look at what the Prime Minister has had to say in those comments he made. He was sort of talking about blame shifting and standing out and saying he’s against it. When it comes to blame shifting, John Howard is the master blaster. John Howard is the master blaster of blame shifting in Australian politics. You know, he’s talking there about what’s happening to housing prices, housing arrangements and the like, in the western

suburbs of Sydney in particular. That’s what he’s actually talking about. The truth of the matter is this - when interest rates were going down, it was all John Howard’s responsibility. When interest rates were going up its all the State Government responsibility. That’s what I mean about the master blaster of blame shifting.

The simple fact with John Howard is this - he is no longer on the agenda that makes the difference to the Australian people. He is not talking about nation building. He is not talking about dealing with the skills crisis. He is not talking about dealing with the infrastructure crisis. The State Governments of Australia are trying to tackle these. They are tackling these with far less resources that those available to the National Government. Of course, in those circumstances its always a fight for them, and its always hard.

John Howard loves pointing the finger at them, but the simple fact is, and John Howard has to confront this - it’s the new interest rate reality. Because he at the national level, is the Government most capable of influencing interest rates - he has got to confront the new interest rate reality.

And what’s the new interest rate reality? Australian families with mortgages are now spending more of their income in payment of interest rates on those mortgages than they ever have before. That is the new interest rate reality. That is John Howard’s Australia and John Howard’s personal responsibility.

JOURNALIST; But do you think NSW voters are unhappy.

BEAZLEY: It is quite obvious that the pressure now on people particularly in the outlying suburbs of Sydney and in regional areas where there’s been new development are experiencing considerable difficulties. They are hit with the triple whammy - they’re hit with the whammy of petrol prices, they’re hit with whammy of interest rate rises, and they’re hit with the whammy of the impact of industrial relations on their ability to access to aspects of income like shift allowance, like overtime pay, which were so critical for them to be able to pay off their houses. And they’ve also experienced in recent times deflation in the value

of their assets. A deflation of the value of their assets against what their asset was calculated to be at the time they borrowed the money.

What John Howard is actually saying to the Government of NSW as he does his master blaster act on blame shifting is force those prices down even further. So John Howard is actually in the process of trying to turn the triple whammy into a quadruple whammy. So, are NSW people unhappy about that? Yes, they absolutely are. Because that’s what they’re experiencing. What I say to the voters of NSW - who is responsible here? Well the bloke who is responsible here, is the bloke who claims credit when interest rates are falling.

JOURNALIST: But the NSW is one of the highest taxing states in the country and a lot of people are unhappy about the taxes on their property.

BEAZLEY: The NSW Government like most of the State Governments

takes very seriously two things. One is that they have enormous responsibilities in the area of the development of infrastructure, and they have enormous responsibilities in the development of skills, particularly among young people, but amongst everyone in society. They do it without resources. That’s the truth. They do it without resources.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Reserve Bank has been asking since 1999 for the Commonwealth Government to take over leadership in this area. And the Commonwealth Government has not.

So, gradually as time goes by, these issues accumulate for the State Governments as they continue their struggle and they find it hard. And what I am about is relieving it. Relieving them with the burdens of national leadership on nation building. I will take those burdens over.

You’ve got the statements here about the struggle to be able to afford to pay for the things you need to in infrastructure. Guess what is happening in my home state? In my home state, Eric Ripper, the Treasurer, stood up yesterday I think it was, and said I am cancelling a number of infrastructure projects. And he is cancelling, or postponing, a number of infrastructure projects because he can’t get any skilled workers.

That is what he has said he cannot get any skilled workers. And yet John Howard has turned 300,000 young Australians away from TAFE. So what we have is this very substantial imbalance. But the imbalance at its core is a product of the absence of national leadership.

JOURNALIST: I just want to clarify, that if a number of employees vote for a collective agreement, then everyone is obliged to follow and you can’t have any individual agreements?

BEAZLEY: This is of course going to be determined by the independent umpire. But the intention here is to give a majority of workers a capacity to have a collective agreement. That’s all there is. And if a majority of workers don’t want to have a collective agreement they don’t have to have it. If the majority of workers do, then they get the capacity to have it.

It is not simply determined by some anarchic process. It is determined by the operations of a fair umpire who is obliged to discern whether or not a majority does indeed want this.

The simple fact is what we have now is an inability for workers to have a collective agreement unless their employers says they can have one. And that is not good enough. We have got to get collective bargaining at the heart of the Industrial Relations system. It produces the productive outcomes and the fair ones.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Aren’t you going to get people saying they don’t want to be a part of the unions? That they don’t want to be compelled to be part of a collective agreement? Aren’t they going to feel forced?

BEAZLEY: Well, what they will experience in many of these collective agreements now is a right for, within the framework of those collective agreements, an individual arrangement. But the simple fact of the matter is that if a group of people in an enterprise want a collective arrangement, then the collective arrangement, by and large, will apply to all of them.

Now, there is always going to be room for an individual deal done by some employer with a particularly valued employee. But the basic agreement that operates, is an agreement that operates collectively.