Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Address to the Western Sydney Chapter of the Australian Institute of Company of Directors.



Download PDFDownload PDF

THE HON PETER REITH MP

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND SMALL BUSINESS LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

 

Transcript

Address to the Western Sydney Chapter of the Australian Institute of Company Directors Parkroyal Hotel, Parramatta

e&oe.....................................................................................................................................

Thank you very much, Greg, and good morning ladies and gentlemen.  Can I acknowledge Ian Dunlop from the Institute, my parliamentary colleagues, Ross Cameron and John Hannaford.  Thank you very much for the invitation to be with you.  I am still digesting statistics of 66 per cent of Australia’s chicken population [inaudible]….It’s a lot I know because the only other 66 per cent that immediately comes to mind is the number of union delegates at the Labor Party’s National Conference coming up on Sunday.

I am delighted to be here.  I suppose, well there are lies, damn lies and statistics but you don’t need the statistics I suppose to spell out the importance of this region.  I have been here a few times and I am delighted that Ross Cameron is here as one of the local federal members or the most federalised of the local members for the district.  And if I may say so it is good that a vibrant district like this has a vibrant, young, energetic, enthusiastic and upwardly mobile, shall we say in politics, federal member as Ross certainly is.  Where is Ross?  And, you know, I vote Liberal I make no apologies for it, I’ll be voting Liberal at the next election so I do have a particular view on the world.  But if I could put party politics to one side the fact is a region like this needs a strong voice so I can tell you Ross is a very capable and up and comer in federal politics and I hope he gets back I think I’ll be good for the area.

I am also delighted that John Hannaford is here.  I congratulate the New South Wales Liberals for their reforms which went through with 82 per cent support last weekend.  That defied the pundits but I do think it gives you a very solid basis for the future.  If you go back to the into the ‘60s and the early ‘70s and you read [Inaudible] book on Whitlam.  When Whitlam became leader he said first we reform the party then we reform the policies and then we go to the people.

In fact, it’s a lesson that Kim Beazley ought to himself learn because he has never as yet even got to stage one, i.e., reform the party.  They have done here so in New South Wales

and as they move to the policies there are some sort of key policy issues I am keen to see the New South Wales Division adopt, particularly in workplace relations where I think it is a big issue - I’ll come to the details of it in a moment federally - but one of the biggest changes we have seen in Australia in workplace relations in the whole time of the development of the system since the beginning of federation was the transfer of powers from the State system to the federal system in Victoria.  And I can assure you that has been a move of significant benefit to the State of Victoria.

People talk to me about red tape and they’re quite right too.  There’s a bureaucrat somewhere sitting in Canberra in an office with no windows and all they do is produce red tape and it’s still hard to track it down I’d have to say.  And when you want to attack red tape you have got to go to the big policy structures, the pillars, and in that particular instance we just got rid of a complete layer of red tape and that is a tremendous boost to the small business community and the business community generally.

And I believe in New South Wales there ought to be strong support for a referral of power so in New South Wales instead of having two systems you have one system, join the modern world, reduce costs to the benefit of both business and employees.  And this concept has always had very strong support in New South Wales, in fact, it was Premiers Wran to some extent and then Greiner and Fahey who gave this concept, I think, sort of intellectual support and rigour and I believe it’s a policy approach that needs to be adopted and would be in the national interests of [inaudible] for the next State election.

I have, however, not come to talk and give advice to the New South Wales Liberals about their policy, I thought I should talk about a few current federal issues of which there are some and we are looking forward to Bob Carr thinking more about coming to federal and we think he’d be excellent in the federal sphere.  I can’t tell you whether he’s going to come, I’ve certainly heard those denials before though.  I tell you, I have heard more denials from pollies stirring the leadership pot than I’ve heard just about anything else over the years and whether they are true or they are not true there is a truth behind it.

And the truth behind it is that when you have weak leadership or perceived weak leadership at the centre you always have leadership problems.  And they themselves ultimately are systematic of an underlying malaise, division or issue and that goes to the central issue of where an opposition say if ever we get in what the hell are we going to do.  And that is basically the question still within the minds of the Labor Party and it’s why these issues will continue to bubble to the surface.

With Della, we call him Della now, he’s as close a friend as one can get in politics now.  But were we surprised at Della’s recent remarks?  Ladies and gentlemen, we weren’t surprised at all.  Why should we have been surprised?  He himself had said exactly the same thing in March 1999.  I heard Simon Crean on one of the Sunday programs saying, oh gee, Della never said this to us, oh no.  It was actually reported in March 1999 after the October ’98 election.  It came down to Canberra, it was leaked to the press, ran on the Channel Nine news that night that Della had come down to Canberra basically on behalf of the New South Wales right to say to Kim Beazley that we won an election in ’93 opposing the GST, even though we were in favour of it and gee we did well to get away with that didn’t we, we tried the same trick in ’98 but we lost the election.  The thing is going to pass so don’t put your whole policy on being opposed to the GST because it’s going to be a reality and it’s not smart for an opposition to just be constantly harping, whinging, whining, groaning and

moaning about something that’s going to happen and where your policy is that whatever happens when the GST comes in you are going to keep it.  It’s not tannable to be opposed to something in fact so completely and totally opposed to it that when you are elected you are going to keep it.  This is not a policy that adds up says Della to Kim Beazley in March 1999.  And he was absolutely right.  And that is why this is still an issue and will continue to be an issue for the election.  And I think one of the problems that the Labor Party has is that the way it’s come out with the Della remarks it has, in a sense, [inaudible] to enter this stupid crazy policy even more so than what they were before he made the remarks. 

Rollback is not a policy that can work.  Rollback is…I was trying to think of an analogy, I’ll put it to you this way.  We’ve just built a new house with Australia, we all had to live in a caravan for a while, we had a lot of debates with the builders to get the damn thing finished on time, but it is a beautiful, new four bedroom house with a living room, with a dining room and family room, it’s got a nice barbeque area out the back.  It’s basically the dream house we always wanted.  Sure, as is always the case, you know, during construction someone had some bright idea, in fact, it was somebody from the Council with a name of a Democrat and we did have to make a few changes.  But this dealing with the council I suppose is a problem when you are building a house at any time, no disrespect to local government councils here.  But finally, after months of disruption concern about getting it finished on time, concern about the design, in the end we have got this new house, we have  moved in and everybody is really surprised, pleasantly surprised how good it is.  It’s great.  And it is true that we might tighten a few light globes, we might lift the hand railing just for safety purposes, we might do something to the floor in the bathroom to make sure that, you know, grandma doesn’t slip when she comes to stay for the week.  But basically we are very pleased with the design of the house.  That’s the Government’s policy and as I say, the occupants share that view with us.

The Labor Party’s policy is that Kim Beazley is going to come in next week with 20 unionists and he doesn’t like the look of the front three bedrooms and he is going to demolish them.  He is going to demolish them and then he is going to put them all back up again.  We are not going to be any better off, we are going to be significantly disrupted.  It will cost us an absolute packet and no-one can tell you why he is going to do it except that he got himself into a silly position to say he didn’t like the design of the house and he is going to prove it ever he is elected.

And Della was absolutely right.  If you are having exemptions, which is what rollback means is a very messy policy.   And the small business community are quite right to be concerned about what it means and what it will cost.  He made the simple point if you have exemptions then you add to the level of paperwork.  And that is essentially why rollback is not a good idea.  And you see the silly thing about his policy position is he must himself know that it’s not a good idea except he is now stuck on it.

And I just simply say to Kim Beazley when he goes into his National Conference last week why doesn’t he once, just for once, be sensible and stand up and say as a leader, well, I know that there’s been a lot of talk about rollback but the fact is it’s not a good idea and I hereby dump it.  And that would actually be the smartest thing he could do because no-one in their right mind thinks that rollback is a good idea except Kim Beazley who has been forced to put a position and adopting it.

For the small business community the reason I think the tax reform generally has gone pretty

well, well there are a number of reasons.  One is because the customers are reasonably happy.  The customers went to the supermarket on Saturday or Monday morning, I know because I stood out on the street and watched them and talked to them as they did so and as they walked out having spent $100 at Coles they looked at their docket and at the bottom it said only an extra three dollars GST.  And they thought well, gee, that’s not as bad as what we were told.  They were also pleasantly surprised by the income tax cuts which has meant that people have got a few dollars in their pocket which they weren’t expecting to have.  They had been told the GST would cost them, the reality is the GST has a different way of collecting taxes, that is certainly true, but also collecting less overall, about $5 billion going back into the economy and that, of course, goes back into people’s pockets.  People are not worse off.

Incredibly, we have had a lot of phone calls from pensioners ringing up the hotline to ask them about the cheque that they have just received with the additional amounts.  Their concern has been that there might be a mistake in the fact that they have received more than what they believed they were entitled and they are worried that they might be later then asked to repay it.  In other words, they have been so surprised at the amount coming in that some people have rung up to say, is this right, have you made a mistake.

Well, of course, there is no mistake it was part of the package that there should be fair compensation and sufficient funds to supply to ensure that pensioners and others are reasonably compensated for the introduction of the new system.

It has gone reasonably well.  Again, the simple point for the business community is that the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax means the abolition of taxes on business.   Now, I appreciate that for many businesses there is a compliance issue in dealing with the new tax system, of course there is.  It’s not true, as some people say, oh we don’t want to be tax collectors.  You have been tax collectors for as long as anybody can remember.  We are changing the way in which tax is collected but we do believe that it is a more efficient system and we have taken a whole lot of existing systems and brought them into the one pay as you go system where they quarterly remittance for most businesses.

But the simple fact about the Goods and Services Tax is one of the essential reasons for its introduction is that it is not a tax on business.  Yes, you collect it but it is not a tax on your business.  You could start a business tomorrow, pay GST on all your purchases, sit them on a shelf and never sell another thing.  If it was Wholesale Sales Tax, you would have paid that tax and it would be part of your cost space.  With the GST, you pay that tax if you never, ever sell one item again the Tax Office will however send you a cheque for the GST that you have paid.

The GST is not a tax on your business.  What we are doing is reducing tax on business.  And when you think about the success of a business it’s boosting sales and lowering costs but Government is responsible for a lot of the costs on you, you have no choice over many of the costs which have been forced on you as a result of Government policy.

The introduction of the GST takes a whole lot of tax off your business and replaces that tax with a tax on consumers who are compensated with income tax cuts and pension increases.  For business it’s unequivocally a good idea because it reduces your cost of business, it makes you more competitive.

And so I welcome the fact that it has gone reasonably well.  Why shouldn’t it?  We are one of the last countries in the western world and the modern world to make such a change, it is a change in the long-term interests of the country.

In my area of workplace relations the debate is a bit different and certainly equally as serious if not more serious than the rollback proposition being advocated in respect of tax.  Can I put it to you very simply and that is that when it comes to designing a system for employee relations the objective is quite straightforward, the objective is to allow people within businesses as both employers and employees to sit down and settle terms and conditions of employment that suit their business.  It’s a sort of simple concept but it’s actually quite a diverse matter when it comes to actually running your businesses.

There’s a sort of number of reasons for that.  One is because every business is different in its own way and many cases they try to be different because they are tyring to get an edge over their competitors.  But also employees are more and more demanding, not in every case but as time goes on employees are more demanding.  I think it’s a good thing that they are.  It’s because people are better educated, they are better informed, they have got a better idea of, you know, what’s possible for them.  They have got more choices about the lifestyle that they themselves want to have.  It’s one of the sort of fruits of a modern successful society and that is that individuals and employees have a bigger say.

So if you think of the sort of big social developments in Australia in the last 15, 20, 30 years, one of those obviously more women coming into the workforce.  And that’s been a good thing not only in enjoying the talents of our women in the workforce but also they have been more demanding in the sense that they have been saying, well, I have got other responsibilities, work is not absolutely everything to me and so I want a system that allows me not only to make my contribution through work but allows me to match what I am doing at work and what I am doing at home.  In other words, the women have been saying to the employers well if the kids need to be picked up at three o’clock, well I’ve got to have a business relationship that allows me to pick the kids up at three o’clock.  And if young Johnny is crook on one day a week then I have got to have a system, a flexibility and you have got to run your business to suit me because you need good people and I am one of the good people, but I want a system that suits what I am trying to do.

Now, that is an injection of flexibility into the system but it’s not just women.  Today, more and more men are saying well my wife, she’s at work and she’s saying that I have got to spend more time looking after young Johnny.  So the blokes are now saying well I want a system that is more flexible that suits me. 

That is modern Australia.  It’s not dictated at the political level, that is a modern Australia.  As our parents are getting older some of us in this room are going to have greater responsibility for looking after our parents so have moved from the kids to the grandparents and we are going to be saying to the bosses, well, if you know if dad’s got to go into get his cataracts done then I as the 50 year old son is going to have to drive him in and look after him and I need a couple of days off work. 

In other words, with an ageing population we need a more flexible system.  Now, does anybody seriously disagree with that?  I don’t think anyone would, no-one would.  How do you design a system like that?  Well, obviously everybody is different.  In every business even if you are running you know the same corner store as the bloke down the road your

employee situation is different so you need to be able to respond to their different needs.  Because again you want good people so you have got to be responsive to what they need.

What we are, as a Government, trying to do is to make sure that you don’t exploit your employees.  Now, no-one in your electorate, Ross, would exploit their employees, of course, so forget that statement.  But the rest of Australia we want a system to make sure that no-one is exploited.  Again, no-one would disagree with that.  You have a base minimum so that people get a reasonable wage, reasonable holidays, sick leave etc. 

But really above that [inaudible] we want a really flexible system so that employees and employers can have systems to suit them.  It makes sense.  I think it makes sense.  And, in fact, not only do I think it makes sense I can show you a whole lot of stats that suggests that in the time that we have introduced this more flexible system productivity has been rising. 

When the Labor Party was in, you know it was one of the most incredible things during their 13 years, I can give you the speeches by Simon Crean and others, but they used to boast about the fact that they had controlled wages.  They used to boast about the fact that real wages had fallen when Labor was in office.  They thought this was the really clever, really clever economic management.

That is not our policy, I can assure you.  Our policy is that by doing things smarter we have the dollars to pay people higher wages.  This is not a theory.  The definition of an economist, somebody who sees something working in theory and wonders whether it will work in practice.  This is not theory.  If you improve productivity you have the capacity to pay people higher wages and that boosts their living standards.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have actually done that in the time that we have been in.  The Productivity Commission had a report called The New Economy?  And it was really looking at the productivity numbers and there are lots of examples.  I can take you down to Chris Corrigan’s operation and now they only have one person to drive one machine whereas they used to have two people to drive one machine.  They used to have nick off time, remember nick off time.  This is where you go home and get paid double time and a half for watching midday movies.  Very productive system under the old system.  He had productivity improvements of over 100 per cent go into the coal industry, significant improvements [inaudible] to the coal industry.  Significant improvements in productivity.  In key parts of the Australian economy we are seeing significant improvements as a result in part from the fact that we are letting people sit down at work and work out what is best for their business, respecting the diversity of their demands of employees and the needs of businesses.

Now, that is a pretty simple explanation of what we are trying to do.  I think it’s reasonably simple of what we are trying to do.  Now, this is a very interesting debate in workplace relations.  I want to contrast the debate today to what it was 10 years ago.  10 years ago when the Labor Party would introduce a reform we used to say you are not going far enough fast enough.  So they would introduce some cuts to the budget and we’d say not enough cuts there should be more cuts.  They would introduce tariff reform we’d say not enough reform you should have more reform.  They’d privatise something and we’d say that’s good now privatise this.  So in other words, the debate used to be about the forward agenda.  In the area of workplace relations and virtually every other policy today the debate is not about the forward agenda, how we are going to do things better in the future.  Basically the agenda is about whether or not we should have done the things that the Government has just recently

done.  And in workplace relations the debate is not about where we are going in the future but whether or not we should abolish the reforms that we have now recently introduced.

Now, I’ve talked to you about the modern world and the social demands that people have on work.  One way of satisfying that is to allow people to have an individual agreement at work.  Lots of you do.  This is hardly, you know, this is hardly rocket science, this is hardly a, sort of, radical junk town, sort of, human experiment.  An individual agreement at work is commonplace.

The Labor Party’s policy, would you believe, is to abolish individual agreements.  You are not allowed to have an individual agreement unless it is subject to the dictates of a union agreement or a union award.  So I just say to you that is a crazy policy and the only reason the Labor Party has got that policy is that it has been dictated to.  It is a political reason, it’s not a reason for commonsense. 

Agreement making is at the heart of what we are trying to do.  In other words, subject to meeting a set of minimum conditions which is not difficult for most people you really ought to have an agreement at work that suits your circumstances.  So policy difference number one in terms of workplace relations is we say individual agreements are good, we have got over probably 120,000 of them now, they are growing at 5,000 or 6,000 a month in the federal system.  We say they are a good idea and there should be more of them.

The Labor Party’s policy says it’s a shocking idea and we are going to abolish them.  It’s a pretty extraordinary policy even for them because in 1998 they said it was okay to have individual agreements in the federal system but they hardened up their pro-union policy in the meantime. 

The second debate which we are going to have between now and the next election is about the process of arbitration.  Again, this is not a question about how will we do things better in the future, this is about have we done the right thing and should we go back to the past.  We have since we have been in, tried to simplify the set of minimum conditions which is basically the award system.  This was sensible.  Many of the awards, quite frankly, are only understood by people wearing cardigans, who are secretaries of unions, who live in offices with no windows.  The award system is incredibly complicated and don’t take my word for this, Paul Keating had a policy to simplify awards so that at least you could understand them when you read them.  We’ve continued that policy.

Labor’s policy today is to abandon award simplification and to allow the Arbitral Tribunal to impose conditions not relating to a minimum set of safety, sort of, net provisions but on absolutely any matter in relation to the workplace.  In other words, they have abandoned the idea of the award as a safety net, they want to give the power to the Commission to arbitrate absolutely anything.  Well, that wasn’t even their policy in ’96 it is their policy today.  It is a regression back into the 1970s and is not a smart policy. 

Also in respect of award simplification and the arbitral power they have a new policy.  This must be one of the most extraordinary policies I suppose since Stanley Melbourne Bruce decided to abolish the federal system and revert industrial relations back to the States.

I have described for you the system that Australia has had basically since the 1900s, mainly the Commission sets awards, that’s the minima and then above that that’s really a matter for people at work.

The Labor Party policy is not only to allow a wider set of awards but they have decided to allow the Commission to arbitrate on agreements.  Now, to give you the situation, let’s say you are running a motel and you have got 20 people who clean the rooms for you.  You have got to pay them the award.  If you want to pay them over the award, well, that’s up to you, you can do so.  But if you pay them over the award that’s unilaterally basically your choice, I mean, you discuss it with them but you have got to give them the minimum but above the minimum that’s up to you as the employer.

The Labor Party’s proposal - this is their policy today - their proposal is that those 20 people could come and ask, you know, for a $20 a week wage increase, i.e. above the award, and if you say no they can take you down to the Commission and the Commission can arbitrate as to whether or not you should get an over an award payment.  Appreciate the significance of this, the system in Australia up until now has been we set the minimum but what they are proposing is to allow the Industrial Relations Tribunal to set an amount for a so called agreement.  But, of course, it’s not an agreement, how can it be an agreement, you didn’t agree.  That’s the reason it goes to the Commission, that’s the reason they’re going to arbitrate.  You are not going to agree, they are going to tell you what it should be, what the over award payment should be.

We have never had that in Australia.  This is not a good idea.  This is a crazy idea.  We have got a set of minima which is the award but on top of that they are going to be able to arbitrate and tell you.  So, you know, you have got a PA who let’s say you are paying your PA $40,000 a year, I don’t know whether you have but I’ll take you as I may, I am sitting with you.  Now, let’s say the PA comes in and says I am getting paid $40,000 a year, now next week from the 1st of December I want $60,000 a year.  And you say, no, sorry, we can only afford $40,000 a year.  She says, oh well, I’m in the union, I’ll see you in the Commission tomorrow and we are going to go down there and have an argument about whether I’m worth $60,000 a year.  You have never been able to do that in Australia, that is the Labor Party’s proposal.  It’s madness.

I’ll give you another absolutely madness policy.  If you go back to the ‘70s Australia had one of the highest levels of strikes anywhere around the world and it is true when Labor came in mainly because of the recession at the start of the ‘80s but the level of strikes fell away in Australia, they fell away absolutely everywhere because of the economic climate.  But ours fell away and then stayed at a relatively high level.  We have had in Australia, just talking the historical record, more strikes than a lot of people, far too many strikes in Australia.  Now, one of the reasons for that is that we have allowed people, the union movement in particular, to have strikes across an industry.  When you think about it this is not again, it’s not a smart idea.

Let’s take business.  Everybody in the business is happy with the business, they have got to deal with the employer, it’s an over award deal, they are happy with it.  The way it used to be and what they are now proposing for the future is that the union can come on and say to people in a business who are happy with the deal that they have got, you have all got to go on strike.  And if you ask people is it sensible that you can force people to take strike action most people would say no, it’s not sensible.  If people are happy with the job that they have got why make them strike simply to allow the union to have greater industrial muscle by having industry wide strikes. 

It is, ladies and gentlemen, the Labor Party’s policy to allow industry wide strikes.  This is not smart.  This is how you get high levels of industrial action.  This is how you tear out the country’s reputation as a reliable supplier apart, you tear it to shreds.  It was a reputation we used to have.  We are still trying to get over it and they have got a policy to reintroduce it.  I’ll give you an example, a specific example.  Under the Trade Practices Act, if some unions in Parramatta decide that there’s a business that trades with Fiji you are not allowed to destroy that business because you don’t like George Speight.  I don’t like George Speight but the union is not entitled that law to destroy your business in Parramatta because you have sold something or you want to sell something in Fiji.  If the Government thinks that you shouldn’t sell something to Fiji well that is a matter for the Government and they can…that is a policy matter for the Government. 

For many years in Australia you had trade union leaders, not just talking about Fiji but Indonesia and whatever, because we don’t like their policy we are going to do this, this and this.  In other words, they tried to run foreign policy. 

In the waterfront we have had the classic example of secondary boycott action.  This is where there is an argument with an employer in one business and so in the other business they say, well, we are going out in strike in sympathy.  We are happy with the deal that we have got but we are all going to go out on strike anyway.

John Coombs said last year, it was a classic Coombs statement.  He said: oh, gone are the days when I can pick up the phone and in 15 minutes close Australia down.  Now, most people here would remember the days when the wharfies could close Australia down.  They used to close them down.  In the waterfront dispute despite the incredible aspects of that waterfront dispute, you know, Australia was never actually closed down.  The P&O kept operating because the P&O they had an agreement and they didn’t have a dispute with their employees.  So they couldn’t go out in sympathy with the blokes at Corrigans outfit.  So Australia’s ports were kept open.  The reason that was the case because under the Trade Practices Act you are not allowed to go on sympathy strikes.

What is the Labor Party’s policy?  They are going to abolish the ban on sympathy strikes under the Trade Practices Act.  They are going to reinstitute them in the industrial relations or workplace relations legislation.  What’s the difference?  Well, of course, they’ll change the words, that’s one difference but they won’t tell us that now.  Secondly, if you are under the Trade Practices Act and you breach the Act Allan Fels comes after you and you know, no-one likes the idea of Allan Fels being after them because he is a very tough operator, so he should be too.  He is a very good operator.  There are penalties under the Trade Practices Act, up to $10 million dollars in some cases for other offences three quarters of a million dollars.  A Trade Practices Act means business.  And if you breach the Act watch out.

So what do you the union leaders say to Kim Beazley, oh well, we don’t want that sort of stuff in the Trade Practices Act, we want you to abandon them.  Well, in whose interest is that?  I can tell you there is not one business in Parramatta whose interest it is to have the Trade Practices Act banned on secondary boycotts abolished.  But that is the Labor Party’s policy.  And again, I can’t believe Kim Beazley thinks it’s a good idea.  He has just been told this is what your policy will be and he’s going to do it.  And that is not in the national interest.

Now, two others I just want to finish by mentioning.  The unions have been losing members. 

They have always got me in their sights I should say but there is no point in them blaming me.  The fact is they’re losing members because they don’t look after their members.  That’s their basic problem.  They’re in a business, if you don’t look after your customers they’ll leave you.  And the trade union movement last year they lost eight per cent of their members, the biggest loss in one year in a decade.  They have been losing members for as long as anybody could remember and they are going to go on losing members because they are more interested in having political fights than they are looking after their members.

So what’s their answer for the loss of membership?  I’ll tell you what their answer is.  They go down into the Parliament because they control half the front bench of the Labor Party and they legislate to protect their market.  Now, one of the proposals is quite incredible and this again is no speculative proposal, it’s a reality here in New South Wales, it’s actually been legislated already in Queensland.  This is a law that says if somebody is a small business contractor the Industrial Relations Commission by application of the union can declare that person to no longer suddenly snap of the fingers they were a small business person, a sub-contractor, with the snap of the fingers the Commission can declare that for industrial purposes all of a sudden they’re an employee.

This is bizarre but it is a reality already in Queensland.  The day that the law came into operation the AWU made the first application for shearers, contract shearers.  They hate contract shearers so they have declared them all to be employees.  Now, you think the union is doing this because they are trying to get members because once you have got people into the system then basically you can corral them into the union system.

Now, so far they just…from the transport workers here today, the second application was in the transport sector.  Where will the next application be?  Well, I say it’ll be in the IT sector because it’s in the services sector where the unions have not been able to get members.  This is a tool for collecting members and if you control a parliamentary party, they change the law you get the members.  Then you feed the party funds for its re-election and when they are elected they will send a whole lot of funds back to you to keep you running.  It’s a great system if you can make it work.  This is a bizarre policy but it is certainly against the interests of anybody running a small business.

Small business is the backbone of this country.  If people want to talk about creating jobs you don’t have to be an economist or smart to understand how to create jobs, you boost the small business community, they will go out and employ people.  That’s what happens in Australia, that’s what makes Australia a great country, our small businesses they run it.  They produce a lot of our GDP, they create a lot of the jobs.  It is a bizarre policy, a perverse policy to take somebody who is running a small business and just decide oh well, they’re an employee because it suits the union. 

Now, the last policy debate we are having, and this is whether we should go forward or go back, we say we should go forward, the Labor Party says we should go back in respect of unfair dismissals.  I talk about small business because it’s important in creating jobs.  One of the problems for small business today is that if you give somebody a job and they don’t turn out right and they leave you or you send them on their way, they will turn around and sue you for unfair dismissal.  And it doesn’t quite frankly matter too much whether you have got right or wrong on your side.  In far too many cases small business people are saying well the system is stacked against me.

We have made a lot of changes to that system.  There are half the number of applications as a result of the changes we made in the first year.  But it’s still not right.  Now, I think we should go forward and say small business is terribly important let’s have a fairer system for them and that’ll be good for people who haven’t got a job.  And we’ll protect the rights of existing employees so that’s a fair system.

The Labor Party says they want to loosen the system and make it easier for people to lodge an unfair dismissal claim.  Well, that really is going back into the past, it’s not in the country’s best interests.

Ladies and gentlemen, workplace relations is a big issue.  Rollback naturally enough has its own focus today but where we go in workplace relations really is critical to the future of the country.  The tax system fortunately the Labor Party is so opposed to it they are going to keep it.  So at least we know that. 

 

In respect of workplace relations they are so opposed to it and the unions are so opposed to it they will get rid of it, all of the changes that we have made.  That is not in the country’s long-term interests.  Thank you very much.

[ends]

 

For further information contact:

Ian Hanke 0419 484 095

26/07/2000