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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 29 March 2006: Industrial relations changes; ALP. \n

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Stephen Smith MP Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations Member for Perth

E&OE T18/06



SMITH: Another day of the Government’s extreme industrial relations legislation and more unfair dismissals.

Another day, more unfair dismissals, again underlying the point we’ve been making for some time that under John Howard’s extreme industrial relations proposals you can be sacked, sacked unfairly for any reason or no reason.

I saw in one of the examples today in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, a young woman, Erin McLemon, and she says this “..she was a Liberal voter until yesterday and felt betrayed because the Coalition had made no mention of its workplace reform agenda at the last election”.

Exactly right. The Government now seeks to justify these extreme and unfair measures on the basis of benefits to the economy, benefits which Workplace Relations Minister Andrews told us the other night could take 5 or 6 years to come through. No mention of them at the last election.

So far as unfair dismissal and small business is concerned, I make the point that small business should look very carefully at Labor’s proposal released last week, because when you remove people’s legitimate unfair dismissal rights, they’ll pursue other mechanisms. I suspect that people will start pursuing breach of contract claims in State Supreme Courts and unlawful dismissal claims in the Federal Courts. They are much more expensive so far as small business is concerned.

Finally on another matter, I see Justice Guidice out there again overnight confirming the so-called Fair Pay Commission, the low pay Commission, will lead to a reduction in the Minimum Wage in real terms.

JOURNALIST: Do you know how many people have been sacked?

SMITH: No I don’t. But like you I see the examples coming up in the media every day. We’re starting to see examples drawn to our attention. A read of the papers this morning you see examples now coming up from Melbourne, the Sunshine Coast and Sydney. This is just the start. We know that 4 million Australian employees are at risk of being sacked without an unfair dismissal remedy, and 10 million Australian employees are at risk of being sacked under the so-called ‘operational arrangements’ provision.

JOURNALIST: Wilson Tuckey said this morning that people will have no trouble finding another job, do you think that’s true?

SMITH: Wilson Tuckey and John Howard should tell that to the people who are unfairly dismissed without a remedy for any reason or no reason.

JOURNALIST: Government MPs seem to be thinking that this isn’t just because of the new laws coming into effect, that businesses are making these changes because they are necessary.

SMITH: There seems to be a couple of examples floating around, particularly from Melbourne, where advertisements for jobs have been placed last week and people have been dismissed Monday or Tuesday this week. So it’s not on the basis of positions becoming redundant, it’s on the basis of utilising the Government’s unfair proposals.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any concerns with John Howard and Terry Cole were at the same year at Sydney University and they go back 50 years?

SMITH: I was in the same year at law school at UWA as Chris Ellison and my concern or lack of concern for him doesn’t change as a consequence of that. My only concern with the Cole Royal Commission is that its terms of references don’t allow the Cole Royal Commission to properly examine the conduct of Minister Downer and Minister Vaile.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried that his relationship with Mr Howard might prevent him from asking that these terms of reference to be widened? He might have to end up questioning the Prime Minister if they are?

SMITH: I regard Commissioner Cole as a professional officer discharging his public duty.

JOURNALIST: Has Kim Beazley been able to smooth over the tensions in Caucus with his speech yesterday?

SMITH: We had a very good meeting in Caucus yesterday and I think everyone is committed to the job of wining the next election, which requires holding the Government to account on issues like industrial relations and setting out our alternative policy

proposals which in industrial relations we have in part. You saw last week our unfair

dismissal proposals and you’ve seen earlier our commitment to make sure that we’ve got a new industrial relations system for the future. We’ll tear theirs up, both the legislation and the regulations. And we’ll underpin a new system with a strong independent umpire, with sensible minimum standards, appropriate and fair rights if you’re unfairly dismissed, rights to collective bargaining, and we won’t allow individual contracts to undermine people’s wages and conditions.

JOURNALIST: So have Greg Combet’s comments opened up for the Labor Party to pursue a national system in response to the WorkChoices legislation as you head to the next election?

SMITH: We’ll deal with the so-called jurisdictional issues as time goes by. Obviously we need to wait until the High Court makes its decision. But I agree with one of the points that Greg has made, which is in the end the 10 million Australian employees and working Australian families won’t be so much concerned about jurisdictional matters, but what rights they have and whether their wages, conditions and entitlements are protected.

We obviously need to talk to the State Governments, talk to the union movement, and talk to the business community about how we solve the jurisdictional dogs breakfast that John Howard has created. But we’ll have plenty of time to do that between now and the next election. We’ve indicated that we’ll have a blueprint in the first half of this year, but there will be many detailed questions that we will answer in the run up to the 2007 election.

JOURNALIST: Would there be people in the Government happy to see Barnaby Joyce away for a month in Antarctica?

SMITH: I’m told the Antarctic trip is a good trip and I’m sure Barnaby is enjoying himself.

JOURNALIST: Some of the Government members might be happy to see him on ice for a few weeks.

SMITH: Some of them might be happy to go with him. For myself, I’m as equally relaxed whether Backdown Barnaby is in the Antarctic, or in North Queensland, or in the Senate.


Contact: Courtney Hoogen on (02) 6277 4108 or 0414 364 651