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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Leader of the Opposition: Australian Meat Holdings, Goodna, Queensland: Industrial relations reforms; Latham's biography; South East Asia's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation; Vivian Solon.\n

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Subjects: Industrial relations reforms; Latham’s biography; South East Asia’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation; Vivian Solon

BEAZLEY: Let me explain why we’re here. We’re here because this is an exemplary workshop. This is an exemplary factory in terms of decent, good industrial relations. You’ve got a good workforce here, not intimidated and in a good bargaining relationship with management. They’ve had probably four successful EBAs under the arrangements the Hawke and Keating Governments put in place that have ensured an efficient operation here and have ensured a career for the workers here. The workers here have job security. They get reasonable pay, they get reasonable penalty rates, they get reasonable conditions. That’s the workforce here and it’s a very large workforce indeed.

So, we are here because this is the sort of operation which is directly threatened by John Howard’s decision to take away rights from ordinary Australians. Take away rights to have a bargain done on your behalf collectively. Take away rights for unions to effectively enter workplaces. Take away rights for people to have

an independent umpire to determine penalty rates and to determine the bottom line, if you like, in minimum wages. And these are rights that Australians have had for 100 years. These are the rights which establish security. These are the rights which mean that you can borrow money; you can have a family; you can bring up your family with a sense of pride. You can operate in the most important part of your life, which is the work that you do in the workplace in an environment where you don’t feel cowed, you don’t feel intimidated. These are rights to a decent life. And John Howard at the last election said nothing about knocking these out. He said nothing about making people easy to sack. He said nothing about removing penalty rates, he said nothing about removing the umpire on minimum wages. None of these were said to the Australian electorate, it was only his sheer arrogance, the sheer arrogance that comes with absolute power which he get from July 1st which has produced this change.

Now, I’m out here - talking to the workers out here, talking to the management out here - because it is this basic, decent operation which is under threat. You can see what happens: it’s a competitive business, the meat business. You’ve

got here a big operation, good conditions, good job security. All it takes is a

rogue down the road to go in there, sack all the unionised workers, put in place a contract without penalties and then the management in a place like this has to come and say to the workforce: ‘Look fellas, I know you’ve had a good life so far, we know that you’ve got these good conditions but really, if we’re to stay alive the penalties have to go, you’ve got to take a wage cut if you’re going to be able to survive in the environment which has now been created.’

In the end the unions will always defend themselves pretty well but it’s the ordinary workers who lose the awards, who lose the benefit of the bargaining power of the unions and the unionised part of the workforce. This is what disappears and in the end, of course, those employers who do the right things, who respect their workers, who respect their rights to have collective bargaining, they suffer too. Decent employers like the employers in this place they suffer when this sort of law gets put in place.

JOURNALIST: What happens to the existing EBA’s?

BEAZLEY: This is a fully unionised show. I think there are a couple of thousand workers here thereabouts, I think they’re on to their fourth EBA and what happens is that the workers, when they approach management for an EBA or about an EBA not for an EBA, the workers will have a list of things that they want, management will usually have a list of things that entail issues of productivity. They’ll go to the workers for what they want and the four EBAs have been settled without an hour being lost. They’ve been settled without an hour being lost here, which is an indication that the industrialised relations system isn’t broken and doesn’t “need fixing” and that John Howard is out of date on this. He’s got a 1970’s image in his mind of the Australian workplace. And what he’s going to produce, if he allows his extremism to go into place, is a very unhappy Australian people with a lot of insecurity amongst ordinary Australians.

JOURNALIST: It’s purely a philosophical policy?

BEAZLEY: His is a philosophical policy there’s no doubt about it. It’s something that he has believed since he’s been very young and he has not changed his beliefs in the face of realities. The world of work in Australia changed dramatically in the ‘80s and ‘90s but John Howard didn’t keep up with it and he still imagines what it was like back in the ‘70s when it was all pretty sclerotic - not now; we have a very competitive, a globally competitive workforce.

There is a problem with the Australian workforce generally and it’s not the fault of the Australian workers, the problem is skills. Now, there is a labour market reform issue here and it’s the skills issue, we are falling behind. I thought it was an outrageous thing when, in the Budget, you’d normally expect to see the Treasurer stand up and say: we’re going to put this much more into universities or we’re going to put this much more into TAFE. He didn’t say that, he said: no, we’re going to import 20,000 skilled workers from overseas because we’re not

prepared to train up Australians to do the jobs. You see this is where it’s all going wrong. It’s train Australians first, that’s the first thing and make sure Australians feel secure. They’ve got a right to feel secure.

JOURNALIST: Businesses have been arguing for changes for some time.

BEAZLEY: Businesses have been arguing, if you take a look at what the OECD has said, what the Reserve Bank has said: business is concerned about skills, there’s no doubt about that. Business is concerned about infrastructure they’re concerned about blockages to being able to do a decent export performance and that’s why the Labor Party says: the reform area still has to be fought for and addressed and for the next generation of wealth and growth in our community. But that lies in skills, that lies in innovation, encouraging businesses who want to invest, it lies in infrastructure.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, do you agree with Johnno Johnson that Mark Latham is a rat and has joined the long conga line of Labor rats?

BEAZLEY: I’ve said about Mark’s book that as far as I’m concerned it’s all about the past. I’m about the future. I’m about concentrating on the things that we need to concentrate on now. Quite frankly there is only one division in

Australian politics that matters at the moment and that is the division between the Prime Minister and his Treasurer. They hate each other. Now, very important decisions have to be taken in relation to petrol, in relation to tax and so on. And now everything is viewed in Canberra through the prism, not of past Labor leaders’ books, but through the prism of John Howard’s and Peter Costello’s competition.

JOURNALIST: So, you don’t think he’s a rat?

BEAZLEY: I’m absolutely not commenting on that book. I maintained my discipline yesterday and I maintain my discipline today.

JOURNALIST: What about Johnno Johnson’s comments though?

BEAZLEY: And I maintain my discipline on them as well. Because I think that from my point of view the best thing for me to do is to focus on what worries the Australian people and what they need. And part of what worries people or will worry the Australian people ultimately is that division between Mr Howard and Mr Costello.

JOURNALIST: Has the Labor Party been full of rats?

BEAZLEY: As I said, I’m not going to comment on the comments that are made on the book or the book itself. That’s the business of other people. I’m focused on the future.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, Alexander Downer has said that the Government is prepared to sign Southeast Asia’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation what’s your reaction to that?

BEAZLEY: This is a double back-flip with pike - let’s get that clear. We had a problem created for us by a bit of silly boasting by the Government in relation to the so-called pre-emption. Now, they appear to be about to do double

back-flip with pike to the position the Labor Party said they should have got and for which they mocked us, and Downer mocked us, and Howard mocked us. The truth of the matter is: we have got to have a decent relationship with the countries in the region around us. We have absolutely got to be in this East Asian conference because it’s in our economic interest and our strategic interest to be there and if Downer and Howard have to do a back-flip to get in there, then they should do it. And they are doing it.

JOURNALIST: It was also revealed last night that Vivian Solon was partially quadriplegic when she was deported. What’s your feeling about that whole situation?

BEAZLEY: It’s a shocking case. The Immigration Department is a total mess. The Department is a mess and the Minister is incompetent and there is no proper inquiry being done into Alvarez Solon’s situation. The only inquiry, effective inquiry, is being done into Cornelia Rau and I’m afraid there are at least 100 cases rather like the Rau and Alvarez Solon cases. Now, her treatment has been utterly, utterly outrageous and the Government is messing around with this. It’s not arriving at solutions. The Government must arrive at a solution here. You can’t protect your borders with an incompetent mess. Nobody can do that. John Howard’s got to face up to that, face up to that reality in the Immigration Department and deal with it.

JOURNALIST: Her legal team’s talking about $1 million payout.

BEAZLEY: Well, you know, you take an Australian citizen who’s injured themselves in a car crash and deport them illegally, what do you think happens? When that sort of thing is found out, when this sort of gross incompetence by a government takes place, then we, the taxpayer, pay a penalty. So, the taxpayers will pay a penalty for the incompetence of John Howard’s Ministers and Departments, in this instance.

JOURNALIST: Is that a fair amount?

BEAZLEY: Well, I’m no legal manqué mate. I wouldn’t know what a fair amount in this situation was but when those circumstances occur it’s usually pretty big.

JOURNALIST: What should the Government do straight away to rectify the situation?

BEAZLEY: They say that her legal representatives say she’s not coming home because the Government’s offered her six months’ worth of treatment, I think, something in a terrible situation in which she finds herself, and her lawyers say the Government ought to do better than that. Well, so it should.

JOURNALIST: The unions have flagged strike action coming up this week. The big businesses are looking at questioning the legality of that. Is this the way to win voters, to have people out on strike?

BEAZLEY: I think the unions are adopting a very calm, sensible and modulated approach to this campaign. I heard Greg Combet out there saying that the main purpose of the unions in this campaign politically, is to win people for their cause, for their struggle for Australian rights. They’re actually, the unions, fighting on behalf of all Australians here. They, themselves, will survive this better than the average Australian worker. I’ve been down at a piece of industrial action recently. Yesterday I was just out of Newcastle talking to Boeing workers there and what were the Boeing workers asking for? They were asking for the right to be collectively represented, the right to a collective agreement. They’re currently on individual contracts. They’re being put out on the grass by management for a month. So, if you want to see a real industrial problem go to Newcastle where what you see in microcosm is the fate of the Australian workforce generally. Howard says people have a choice about moving from an individual contract to a collective agreement. They don’t have that choice and they’ll have even less choice on this when the Howard Bill goes through.

JOURNALIST: Stephen Smith said in the Fin Review this morning that industrial action like we’ve seen in recent years wasn’t the way the go and didn’t quite agree with it.

BEAZLEY: The simple fact of the matter is there isn’t an industrial campaign to run here. There may be the odd stop work meeting but what there isn’t, is an industrial campaign. The industrial relations troubles in this country now are a direct result of the Howard Government laws.