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Bathurst Convention Centre, Bathurst, 20 September 1996: transcript of doorstop

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JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, are you panning to negotiate a new accord with the unions in the lead up to the next election?

BEAZLEY: I reiterate what I said yesterday to a gentlemen from the Courier Mail and that is I don't think you can proceed with an accord that is based on a strict formulation, the sorts of 1980s accords. But some form of looser agreement, I think, might well be desirable and desired by the Australian people at that point of time. I think there is a growing understanding in our community that John Howard and his government have in mind confrontation, industrial trouble, industrial unrest and pressure downwards on wages. And the sort of certainty, job growth, security that comes with the accords will be, by the time the next election comes around, much more desired by the Australian people. But it's already been evidently clear that we could not get in place the sort if strict formulation that we had before. But a more informal agreement might well be on the cards.

JOURNALIST: So will it be Accord Mark IX?

BEAZLEY: I would put it out of that context because of course there will be a three year gap and it will be a different historical era and there'll be new facts created by changed industrial relations circumstances. But I think there is security for Australian wage earners and certainty for Australian wage earners when there's a degree of agreement between the government and between the organised labour movement and I think that the economy, and jobs in the economy, would be enhanced by it, and the security of individual wage earners would potentially be enhanced also by it.

JOURNALIST: When you lost the election, you were talking about the Labor Party, the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, distancing itself more from the unions. Do you think this will bring your closer together and work against the aims you were talking about after election?

BEAZLEY: This is a very different sort of agreement that we're talking about here. And I've used the word agreement. And it's too early yet to tell what it's formulation will be. There is a natural process, once we're out of office, as we are now, which basically separates out people who have concerns, and the day to day issues that confront the workforce, and those of us who have a more long term prospect in terms of government looking at these issues over a three year period. And the sort of symbiotic relationship that might have existed before simply can't continue. And this of course, doesn't alter that.

JOURNALIST: Wages increased by 1 per cent across the board in figures out yesterday and employers are alarmed by this saying it will put pressure on inflation. This sort of accord that you're suggesting would certainly be pushing for wage increases certainly. Wouldn't that be the case?

BEAZLEY: Look, there is no pressure on inflation. What you have here is until interfered with by this new government, you had a set of wage rises, by and large, in touch with the productivity improvements in industry overall. In other words sustainable wage rises. What the government is attempting to do is deprive people of the opportunity for wage rises, no matter what else they might be saying. That is what their objective is, and that is likely to create a very insecure environment for the average Australian.

JOURNALIST: So the sort of agreement that you've advocating would be pushing for wage increases, wage claims, etc?

BEAZLEY: Too early to tell. This is not something to be discussed any time soon. As I said yesterday, and as is covered in this article, this is something that we'd have to look down the track. It is something to be considered at this point of time. Down the track when we see what sort of set of industrial and economic circumstances we find ourselves in.

JOURNALIST: In talking about a less specific accord, a more philosophical arrangement, is this an acknowledgment that there are elements of the accord the Labor Government had that didn't work? That it didn't in fact lead to wage increases and may have led us to fall in wages?

BEAZLEY: No horses for courses. The times change things. Different economic circumstances produce different requirements. Different industrial circumstances produce different requirements. The Accord was an outgrowth from a period of very high inflation, very high levels in industrial disputation, plummeting economic growth, high levels of unemployment. That's what brought the accords in. It was a great dissonance in the Australian community. The Accords change their character over time and, as the workplace became more peaceful, became more productive, wage rises came through regularly, based on productivity changes. The Accords were less specific and more and more of a general nature in terms of their agreement. This would be some years on from that now and I would expect it to be a much more informal arrangement than has existed before. But arrangements were getting more informal anyway.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to the unions about this?

BEAZLEY: Not in any specific sense because this is not an urgent matter. This is for consideration for some years down the track. I think we'd all want to sit down and take a look at how industrial relations proceed over the next little while. We all want to see what happens in the economy. Basically, we've got in a place Government that doesn't care about jobs, that wants to suppress wages, and at the back of their minds, the Australian public knows that, and they also know it's a Government about industrial trouble. Now, we need to see what sort of circumstances that creates and what needs to be addressed

three years from now.

JOURNALIST: So it's still your belief that an accord is that way to go?

BEAZLEY: I said an informal agreement. An agreement of some description or mechanism associated with it. Not in line with pre- existing forms of accords which were becoming more informal anyway. But something that gives a sense of confidence to wage earners in Australian society about their security and about the direction in which the economy is going. And encourages an environment of peace at the workplace - of peace and productivity. Because what we're getting now is harassment and trouble in the industrial relations systems, attempts to nail umpires, attempts to suppress wages, and we're going back, perhaps, to the bad old era, and that's going to create circumstances which, as a political party in the political process, we must address.

JOURNALIST: Will the sort of agreement you're talking about cover any specific areas, like say, set targets for employment or set targets for productivity? And if it doesn't what's the use of that sort of broad agreement with no specifics.

BEAZLEY: We will always be in an employment target. You don't have to worry about that. When we go to the next poll, we will be setting employment targets. We believe that Governments hands must be held to the wheel. Governments must have an overriding commitment to jobs. Governments must have in their budgets an overriding commitment to jobs.

JOURNALIST: Is it the sort of things that will go into an accord type agreement?

BEAZLEY: Well, naturally enough, anything that I think is related to the economy would be suitable matter for discussion. But you must get the nomenclature right here. I'm talking agreements, I'm talking about far less formal arrangements than existed previously. I don't think, in any case, that the unions would sign up to anything more specific. They've made that amply clear in the past. But I think there is going to be a requirement, and it's becoming quite evident now, there's going to be a requirement for a sense of security in the workforce. A sense of regularity in relation to the way people get their wages and a sense of a government about jobs. And it is quite evident now, that, on all those fronts, this Government can't deliver.

JOURNALIST: Could this be seen as a merely a political device to allow you to capitalise on the possible increase in union action to be able to say to the public 'well that wouldn't happen under us because we have this agreement'?

BEAZLEY: No. I think you've got it the wrong way around. I mean, I think what we're seeing here, and every now and then they 'fess up to it, even Peter Reith seemed to be 'fessing up to it last night, you've got a Government which is not particularly concerned about creating a set of circumstances in which there's more industrial unrest, nor particularly concerned to keep decent umpire in the system, and prepared to wear the consequences of all of that. Well I'm not sure the Australian community is necessary prepared t wear the consequences of all that and we just need to see where that takes us. I think that the ultimate outcome of all that is going to be trouble in some sectors suppression of wages, insecurity, for everybody in the workforce. And this is not what I think good life, a good hearted life in Australia, is all about. So, we will be ourselves, when the time comes. We'll be looking to employment targets and we'll be looking to an opportunity for discussion with people in the organised workforce about what might be an appropriate set of agreements and common views that we'd want to put in place before the election. But we're talking a couple of years down the track and we're not talking, as I made clear yesterday, we're not talking about the structured sort of arrangement that we've had in place to this point. Good for this time and place, but it changed its character over time and circumstances will alter that again by the time the next election comes around.