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Transcript of doorstop interview: Treasury Place, Melbourne: 2 May 2006: Kim Beazleys comments; High Court hearings.



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Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service 02 May, 2006

Transcript

Doorstop Interview -Treasury Place, Melbourne

Kim Beazleys comments; High Court hearings

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Ladies and Gentlemen I’ve been asked by a number of the media to respond to this matter concerning Mr Beazley’s

comments yesterday. As I’ve said his comments in seeking to politicise the plight of the miner’s at Beaconsfield is

insensitive and disgraceful.

This morning we had the Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks come out and say that he found Mr Beazley’s comments

regrettable. Despite that we’ve had Mr Beazley having the ALP, ACTU out there trying to defend his comments and

that’s something that has completely failed. What Mr Beazley ought to do is to take a line out of the book of Mr

Bracks and apologise for these most unfortunate comments.

On the substance of this issue, can I remind you that the WorkChoices legislation specifically excludes from its

operation occupation health and safety laws at a state and territory level. There is occupational health and safety

laws in the form of the workplace health and safety legislation in Tasmania which continues to prevail in that state.

And indeed I’ve been informed that Unions Tasmania is an organisation which has been specifically authorised by

the relevant Tasmanian government authority to provide training for employees throughout Tasmania about

occupational health and safety matters. So that puts an end completely to this argument of Mr Beazley about the

matter, he ought to follow suit from Mr Bracks in what he said about the remarks being regrettable and he should

apologise.

JOURNALIST:

But Minister your WorkChoices legislation does forbid union training courses from workplace agreements, why do

that?

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MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well there have been quite a number of collective agreements which have been approved in the month or so since the

WorkChoices legislation came into operation. A number of those agreements have been decided by the same

provisions which allow for the training in relation to occupational health and safety and that has been valid. So this

is an attempt by Mr Beazley simply to divert attention from what is the real issue and that is his quite regrettable

remarks.

JOURNALIST:

Do your laws allow employers to avoid their responsibilities on workplace safety?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

No because these laws explicitly provide in Section 163C that the Commonwealth legislation does not override state

and territory occupational health and safety legislation, including right of entry by union officials under that

legislation. And here we have an example in Tasmania where the Tasmanian legislation provides for the training of

employees in occupational health and safety. It places a requirement on employers to provide training for employees

and occupational health and safety and we have an authorisation from the relevant Tasmanian authority making Unions Tasmania an authorised provider of that training to employees. That’s the end of the matter so far as Mr

Beazley’s comments are concerned.

JOURNALIST:

Why, why change this at all because haven’t you left yourselves open to these kinds of allegations? Why not just

leave things as they were? Why should (inaudible).

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Can I remind you that I didn’t raise this matter. This matter was raised in a speech by Mr Beazley and that’s the

issue. The issue here is the appropriateness of what Mr Beazley said yesterday, the issue here is the question of

judgement that Mr Beazley brought to bear on this matter. I think his comments are regrettable and what he ought

to do is apologise.

JOURNALIST:

Is that appropriate, when is a good time to talk about worker safety?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

It’s quite appropriate to talk about worker safety in a general sense. It’s quite appropriate to talk about workers

safety in a specific sense but to seek to politicise what is a tragedy for, particularly the family of the man who has

been killed, at a time when there are still 2 men trapped underground in Tasmania and there’s great concern about

that. To in the first place try to link this to occupational health and safety and the WorkChoices legislation is quite

wrong, he’s just factually wrong about that, but then to do it in an insensitive way address it at some rally in

Queensland, I think shows poor judgement.

JOURNALIST:

What’s your response to some commentators arguing that you’re hiding behind a tragedy which has in fact

highlighted some of the problems in your own legislation?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Far from it. What this is enabled me to point out, not that I sort to do it, but it enabled me to point out that state and

territory occupational health and safety legislation continues to prevail, continues to operate. It’s operating in

Tasmania today as it was operating in Tasmania last year.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Beazley stands by his comments and (inaudible) are largely self regulated though and opened to these sorts of

(inaudible).

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look Mr Beazley is sounding desperate about these comments. This was a very insensitive comment and he

shouldn’t have made it in the first place. I think he ought to just have the decency to now to say I was wrong.

JOURNALIST:

Last year in New South Wales 20,000 workers were trained in OH&S (inaudible) do you believe that the same thing

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will happen this year, will that be decreased as Mr Beazley says it will?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well that’ll be a matter for the New South Wales Government, as it has to be a matter for the Tasmanian

Government or the Western Australian Government. Nothing, as I say, nothing in WorkChoices changes the state

and territory legislation in relation to these matters. We specifically excluded it from WorkChoices, it’s written there

in plain english for everybody including Mr Beazley to see. As to the training, that will be a matter as to how much is

provided as directed by the states.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Andrews on the question of the federal state issues, how confident are you with fending off the challenge with the

states in the High Court over the government’s WorkChoices legislation?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well we’ve had consistent legal and constitutional advice about this matter and that advice is that the are of sound

constitutional grounds in using the corporations power. The corporations power was first used in the industrial

realm in 1993 by the then Keating Laboor. It was used again by us in the mid 1990s with the Workplace Relations

Act and we used it again and our advice consistently has been that we are on sound constitutional grounds.

JOURNALIST:

Can you understand why the states are taking this action? They say it’s the last stand for them.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well the states are presumably taking this action because they believe that they should do so because of some of their

constituency matters that are raised with them by the union movement. I mean if you look at this, the union

movement is largely running this campaign and the states are following what they’ve been told to do.

JOURNALIST:

What’s your response to the states arguing that this leaves it wide open for you to take over other state

responsibilities not just industrial relations?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

That’s a very predictable sort of argument that you get from time to time by the states. I mean we, for example, have

rules out taking over the health system of the states. And we’ve said we are not taking over the education system

that’s run by the states. If that’s their best argument then it’s not much of an argument.

JOURNALIST:

Do you accept that if you do win this case it does leave you room to take over areas like this in the future if you see fit.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well as I said there are a number of major areas of state responsibility that we have no intention of taking over.

What I think is important here is to remember why we are doing this and, and what we’re doing. This is about trying

to meet the future challenges that Australian faces particularly with an aging population, a shrinkage in the growth

of the workforce they do continue to grow our productivity if we’re going to sustain or economic growth in Australia

and in that context it makes sense to have one national system of industrial relations and we’re not the first to say

this, Gough Whitlam advocated it decades ago, Neville Rann advocated it, we’ve seen Bob Carr advocating it back in

the early 1990’s so the idea of having a national system of industrial relations in a population the size of Australia

makes eminent sense and something that’s been supported on the Labor side of politics in the past.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

MINISTER ANDREWS:

As I said our constitutional advice from the best advice that we can obtain has been consistent and that has been that

we believe the Commonwealth under the constitution has the appropriate power in the Corporations power to make

the laws such as this.

JOURNALIST:

It’s a costly exercise isn’t it for all concerned?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well what we’re bringing about is less costly outcomes for Australians. If you’re in a business, you’re just in a small

furniture removing business that operates across state boundaries between Victoria and New South Wales or

Queensland and New South Wales, you can be subject to a New South Wales system, a Queensland system and

depending on the industrial arrangements even potentially some aspects of the Commonwealth system. That’s a 130

pieces of legislation on Australia that pertain to the employment relationship, there are over 4,000 awards in

Australia. That is far too complex and costly a system and what we’re doing is taking a major step towards reducing

the complexity and that in turn will lead to lead to a reduction in costs.

ENDS

For further information contact:

Brad Burke 02 6277 7320