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Labour day speech Parliament House Sydney

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Thank you for inviting me to share this year's Labour day with you.

The 8 hour day is rightly the centrepiece of Labour day and the enduring symbol of the labour movement.

It was in 1856 that the first 8 hour day was worked in New South Wales. Its achievement, 137 years ago, and the campaign it ignited embodies the character, spirit and inspiration of the great Australian labour movement.

Ours is a sweeping and epic history. It is captured in authentic Australian voice by the ballads of Henry Lawson. It appears in the deadpan humour and biting social comment of Frank Hardy's Power Without Glory. And it resonates throughout the pages of Manning Clark's History of Australia. We are a proud movement, with much to be proud of.

Many of the things that make Australia one of the oldest democracies arose from the struggles of our founders.

We were one of the first countries to institute a secret ballot for public office. We were among the first to provide the right to vote for women. And we were one of the first countries in the world to recognise the right of workers to a

fair day's work for a fair day's pay.

It was out of the great struggles of the 1890s that the Labor Party itself was born. Indeed, one of the other achievements of that tumultuous time was the cry that there must be a better way of settling industrial disputes than by engaging in prolonged strike action. The better way became the

institution of a Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Australia had sought a civilised pathway to workplace harmony and contributed a unique institution to the world.

This institution has served this country well. It is an interesting irony that just 101 years after the labour movement raised the claim for an arbitration system John Howard delivered a policy on behalf of the Tories of this

country for its abolition.

The slogan for the 8 hour day was 8 hours work, 8 hours rest and 8 hours recreation. And while the campaign to institute it took the form of an industrial objective, the purpose behind it was much more than just trying to provide civilised working hours on the job.



The 8 hours rest and 8 hours recreation part of the claim was meant to have an important social purpose. It was to bring some dignity to society, to provide an opportunity for a wholesome family life. It was a civilised concern for the needs of the individual worker.

These days we talk in terms of ILO Convention 156 on Workers with Family Responsibilities. We are - in a slightly blander but arguably more focussed way - still delivering on one of the objectives of the original 8 hour day struggle.

One of the purposes behind Convention 156 is to provide flexible working hours. To fit the time of work and the hours at work around the needs of a family so that the right to an income and a career does not cancel out the right to have kids and raise them properly. One of the under-recognised achievements of the last 10 years of national Labor Government is that that right is now more commonly available and inexorably spreading throughout the Australian workforce.

The 8 hours work part of the old slogan was never meant to imply either that work should not be satisfying or attract appropriate remuneration. One of the other great changes in this country over the last 10 years of Labor has been the significant change in the quality of working life. I see it all the time as I visit workplaces involved in the Australian Best Practice Program.

We are at last beginning to win the recognition that an individual worker should not be seen as a mindless automaton or an employment statistic. Or as someone - who when they clock on - should leave their brains at the gate.

In our drive to restructure the Australian economy to make it world competitive, we are evolving successfully and without dispute a new culture in our workplaces. Its principles are familiar to the Australian labour movement. We would call it employee participation or industrial democracy. The new management jargon is employee empowerment.

The principle is substantially the same. It recognises that - if you give Australian workers the necessary training, the necessary experience and the necessary flexibility - then the workplace will become a more productive and rewarding one for

the shareholders, for the employees and for the customers.

I recently visited a company in Adelaide - Email - that sells Australian whitegoods to Asia. It is beginning to out-compete Japanese manufactures in that region. Its accounts are out of the red and in the black. Its workforce increased by more

than 10 per cent in the last year.

On one site FIMEE is the significant union. On another it is the Metal Workers. On both sites this company is a closed


shop. The workers want it that way and the management like it that way. It is, however, one of the most innovative and competitive manufacturing companies in Australia. It is a model for workplace change in other companies. The workers

say, that if it wasn't for the presence of their unions, they would not have had the confidence to embark on making the changes they always knew were possible and they always believed would make their company more competitive.

I believe the most fundamental industry problem for Australia is transforming our economy from one that exports bulk commodities for the lowest price and in the most unimproved form, to one that exports sophisticated manufactured goods at the highest price and in their most value- added form. In Baulkham Hills in Sydney is a pharmaceutical company - Cyanamid - that imports raw material from Japan and exports to

the world innovative and sophisticated manufactured . pharmaceuticals. Its major union on site is the AWU. It has transformed its workplace with union assistance by giving responsibility to its employees and rewarding them


On the shores of Spencer Gulf there is an oil refinery at Port Stanvac. Mobil were going to close it down and supply the Australian market from Singapore. The National Union of Workers and the CFMEU are the main unions on site. They

joined with the management in turning things around. Now Mobil New York regard the Stanvac refinery as one of their best. Work teams have visited from Chicago, from France and from Singapore to learn how Australian workers given rein by

their management with access to skills and training have produced one of the most productive oil refineries in the world.

There are many other examples. Some of the best are in Sydney.

These are Australian companies who have at last recognised something that the labour movement has always known: that Australian workers are concerned to make this a much better country and to pass on to their children a higher standard of

living. And that they can do this when given the opportunity to participate with management to achieve workplace reform, higher productivity, better competitiveness. There is an increasing recognition that over the last several years of our

10 years in office the partnership between the Labor government and the union movement has moved this country closer to a more rational and effective industrial base and a

stronger economic position internationally - particularly now . in our own region.

I remark on these things at the beginning of this address because it is always important to remind ourselves of the positive role played by the labour movement in this country.


That brings me to John Hewson, John Fahey, Jeff Kennett and John Howard.

Over the last 10 years Australia has emerged with a growing reputation in the world as a country of increasing industrial harmony.

Co-operation is replacing conflict. Disputes during the period of our Government have been 62 per cent less than during the period of the Fraser Government.

We are seen more and more as a reliable supplier. And increasingly as a site for investment - particularly in manufacturing. This is a reputation that has been hard-won and has been slow to build, but is now gathering strength.

At a time when the world is turning away from the old and embracing the new, we find that the conservative policies offered by our opponents are still locked in discredited, ultra-dry economics. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary they believe that market forces working pure and unadulterated will somehow create economic and social justice.

The election of Bill Clinton as President of the United States this week is the surest signal that the old guard is being changed. But, even with the ascendancy of Governor Clinton, Dr Hewson and his acolytes cling rigidly to the theories of

Thatcher and Reagan.

The world has moved on but they have remained the same. They are radical reactionaries, out of time, out of ideas, and hopefully, in the future, out of Government.

We've been told now for nearly a year that the centrepiece of Dr Hewson's consumption tax package was the industrial relations policy.

When he was faced with a gaping $6.3B hole in his GST calculations, he told us that he would solve all that with his industrial relations policy.

When he was presented with objective proof that 70 per cent of Australian families would be worse off under his consumption tax, he told us it wasn't true, but anyway it would be solved with the industrial relations policy.

When faced with calculations that the tax package would stimulate high inflation, he told us we didn't understand and just wait until we saw his industrial relations policy.

Tim Fisher even tried to explain to Kerry O'Brien on Dateline one night that the industrial relations policy when it was released would fix all problems including difficulties with the North American Free Trade Agreement. The only thing it

apparently wouldn't cure was dandruff - and some National Party backbenchers weren't even sure about this.


Well now we've seen the policy and the 75 per cent of ■

respondents to the Telegraph-Mirror readers pole who gave it the thumbs down were not wrong. It is a low wages, high prices, zero skills and big confrontation policy.

Dr Hewson has called his consumption tax and his industrial relations policy pro-business policies. But the car manufacturers said they didn't want it.

Dr Hewson told them to mind their own business and listen to him. Then the textile, clothing and footwear industry said no. Dr Hewson told them they didn't understand and in any case there ought not be so many of them in that industry


Then the tourist industry complained and said the consumption tax would kill domestic tourism. Dr Hewson told them that they didn't know what was good for them.

Now the banking and finance industry have called the consumption tax unnecessary. They too have got a serve for their trouble. Like the others, apparently, they don't know what's good for them either.

And of course, the Catholic Social Welfare Commission on behalf of people on welfare criticised the consumption tax and Dr Hewson told them they too didn't understand how it would improve the lot of the people who they're trying to help.

So what do we know from all of this? We know that Dr Hewson says the consumption tax is pro-business. But we also know that the car business, the textile, clothing and footwear business, the tourist business, the banking and finance business and those who aren't in business, think its bad for business. And that Dr Hewson isn't in real business, only in the theory business and ought to be put out of business.

But now John Howard has delivered the industrial relations policy. He has moved further to the right than John Fahey did in New South Wales, but is on the exactly the same wavelength as Jeff Kennett. ,

The industrial relations policy offered to the Australian people on 22 October is directly inspired by the H R Nicholls Society. Their main reason for existence is to destroy the

arbitration system and the awards structure which guarantee a genuine and reasonable minimum set of rates and conditions for Australian workers.

Their bete noir is Mr Justice Henry Bournes Higgins.

I am always amazed when they trott out their arguments about Higgins. In their eyes he committed a mortal sin. The sin is that - when he brought down the seminal Harvester Judgement -


he proclaimed his belief that the definitive economic test should be how much income a family needs to live properly.

I don't know why the world is not amazed that these people who profess principle and intelligence can calmly tell us that the needs of a family are not relevant.

Jeff Kennett in a recent interview with the Australian Financial Review dealt with the same principle in a slightly different way. When it was put to him that his industrial relations policies risked leaving a lot of people behind he was nothing if not forthright. He said: "But that's life

isn't it. Life is not about equality of opportunity...."

It is from this basic attitude that Mr Howard has spun his policy.

It is a low wage policy, but Mr Howard has been busy trying to sell it as a high wage policy.

His problem is that what he says his policy means is not what his policy says.

He tells us it is about enterprise bargaining. It is not. It is about individual employment contracts.

He says there are protections: that each contract must include 4 weeks annual leave, 2 weeks sick leave, the base minimum hourly rate in the award and 12 months unpaid maternity leave.

He doesn't tell us that it does not include overtime payments, shift allowances, weekend penalty rates, annual leave loading, redundancy payments, ongoing superannuation payments and a guarantee of the number of hours to be worked per day or per week.

He says that it will encourage "negotiation" between an employee and employer.

He doesn't tell us - although it's in his policy - that that negotiation will initially take place between the employer and the individual worker and that the worker can have no access to the Industrial Relations Commission to have an umpire referee any matters in contention unless the employer expressly allows it.

He tells us that the award system will continue.

But he doesn't tell us that the most likely outcome and the one encouraged by his policy and his rhetoric is that workers will be offered a contract that provides rates of conditions below those of the award to which they will have to agree or

be sacked. The contract or the sack.


Mr Howard tells us that he will create an Office of Employee Advocate to argue in the ordinary courts for workers who have been denied their just entitlements by employers.

He doesn't tell us that they'll only act on an individual employment contract arrived at by the so-called "negotiation" referred to above. Rather than use industrial law, they will operate in the realm of common law where the relationship between an employer and an employee is that of a master and


He tells us that there will be a limit on penalties imposed on * ' individuals for industrial action. A damages claim cannot exceed $5000.00 on an individual.

He doesn't tell us that will be $5000.00 per day for every day the alleged action is to take place or that an action can simply be turning up late for the job or not working as


Nor does he tell us that the $5000.00 is for damages, but other fines and penalties can also be applied to the individual and a union.

He tells us that he is not anti-union.

But he doesn't tell us that his policy is designed to change the union structure in Australia and replace existing unions with one union per workplace.

And to do that, whether union members want it or not.

And he tells us, that he will create one industrial relations system in Australia. He doesn't tell us that the means by which he intends to achieve this is almost certainly unconstitutional. Reliance on the corporations power won't cover most unincorporated companies - that is most small businesses.

He tells us this is a high wage, high productivity policy and that workers would be better off under it.

He doesn't acknowledge that in fact it is a low wage, no skill, no training policy that believes that productivity will rise if workers simply work harder and not if workers work smarter.

Last week we saw one of the most shocking scenes it would be possible to see in modern Australia. We saw Phillip Gude, Kennett's Industrial Relations Minister, explain on TV that the reason why he put through an almost $9000 wage increase

for himself at 4.00am when few members were in the Victorian Parliament and no media present was because he worked hard.


His hard work was in cutting benefits awarded by arbitration after both sides of the case had been heard and the principles of justice and equity had been applied. He then went on to explain why it was necessary to bring back the white-gloved waiters and silver-service to the ministerial dining-room. He also explained why it was necessary to impose a property

tax that cost a pensioner in Coburg the same as a wealthy high-income earner in Toorak.

Australia has been free from that type of hypocrisy for many years. Its return is a chilling reminder of the values and morality of Dr Hewson and his political lookalikes at State level.

On Labor Day 1992, it is sobering to contemplate that w e ’re being seriously invited by the Coalition to repeat the lessons of Labor Day 1892.

Edward James Holloway may not be a person regarded as a great Labor figure. But Edward James Holloway as Labor Candidate for the Federal seat of Flinders in 1929 did an amazing thing. With a swing of 11.3 per cent, he unseated the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Stanley Melbourne Bruce, in the election of

that year.

Bruce, the analysts said, lost office because he attempted to remove the Arbitration Commission from the industrial map of Australia. The electors wouldn't wear it. Holloway defeated the incumbent Prime Minister in a landslide.

The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr Peter Reith, is the current member for Flinders. The policy he espouses is the effective marginalisation and eventual removal of the

arbitration system from this country. A Labor Candidate has yet to be endorsed for the 1993 Federal Election for Flinders, but I don't think any of us will have any trouble in wishing him or her - when chosen - the best of luck and the same outcome as Holloway for the forthcoming election.

Mr Chairman, as I said at the beginning, it is a great pleasure for me to join you on the 137th occasion that Labour Day has been celebrated in this State.

Pretty soon we'll be back in election mode. There is never a national election that is not important and all national elections seem to be more important than the previous ones. It is true, however, that the forthcoming election will be one of the most important Australia has faced.

As a country we are at a crossroad. We can turn one way and revisit the confrontation of Fraser and the discredited, socially destructive policies of Thatcher and of Reagan. We can introduce economic and social policies which have devastatingly failed elsewhere and which others are now

repudiating. Or we can turn the other way and bring this


country back into fuller employment under the leadership of Paul Keating and on the principles of the Labor Party.

For us in this room, it is a non-question. But for many in the electorate, it is an open question still.

Let us resolve on Labour Day 1992 to fight this election so that there can be but one outcome. A Labor Government and increasing opportunity for all Australians.

Thank you