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Transcript of interview with Bob McMullan & Neil Mitchell, Radio 3AW



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TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH BOB McMULLAN & NEIL MITCHELL, RADIO SAW, 24 MAY 1996

E & O E - P R O O F ONLY

MITCHELL: Now small business keeps telling me that it needs a better deal, a new go in Australia, if it's going to survive. The federal Government would tell you that is beginning, with what they call a workplace revolution - the new industrial relations legislation. Unions and the Labor Opposition are saying, hang on, it's not a revolution, it's a disaster. In the studio with me is the industrial relations spokesman for the federal Opposition, Bob McMullan. I'd be interested too if we have time to

hear if you're in small business, have you had a look at this? I mean does it help? Does it sort anything out for you? 96961278. Mr McMullan, good morning. Thanks for coming in.

McMULLAN: Thanks very much Neil.

MITCHELL: Small business needs help. Doesn't this help it?

McMULLAN: Well I don't think so. Some of them have been saying to me, for example, if you're a small business, a little panel beating show, you don't have an industrial relations department. You run the show yourself. You don't want to be in the business of negotiating separate agreements. You've always had the VECCI or

somebody to take care of your industrial relations, get the award negotiated and you pay it. You don't want to have to have all your six employees in six different superannuation funds, unlike the existing system where you only have to process the money to one. I mean it's a lot more administrative cost potentially, a lot more difficulty for the management of small businesses and some of the smallest of businesses won't even be affected because they're not incorporated bodies.

MITCHELL: OK. I guess you are agreed with the Prime Minister on one thing. It's a pretty dramatic change isn't it?

McMULLAN: Yes it is. It's not as - the drama of it is not as immediately apparent as the changes that were made here by Jeff Kennett. But in the medium term, it's going to have the same impact.

MITCHELL: But Jeff Kennett's changes seem to have no longer become an issue in this state. Is that because people have left state awards?

McMULLAN: Well that's one of the reasons and why this bill is probably going to have more impact in Victoria than anywhere else. A lot people didn't feel threatened because they escaped to the federal system. Now this drives them back to the state system. This says that a state agreement, under the Kennett legislation, overĀ­ rides a federal award. So if you escaped, I'm sorry, there's nowhere to hide

anymore.

MITCHELL: In good industrial relations, everybody wins. The worker thinks they've got a happy package, reasonable work, and the boss says well I'm getting good value out of this person and I'm making a quid. Why does this not encourage that system? What's wrong with it?

McMULLAN: Well of course that's mainly what happens in most workplaces now. I mean we all talk about the industrial relations legislation and the law and that's what those of us in Parliament have mainly to deal with but 90% of what happens at workplaces is sorted out there and that's where it should be. I don't have any disagreement with that and I don't have any disagreement with the need for flexibility. We were trying to introduce it and between 93 and 96, made a lot of

changes. The significance is that this has got a lot about flexibility but nothing about fairness and the thing that's sort of been unique about Australians in dealing with this is we had a move towards flexibility but we've kept the fairness.

MITCHELL: But isn't it swinging that balance of fairness back a little bit so it's an even-handed fairness? I mean who's going to be ripped off under this?

McMULLAN: Well the problem is the people who are going to be disadvantaged are the most vulnerable. The best organised workers, the people - whether they are in unions or not - whose skills are in great demand, they'll do all right. But the most vulnerable, the people who clean the schools at night, the people who, you know, work out the back in the restaurant who don't have great skills that make them in

great demand and have a lot of other people chasing their jobs, they are not going to have the bargaining power to do well under this.

MITCHELL: But are you saying that basically the employers are that unfair that they'll go out and rip people off?

McMULLAN: Absolutely not. We all know that some are and that's one problem. One problem is that some people will rip off and they will be unfair to their workers and to the decent employers who have got to compete with them. But what I'm saying is even for the reasonable employers - which is most people - their bargaining power will be very strong. They will tend to tip the scales in their favour and that will, in the long term, mean lower wages and conditions for workers. But

no, I don't think most Australian employers are bastards, they aren't.

MITCHELL: Isn't this basically about the survival of the labour movement? If this works, the power of unions dissipates. Arguably, unions could - at least numbers of unions could disappear. Now that's the very base of the Labor Party, the very base of the labour movement, the union movement. Aren't you fighting for your life

yourself?

McMULLAN: Well we don't see it like that. I mean I do accept that it has profound implications for the trade union movement and they will be addressing that very directly.

MITCHELL: But if the trade union movement ceases to exist, it doesn't do the Labor Party much good does it?

McMULLAN: There's no way it will cease to exist under this legislation because Australia's got a pretty intelligent and resourceful trade union movement and the most militant and the best organised will succeed.

MITCHELL; Most militant?

McMULLAN: Exactly. That's the irony. I mean historically you've had conservative government legislation to help the weak unions. Now this is the very opposite. But the trade union movement will succeed. It'll have to adapt and that's it's job, to adapt to the law that exists and to the needs of workers in Australia. And it's doing that and it'll have to do that.

MITCHELL: Well what's going to happen in -

McMULLAN: Sorry, I want to say just one last thing. Our concern is really what it means for individual working men and women. To some extent, of course, the decline in trade union power is a significant issue for a lot of working men and women.

MITCHELL: Well they won't have to join the union. They won't have to. They won't be compelled to.

McMULLAN: Well it is very rare circumstance in which you have to now. I'm not saying there aren't any. We all know there are some on the job and some of those will probably still attempt to be enforced on the job and we'll have to see how that evolves. But certainly, the legal position in that will be changed a little. But most

unions will, I think, continue to attract a lot of members provided they're giving them a service.

MITCHELL: What's going to happen in the weeks ahead? This is going to build. You're going to continue it. Are we going into one of those periods of industrial instability which is so frightening? I notice the strikes have doubled here in the past, well, since January I think.

McMULLAN: Well they've doubled but to a very low level. Strikes are still extremely low in Australia. That's one of the problems. We've had a cooperative model for a decade and this is really a declaration that the cooperative model of Australian industrial relations is over. And I think that's a great pity because I think it's served Australia very well. I don't expect, in the short term, there to be a big upsurge of

industrial disputes, you know, like protest actions against this bill. I do worry that if the bill proceeds and is implemented in the way that is intended we'll get a lot more industrial disputes because it creates a lot more opportunities for conflict and confrontation. It plays down the model that Bob Hawke developed, based on

consensus. It goes back to confrontation. I think that's a great pity.

MITCHELL; Thank you for your time. I'm sorry we haven't got longer. Perhaps we can organise a debate, a round table debate on it, at some stage in the next week. It will develop and I'd like to be on top of it.

/ V

McMULLAN: Love to have a chance to talk to you again. Thanks Neil.

MITCHELL: Thanks for your time.

ends