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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Canberra: 22 November 2005: industrial relations changes; polls; welfare changes.

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Penny Wong Labor Senator for South Australia Shadow Minister for Employment and Workforce Participation, Corporate Governance and Responsibility



Subjects: Industrial relations changes, polls, welfare changes

WONG: Morning everybody. I want to talk about the inquiry into the Industrial Relations legislation which will be tabled in the Senate today. Can I first talk about what’s in the press and some of the discussions about the concessions the Government is putting in place.

These concessions are nothing more than window dressing. John Howard has been waging an extreme ideological war against Australian workers and he’s not going to let his backbench get in the way. What’s clear about the concessions which have been discussed is that they are nothing more than tinkering at the edges.

JOURNALIST: With the polls today, you’d be probably encouraged by the public groundswell and would you also think that the Government would be taking notice of those sort of numbers?

WONG: Well, I think Australians are sending a clear message to the Government; they don’t like John Howard’s ideological war against Australian workers. Clearly, it is only one poll. We have to keep working between now and the next election and we’ll do that.

JOURNALIST: Do you put the polls directly down to IR?

WONG: It’s clear that Australians don’t like what’s happening when it comes to industrial relations. They understand that John Howard’s laws are all about choice for employers, no choice for employees. These concessions which they’ve discussed are nothing more than tinkering at the edges; they’re window dressing by a government whose extreme industrial relations agenda has been exposed.

JOURNALIST: Was the inquiry a whitewash?

WONG: It’s quite clear from the inquiry that the Government Senators are anxious to support this, except of course, Senator Joyce has raised some concerns. It’s extraordinary: in the inquiry we

weren’t even allowed to inquire into the unfair dismissal laws. These are laws that even Senator Joyce, a Government backbencher, has raised concerns about. We weren’t allowed to inquire into it on behalf of the Australian people. These are extreme laws. They are extreme laws and I think Australians are extremely concerned by them.

In terms of the inquiry, it’s quite clear that the Government Senators, apart from Senator Joyce, are happy to deliver to the Prime Minister his tired old dream; a war on Australian workers.

It’s quite clear from the inquiry also that there is no evidence, no evidence that was presented, of any economic benefit of these industrial relations changes for Australia. They’re bad for workers;

they’re all about choice for employers, no choice for employees.

JOURNALIST: What does it say about (inaudible) Senator Joyce (inaudible). Do you expect that he may cross the floor?

WONG: Well, as I said, John Howard is waging an ideological war against Australian workers. I don’t think he’s going to be allowing his backbenchers to get in the way.

JOURNALIST: One of the key points was no penalty rates for public holidays and Christmas Day. It seems like there may be a backing down on that. Are you saying that is tinkering at the edges, one of

those points, or do you see it as more significant?

WONG: Well, I think this exposes the Government’s extreme agenda. The Government said public holidays would be protected. It

was quite clear from the inquiry that they are not protected. It’s quite clear from the inquiry that a public holiday can simply be an ordinary working day. It simply exposes the Prime Minister’s failure to tell the truth when it comes to these industrial relations changes. Public holidays are not protected under the legislation. That is just one aspect, one aspect, of why these laws are so bad for Australians and for their families.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect the Government to perhaps make some minor changes to not only win over Senator Joyce but also convince the public perhaps that it is paying attention to what’s happened through the Senate process?

WONG: Well, the Government can tinker all it likes around the edges of this legislation but it remains extreme legislation. It is all about John Howard’s ideological war against working Australians and it is all about choice for employers and no choice for employees. So, they might tinker around the edges and put in some window dressing to get it through the Parliament but Australians know what these laws mean.

JOURNALIST: So, does Labor's report maintain the line that these laws should be scrapped (inaudible)?

WONG: Obviously I have to wait until that report is made public before I can comment on it. But one thing I will say is that it’s very clear from our questioning through the committee process and from Labor’s public statements what we think about these laws. We think they should be put into the bin.

Can I briefly discuss the welfare inquiry that’s ongoing at the moment?

It’s extraordinary that this Senate is being asked to pass two such complex pieces of legislation in such a short space of time. We have the largest changes to industrial relations in 100 years and we have five days to inquire into them. We now have the largest changes in welfare in our lifetime and we have three days to inquire into them.

What’s clear from the evidence that’s been presented to the inquiry is that the welfare legislation is extreme legislation. Perhaps even worse, perhaps even worse, the legislation does not meet some of the commitments the Prime Minister and the Minister have given. It’s quite clear the Prime Minister’s guarantee on childcare is worthless. They placed many of the so-called safeguards in guidelines which can

be changed at the whim of a bureaucrat in Canberra or at the whim of the Minister. We think this is inappropriate and we’ll be saying so.

JOURNALIST: So, you think that welfare legislation has also contributed to the good showing in the polls?

WONG: I think the Australian people understand that the welfare legislation and the industrial relations legislation are doing nothing other than making life harder for many vulnerable Australians and their families. They understand what this Government is about: an ideological war against Australian workers; all choice for employers, no choice for employees.

JOURNALIST: Do you know what time the IR report’s going to be tabled?

WONG: I think it’s this afternoon.