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Sydney Institute Director discusses church criticism of proposed changes to industrial relations.

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Friday, 12 August 2005




STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: This week we looked at criticisms by the Christian churches about the proposed changes to Australia’s industrial relations system. John Ryan from the Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations told this program that the Catholic Church has clearly defined social teachings on industrial relations and he’s working on a draft paper on the matter to be released later this month.


Well, Gerard Henderson is the Executive Director of the independently-funded think tank, the Sydney Institute. He joins us each week at this time. Good morning, Gerard.


GERARD HENDERSON: Good morning, Stephen.


STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: What do you think about this issue of the church’s social teachings, particularly in the area of industrial relations? A rich history, isn’t it?


GERARD HENDERSON: Well it is. With you last Tuesday John Ryan was talking about a draft statement which his commission is going to put out. I haven’t been able to get hold it. Apparently it’s not available to some members of the media. He seemed to be talking about a clear draft with you on Tuesday. But listening very carefully to what he said, he is saying that there is a body of Catholic social teaching on industrial relations and it ought to be implemented by the Howard government.


Now there is, it goes back to the Papal Encyclical Rerum Novarum and the Catholic bishops in Australian put out statements on these matters in the 1940s and the 1950s, and there is a clear Catholic teaching. But my point is this, that if you want to see the consequences of the Catholic social teaching on industrial relations you don’t look to Britain or the United States or Australia or New Zealand where industrial relations has been deregulated to a degree and unemployment stands at 5 per cent.


If you want to look at what John Ryan is actually proposing you look at the parts of Europe where, in a sense, they are following Catholic social teaching on industrial relations. And you look at Germany, unemployment at 12 per cent; Belgium, unemployment at 12 per cent; France, 10 per cent; Italy 8 per cent; Spain 9 per cent, and the Euro zone area, 9 per cent.


STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: But we don’t have a French system here, Gerard. What we have is an Australian system that seems to be working well. Why should we exchange that for a Mexican system?


GERARD HENDERSON: No-one’s talking about a Mexican system, what we’re talking about is a less-regulated system. The Australian system, if it was deregulated further along the lines that John Howard is talking about, would still be more regulated than the situation in New Zealand and in Britain under Labor governments. What I’m simply saying is that it’s all very well for people like Mr Ryan to quote past popes and past bishops and past encyclicals, and that’s very interesting and I would like to read that in his draft document when I can get a hold of it. But unless the draft document looks at the consequences of policy, unless it raises the issue of: why is it so that unemployment in the less regulated systems is half what it is in the more regulated system, this document will fail. Catholics and non-Catholics alike have an interest in jobs.


STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: But he made it clear the other day when he was talking to us that he’s interested in very detailed issues like the difference between a family-based wage or the wage based on the individual. He’s interested in issues about what employment growth, if any, will be generated by changing the unfair dismissal laws.


GERARD HENDERSON: I saw nothing about unemployment there. But if you’d follow what the Catholic Commission is now saying, Paul Keating’s changes of 1993 would have been opposed, along with John Howard’s changes of 1996 and beyond. But in Australia over the last 10 years unemployment has halved. I mean, these are real issues and John Ryan wasn’t addressing this. Unless the Catholic bishops, if people like Cardinal Pell and Archbishop Hart in Melbourne are going to put out a statement in their names, the statement should address the issue of why it is that less regulation leads to lower unemployment.


STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: But what about the importance of holding a society together, Gerard? Are we a business or a community?


GERARD HENDERSON: I think that’s sort of talking in clichés. But let me remind you what Mr Ryan said on your program in relation to the unfair dismissal laws. He said he’s spoken to Catholic employers outside churches and he said they don’t have a problem with recruitment because we—that is they—engage people as casuals or contractors. So what he’s actually saying is small business who are Catholics won’t employ people so they go through labour hire companies. So what he’s actually saying is that the Catholic Church is standing against permanent full time or permanent part time jobs because he thinks that people should go through labour hire companies and employ casuals.


I mean, this is bizarre. If the Catholic bishops are going to sign off on this they’re going to cop a lot of criticism from Catholic workers as well as from commentators. And ‘Online Catholics’ is running this as well, or Online ex-Catholics or whatever this web magazine is properly called. But again, they haven’t addressed the issue either.


STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: Okay. We’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for being on the program, Gerard.