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Minister discusses industrial reform; new ABC Managing Director.

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FAINE: The Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Peter Reith, joins me. Good morning to you Mr Reith


REITH: Morning Jon


FAINE: The State Government has moved to undo you r industrial reforms, a good part of which were centred on Victoria workplace contracts. Individual contracts have been effectively banned by the State Labor Government.


REITH: Well they can’t undo the Federal reforms, let’s not exaggerate it from a Federal point of view. I think the point here though is that they are saying for the future that you won’t be able to have the choice of an Australian Workplace Agreement. Now that’s a great shame, it’s an ideological decision that they’ve taken to deny themselves, statutory agencies and others the choice of having an agreement tailor-made to suit the circumstances of an individual.


FAINE: You’d hardly be surprised by it though, surely one of the first things you would have realised when the Labor Government came to power is that they would head down that path?


REITH: Well the union bosses are totally opposed to people being able to make up their own minds and have their own agreements. Now not everybody wants an individual agreement, some people are happy to have a collective agreement. All I say is, and this is the Federal law, you should have a choice and the Victorian Government are deciding that people will not have a choice, that the union bosses will negotiate all agreements, that individual circumstances will not be taken into account and if you’re in the Victorian public service you’ve got to be grey, you’ve got to be monotonous, you’ve got to be exactly the same as everybody else..


FAINE: But surely this is a severe blow to your industrial relations reform agenda, you’ve now lost a state government that’s one of the biggest subscribers to it?


REITH: Well it’s been a big subscriber, that is true, but it’s not you know it’s not the sort of majority by any stretch of the imagination. Look it’s small beer in the overall scheme of things from the Federal point of view, so let’s not exaggerate anything, and it’s not a blow to our scheme. All it means though is that in the operation of the Victorian public service if you as an individual want an individual agreement because, for example, you’re caring for your grandmother, and that means that you’ve got to have different working hours because of her requirements to be taken to hospital or to outpatients or something, in other words if you want to have some special arrangement suited particularly to your personal circumstances, that is going to be outlawed by this policy decision of the Bracks Government. Now that’s a pity for employees, it’s also a pity for the taxpayers because it means that you can’t have as flexible a system as you would otherwise be able to if you allowed yourself this choice. They’re denying choice.


FAINE: Trades Hall have been quick to say this morning Mr Reith that the wheels are falling off your first wave of reforms and yet you’re still trying to get up the second wave


REITH: But that’s because this for them is a sort of an ideological battle, you know, they’re in a political fight with the Federal Government. Well fair enough but I mean it’s not the issue. The issue is whether or not this employer, the Victorian Government, should be banning itself from allowing more flexible arrangements in the future and there are people who are running hospitals, other state authorities, agencies who, as employers, want to be able to have some choice about how they do the deal.


FAINE: At the same time Mr Reith your industrial reforms are under fire, there’s a test case in the High Court that’s been launched by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union to challenge the power of the Commonwealth under the Constitution to order the Industrial Relations umpire to strip back awards and it would seem from yesterday’s proceedings in the High Court that things aren’t going very well for your counsel in that case.


REITH: Jon, the Federal Government’s under fire on all fronts at all times on workplace relations, no doubt about it, but we’ve achieved a lot. The case is directed to awards which have been produced or decided upon as a result of an adjudication on the conciliation and arbitration power. What is interesting is that this is not a challenge to that part of the legislation which says in future new awards shall be limited to 20 allowable matters. So it’s not an unimportant case, it’s quite an important case. We think we’ll win it but it’s a matter for the judges of course. But it is limited to the awards in place at the time. It does not go to the central capacity of the parliament in the future to determine what should be in an award and what should not be.


FAINE: Mr Bracks, our Premier, told us in Parliament yesterday here in Melbourne that the cost of the Federation Square project is way over budget, almost double initial estimates. You were heavily involved in engineering the site agreements and other arr angements that put Federation Square within the realms of possibility for Mr Kennett.


REITH: We were trying to keep the costs down by ensuring that they had reasonable employee relations practices on the site. We had an understanding with the Victorian Government. That one is subject to legal action, but I mean the costs are entirely a matter for the Victorian Government, we’ve never been associated with the costing arrangements. So we’ll have to see on what’s going to happen on that one.


FAINE: And finally Peter Reith, The Age today breaks a story that someone who you must have known I suspect in your university days, Mr Jonathon Shier, has been appointed as the new Managing Director of the ABC and he, at a press conference the other day, said he was a political cleanskin, to use his words. The Age today reveal that he’s a former President of the Victorian branch of the Young Liberals and in fact I think was your immediate predecessor in that office.


REITH: I do remember him. I, when his name was announced, it must have been Tuesday, I remembered the name but it wasn’t until Tuesday night when his face appeared on the TV that my wife said to me oh that’s Jonathon Sheer or Shier, whatever it is, that we knew 20 years ago. So yeah, I certainly knew him then when he was in the Young Libs. I hadn’t heard or seen of him I must say for 20-odd years and now I know why.


FAINE: Because he’s been overseas


REITH: yeah


FAINE: Is it relevant in appointing a new Managing Director of the ABC that someone so many years ago held some form of political office?


REITH: Well I don’t think it’s relevant. I mean he’s, to all intents and purposes, to my knowledge anyway, I mean he’s just been completely divorced from Australian politics. As I say I didn’t even know it was the Jonathon Shier that I knew all those years ago that was the person whose name was you know in the announcement on Tuesday. But


FAINE: So it should neither be a qualification for office nor a disqualification for office?


REITH: Well to me, I’ve got no idea of what his political views are today. People’s views do change over time, so I see that he himself has said that his Liberal


Phone drops out (interview ends)