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Prime Minister and Opposition Leader disagree over AWAs and penalty rates.

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Monday 12 June 2006

Prime Minister and Opposition Leader disagree over AWAs and penalty rates


MARK COLVIN: "Backward-looking" and "weak-kneed", that's the line John Howard is taking on Kim Beazley's industrial relations plans. 


The Prime Minister set out today to demolish the Opposition's new workplace platform by portraying the Labor leader as the victim of union bullying. 


Union leaders, for their part, have been delighted with Mr Beazley's promise to scrap Australian Workplace Agreements. 


He says families are seeing young, that's Mr Beazley says, families are seeing young people "smashed" under the new system and can't afford to pay mortgages because they've lost penalty rates, so they'll welcome it too. 


But as Louise Yaxley reports, the Prime Minister says it would hurt people who were once traditional Labor backers. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Kim Beazley's promised a Labor government would scrap the AWAs or Australian Workplace Agreements system.  


KIM BEAZLEY: Howard's industrial relations system rips away workers' rights and threatens their ability to pay their mortgages and give their families a decent income.  


LOUISE YAXLEY: The Labor leader won huge cheers when he made the promise yesterday, especially from those in the union movement who'd been running an intense campaign to get him to do just that.  


Today the Prime Minister quickly seized on that to tie the Labor Party firmly in the public mind, to the union movement. 


JOHN HOWARD: It's flying in the face of modern day reality to take us back to a system that is going to be union dominated when fewer than 20 per cent of workers employed in the private sector belong to a union. It makes no sense. It's old fashioned. It's very backward-looking.  


I am surprised that he's caved in to the unions on this because a few months ago he was beginning to talk a bit of commonsense by saying that you can't take up to a million people off AWAs.  


He was recognising the reality that in some industries, like the mining industry, AWAs account for 27 per cent of employment arrangements. And that's an area of the economy which even the Labor Party acknowledges is underpinning quite a lot of our current wealth.  


LOUISE YAXLEY: It's a replay of the political debate post-GST: can it be rolled back or is it impractical to wind back something that goes this far? Kim Beazley says the egg can be unscrambled. 


KIM BEAZLEY: We will work sensibly through with all interested parties to ensure that transition arrangements are easily put in place. We're about making life better. We're about flexibility up, not flexibility down, which is what Howard's about.  


This creates no uncertainty whatever. People will complete their contracts and then they'll be able to move into a new system which will give them decent protection.  


LOUISE YAXLEY: This is the shape of the political landscape until the next election, Labor in step with the unions and not much sign of all the work done to rebuild its relationship with business. 


It was badly wounded during the last election by the Coalition claims that it couldn't be trusted on interest rates. 


John Howard's ready to run a similar campaign, this time saying that Labor can't be trusted to maintain the high employment rate. 


JOHN HOWARD: In 1990, we had all the alleged protections under the sun in industrial relations but it didn't stop people being thrown out of work, and it didn't stop their wages being cut. You can't hold up wages if the firm is not earning any money. You either sack people if you're not earning any money or you reduce the wages of the people you've retained. 


And the reality that Mr Beazley must face is that by the policy that he announced yesterday he is saying to people who want to better themselves, "I won't let you do so". 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Beazley cites the case of Spotlight shops where workers have traded away a raft of conditions for an extra two cents an hour.  


John Howard returns to his argument that having a job is better than relying on welfare. 


JOHN HOWARD: Well one of the features of Spotlight is that 38 out of 40 newly employed people in Mt Druitt have been on the dole and they're $350 a week better off. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Kim Beazley says the evidence is that workers are losing pay and conditions and he singles out Sydney, home to some of the seats he believes are particularly sensitive to these changes, and home to the electorates that Labor would need to pick up if it was to win government and be able to implement its promises. 


KIM BEAZLEY: If you can't get access to penalty rates in Sydney, you cannot pay your mortgage. It's as simple as that. It's as simple as that.  


And I think that every working journalist knows that. I think that every mum and dad knows that they need those penalty rates for their mortgage and they don't like seeing their kids being smashed with these things as their first experience of working life.  


LOUISE YAXLEY: John Howard has an eye to similar people to Kim Beazley but believes they won't react the way Labor thinks they will. 


JOHN HOWARD: I think the Labor Party's wrong about this and I think the weakness of their position, the damage it could do to Australians, the threat it poses to aspirational Australians, those growing number of people who might have started with a union or blue collar background but they work very, very hard and they… many of them become small businessmen, and they're the sort of people who will be damaged and disadvantaged if Labor's policy is implemented.  


And I think somebody's got to speak up for them and that's what I'm doing today. 


MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister John Howard ending that report from Louise Yaxley.