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Minister and ACTU President discuss unions; wage rates; ACTU.



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5 May 1999

 

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON PETER REITH MP

NEIL MITCHELL PROGRAM, 3AW

 

Interview with Peter Reith and Jennie George

 

MITCHELL: Today in the studio a rare meeting, or a rare public meeting between two of the most powerful industrial relations figures in this country. With me the Workplace Relations Minister Mr Peter Reith and the ACTU President Jennie George, thank you both very much for coming in. Now Mr Reith, Jennie George says that you’re trying to cut wages and conditions, give bosses the upper hand, effectively destroy unions. Is that a fair summation Jennie George?

 

GEORGE: Well certainly I think Mr Reith is very intent on destroying a system that served this nation well since 1904. We’ve had awards, we’ve had an industrial umpire, we’ve had the right of unions to collectively represent workers and their interests and since Mr Reith has had his portfolio, he’s acted in a very partisan way, always takes the side of the bosses, describes modest increases for low paid workers as relatively generous while turning a blind eye to the top cats in the Federal public service who could get in a day up to $400 that I’ve been trying to establish through the Living Wage for the working people so...

 

MITCHELL: Partisan you say?

 

GEORGE:... everything that he does is aimed to destroy the system that served this nation very well for one hundred and, almost a hundred years.

 

MITCHELL: Mr Reith, has it served well for a hundred and four years?

 

REITH: Well if you’re unemployed you wouldn’t think so and if you were a low paid worker for the 13 years that the ALP and the ACTU were running Australia up until 1996 you wouldn’t feel that you know you’d had a really good deal from the system that Jennie is so keen to look after without change. But the fact is, for 13 years when she and successive Labor Governments were running the place the low income people were actually going backwards in terms of their real wages, namely wages after inflation. We had the highest unemployment since the Great Depression. Now Jennie’s latest diatribe is you know you’re out to get the worker you know, you’re unfair, you’re always on the side of the boss, all this sort of stuff, I mean, it’s just completely negated by the facts. The facts are that more people have got jobs since we’ve been in office, over 400,000. In terms of wages, people are earning more now after inflation than they did prior to us getting in. In fact we’ve had real wage increases of over 7 percent as a result of the decisions made by the Commission. She says that we want to get rid of the umpire, well of course that is simply not true. We have kept the umpire but we have made changes because we think the system needs change because too many people are unemployed and Australians could be doing better.

 

 

MITCHELL: Has job security changed?

 

REITH: Well job security levels in Australia today are pretty constant over the last 20 odd years if you look at the numbers. The highest levels ofjob insecurity you know in recent times was of course during the recession, the Labor Party and the ACTU’s economic management gave us, so...

 

MITCHELL: What the ACTU gave us the recession?

 

REITH: Well the ACTU was a key player in running economic policy and workplace relations policy all the time that Labor was in and all I say is that you know the runs are on the board. The fact is that the system that Jennie is so keen to have she had 13 years with the Labor Party to put into operation. It wasn’t a better system, in fact the changes we’ve made you can demonstrate are actually better for workers. Let me just give you one other...

 

MITCHELL: Well hang on (inaudible)...

 

GEORGE: Well for a lot of the period that Labor was in power of course there was the Accord with the union movement, some of it before my time. But workers in this country exercised wage restraint in the national interest and what happened of course, profits grew but they weren’t put back into productive investment and we had in this nation very good employment growth under many years of the Labor Government. But I don’t want to talk about history in detail, what I want to talk about is what we are looking forward to in the future. Now Mr Reith argues that the Commission, he doesn’t want to change the Commission, but if you look at the leaked letter that he sent off to the Prime Minister, he makes it very clear that he thinks the wage rises for the low paid have been relatively generous, quote, and he also suggests that in future maybe we ought to stack the Commission by putting in bureaucrats from Treasury and the Productivity Commission.

 

MITCHELL: Okay well lets look at that specifically, stack the Commission Mr Reith?

 

REITH: Well again this sort of obvious nonsense. I mean what we want from the Commission is a fair balancing of the competing issues. Now when the Commission gets a wage increase application in, as they did last time, you know the unions they want the sky’s the limit for them, 26 bucks the employers say no we shouldn’t give them anything, we can’t afford anything and the Commission’s got to weigh up these competing claims. Now what they’ve got to look at is well if you have too many, too high a claim then interest rates will go higher, inflation will go higher and we’ll have higher unemployment. So that’s not in anybody’s interests and obviously if you’re not careful about the cost structure for business then that’ll send businesses broke or reduce their productivity. So, you’ve got to balance these competing considerations and all I say...

 

MITCHELL: Yeah, but that’s the role of the Commission, but the allegation is here that you’re trying to stack it to get it to side your way.

 

REITH: Well I’m just putting it in context. All I’ve said is well the people who’ve got to make these judgements you know, about the impact of wage increases need to have the skills, the economic skills, the understanding of the system, the workplace relations and the like and maybe a change in that nature of the skills available on the Commission will give us a better outcome. Now Jennie says oh this is shocking, you know, you’re trying to stack Commission. The concept of having economic skills on the Commission as a specific expertise was pushed by the Labor Party when they were in out of the Hancock recommendations. Now that...

 

GEORGE: I beg your pardon....

 

REITH: . . .that is just a complete....

 

GEORGE: As you know Minister...

 

REITH: With great respect Jennie, this is, I mean there are important debates here but this sort of diatribe, you know the Government’s trying to stack, the Government’s anti worker, all these sort of things gets you nowhere. People want to know what you’re actually going to do. People want to know for example, why are you opposed to secret ballots to give the workers a greater say, you know answer that question.

 

GEORGE: No.

 

REITH: Instead of the usual tripe, why don’t you just answer a few basic questions about what your real attitude is to workers?

 

GEORGE: Well, I am going to respond to what you just said. You said the union goes into the Commission, the sky is the limit. Now you’re implying that we’re fools, that we don’t understand the macroeconomic situation that faces the nation, I reject that. I don’t think the sky is the limit. To seek for low paid workers, some of whom are trying to raise a family, and we sought a minimum wage of $400 a week. Now you reckon the sky is the limit as far as the union’s concerned. Why is it that you say nothing about some of the obscene salary packages that are being paid to people in this economy? Why do say nothing about executive salaries rising at six times the rate of inflation? Why do you give your Federal public servants huge salary increases, up to $400 extra a day and then tell the union movement that.

 

REITH: Well I mean this is the usual response which is the sort of politics of envy, look, you know, Neil Mitchell is on 300 grand a year or whatever and this is an outrage and Mr Reith why don’t you say something publicly about it or whatever. Now, I mean I actually do think that some of the chief executives in big companies get too much...

 

MITCHELL: Do you?

 

REITH: Yeah, well, it just doesn’t seem to make sense to me, it doesn’t seem to you know, be in sync with the real world that people are being paid over a million bucks for running, you know ordinary outfits now...

 

MITCHELL: The report in The Australian today, two Australian companies listed in the top ten of the highest paid chief executives outside the US, Coles Myer, Dennis Eck, who gets $3.91 million and, well just on $4 million, BHP’s Paul Anderson, $3.79 million. Is that too much?

 

REITH: Well the point I make, well, I mean, there’s no point in me talking about individual circumstances but it’s no answer to people who are unemployed and the low paid to just sort of run this argument of envy which is the usual answer by the ACTU. The facts are you put up $26 this year and the Commission came down with a figure 10 to $12. Now, they completely rejected what you have to say this year in the same way they did last year and the same way they did now.

 

GEORGE: No what they rejected this year was the employer saying low paid workers are worth nothing. I mean you’re talking about....

 

REITH: Now I didn’t say the employers got up Jennie, I’m just saying they rejected your over the top.

 

GEORGE: And they gave us 50, 50 per cent more than Mr Reith wanted them to get. All I’m saying is...

 

REITH: We put up $8, $8 was the last Accord figure that you agreed to, $8 was....

 

GEORGE: That’s going back a few years.

 

REITH: Well, but inflation’s been down Jenny and $8 was I think a reasonable figure, we’ve put it up the last three years. Your normal line is to say oh the Government’s totally opposed to any wage increases, well, you know, we’ve sort of shown you otherwise. The fact is we are trying to give people higher wages, but we have to have a system where those wages can be paid for by productivity improvements, otherwise, do you know what happens, it’s just what happened when Labor was in, you get higher inflation, higher interest rates and the people who hurt the most are the people that you claim to represent.

 

GEORGE: Can I just say...

 

REITH: ... running the show.

 

GEORGE: .. .that productivity is at record highs, profit levels are good, the economy is in reasonable shape, that’s what you keep telling the Australian community...

 

REITH: well it’s true, well thank you for the compliment.

 

GEORGE: But the people at the lower end of the income scale are constantly the people that are having the virtue of wage restraint preached at them by people who earn often obscene salaries telling those that can least afford to make ends meet that they’ve got to pull their belts

in. Now the other thing of course about the unemployment issue, in your letter to the Prime Minister again this notion that wages might be frozen at the lower end. The only wages that can be frozen are the people that we represent through the award system, 1.7 to 2 million people who rely on the award as their only entitlement legally to wages and conditions. Now if you had your way, the awards that we currently have, which you have tried to strip back would be replaced I think, in your scenario, with a legislated minimum wage and a handful of conditions and people would bargain for everything on top of that.

 

MITCHELL: Okay well let’s look at that, is that right? Do you want to get rid of awards?

 

REITH: No, well we’ve kept awards, so...

 

GEORGE: Thanks to the Democrats...

 

REITH: Well, hang on, we sat down with the Democrats and did a deal with them and we kept awards because we could see a continuing role for awards. Now Jennie says oh, you know the Government is this sort of more of hyperbole we get, that the Government wants to strip back awards. It is true that we think the awards are far too prescriptive, I mean, they tell you basically how to run your business in every possible way. We think awards should be there as a minimum safety net, we think that’s fair enough, but they shouldn’t have absolutely everything last, you know, that currently is contained within awards, so we want to go further in simplifying the system. Now Jennie says stripping back awards, gutting the awards system is the result of that policy. For example, I said the other day I don’t think awards should have union picnic days. If you’re going to have a union picnic day, that should be a matter of agreement at the workplace, it shouldn’t be a compulsory benefit for people who are in the unions compared to people who are not in unions and what does Jennie say, oh I’m totally opposed to this, this is a shocking attack on the rights of ordinary workers, now you are (inaudible) Jennie

 

REITH: honestly, give me a fair explanation why ...

 

GEORGE: First of all get your facts right.

 

REITH: I have.

 

GEORGE: I haven’t made any comment about union picnic days...

 

REITH: oh well, give us a comment now.

 

GEORGE: but I will today, I will today.

 

REITH: Yeah good.

 

GEORGE: You should know as Minister that unions have a right to ten public holidays a year by a decision of the full bench of the Commission and an eleventh day which can either be a specified holiday like Melbourne Cup or the Adelaide Cup or a union picnic day. Yes some unions have by virtue of a Commission full bench test case a union picnic day. Some might have it by agreement and I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong in having a union picnic day that give the opportunity for unions and their families...

 

REITH: I’m not against union picnic days

 

GEORGE: but you just said you were.

 

REITH: No, all I’m saying is they should not be part of the award system, now do you agree with the...

 

GEORGE: Well you better take an application to the full bench and get it overturned.

 

REITH: No it’s part of our award simplification, we propose to legislate so that union picnic days are not in the award. Now do you agree or don’t you agree with that proposition?

 

 

GEORGE: I agree with workers and their employers working out their arrangements that suit the enterprise.

 

REITH: So you do agree with me? So by agreement you’re happy with it but you’re happy not to have it as a compulsory requirement in awards.

 

GEORGE: I don’t, look, it’s not a compulsory requirement, I’m telling you that the eleventh day can be a union picnic day if you don’t like that you take your case to the independent

umpire.

 

REITH: No Jenny, look, it’s a technical point, I don’t want to take it further.

 

GEORGE: It’s not a major, well, you raised it.

 

REITH: But you ought to answer the question. Are you in favor of in the award

simplification process taking union picnic days out of awards, full stop yes or no?

 

GEORGE: I’m in favor of the conditions being established and are reflected in the awards

 

MITCHELL: Okay, well let’s look at that, you say what is in the awards now has to stay there, shouldn’t be, nothing should be changed. Now, Peter Reith are you saying that it should, that the conditions that are in the awards need to be reviewed and changed..

 

REITH: Yeah, and I’m saying union picnic days, as an example, is not necessary...

 

MITCHELL: What else?

 

REITH: Well we’ve got other things, for example, superannuation. The reason we say super is because there is already a Federal law that (inaudible)

 

MITCHELL: But do you see how a worker would be nervous about that, if they are covered by an award, they would say now hang on, Peter Reith...

 

REITH: Yeah.

 

MITCHELL: The man from the waterfront, is the way they’ll judge you, wants to change our awards, we don’t trust him, what’s he going to take away from us.

 

REITH: Well we went all through this process the first time around and we sat down with the Democrats and came up with what was a fair deal from the workers point of view, now, all I’m saying is on one particular issue, there are others and I’m happy to argue each and every one, but on the union picnic day, the fact is...

 

GEORGE: (inaudible) superannuation.

 

REITH: Well, we can come back to that, well we’ve been running that for 18 months, there is nothing new about that, the union picnic day, all I’m saying is that it shouldn’t be a compulsory minima. It’s not a basic requirement to protect you against an exploitative boss, that’s my point. If you want to have an agreement for a union picnic day, that’s great. I don’t see why however, you know, people who are not members of a union, you know, should be compelled to go to a union picnic day and in fact on 3AW last year we had examples of people being coerced along to these union picnic days just as a fundraiser for the union. So I don’t think it’s right in principle and that’s why I’ve asked Jennie just a simple question...

 

MITCHELL: Just quickly before we take a break...

 

GEORGE: Can I just (inaudible). The people who are listening and the workers certainly understand that if Mr Reith had his agenda we’d have the Western Australian system, a handful of minimum conditions, you look at the wage rates in WA...

 

REITH: They’re higher, they’re higher

 

GEORGE: You look at the wage rates of the non-unionized sector. What we had was the Democrats intervening and moving a range of amendments that allowed the award system to have 20 allowable matters. At the moment, in the Senate, Mr Reith’s proposal is to deny workers who earn less than $900 a month access to the system of superannuation that’s been established.

 

REITH: Well that’s not quite right...

 

GEORGE: Well when you look at the $900 a month barrier, that would exclude huge numbers of part time casual and female and young workers from access to a top up of super.

 

MITCHELL: Is Peter Reith about, let’s get it in simple terms, are you saying he’s about exploiting workers?

 

GEORGE: I think Peter Reith is about undermining a system that has served this nation well.

 

MITCHELL: Yeah but is it about exploiting workers?

 

GEORGE: Well he says himself as you’ll see on our publications, never forget which side of history we’re on, we’re on the side of those people making profits, I’ve never heard Mr Reith ever go to bat for ordinary working people.

 

REITH: Well we’ve...

 

GEORGE: ... he’s very partisan.

 

REITH: We have been going to bat for ordinary working people and ordinary working people have had significant increases after inflation in the three years that this Government has been

in. Now that hurts you Jennie because when the Labor Party was in, those people were actually going backwards, those people also under us have had a better chance of a job and if you are really, if you are genuinely worried about workers, you also ought to be worried about people who are unemployed and their chance of hanging on to the jobs that they’ve got.

 

GEORGE: Of course I’m worried about those who are unemployed.

 

REITH: .. .and that’s what counts, I mean all this other stuff you go on with Jennie is the ideology of the ACTU. You know, your long political background, the fact is that for most workers, they want to know have I got a job, am I gonna keep my job, am I gonna get more in my packet.

 

GEORGE: and you go and talk to workers...

 

REITH: . . .and under this Government, not only have they been able to keep their jobs, more jobs are being created and they’re getting higher pay and....

 

GEORGE: Mr Reith I talk to lots of workers. You know what the big issue out there is? Job insecurity. Under your Government this country has the second highest rate of casual labour of any country in the OECD. People are losing full time employment, people are being employed on contracts as casual labour, mounting insecurity, job stress, work intensification, more workers being asked to do more and more, women’s wages falling behind, people on individual...

 

REITH: okay, well I mean the facts are Jennie that in the time that Labor was in, you know the percentage of people on casual work doubled or thereabouts.

 

MITCHELL: okay, we need...

 

REITH: Casual workers didn’t start when we got in but in the time that we have been in, of the 400,000 jobs that have been created, more than half of them have been full time jobs, we have started to turn that around but it is true, there are a lot of people in that situation.

 

MITCHELL: We need, I’m sorry, to take a quick break, we’ll come back with some more questions and we keep talking about what the workers care about, we’ll hear from some of them.

 

(ad break)

 

MITCHELL: The Minister, Peter Reith is with me and the ACTU President Jennie George, we’ll take a couple of quick calls and please be as quick as you can in your comments because we’ve got a lot to discuss yet. 9696 1278 Ron, go ahead.

 

CALLER: Good morning Neil. Look, I’ve got a problem and I’m wondering whilst we’ve got Jennie and Peter there, I’ve got a problem in that I was formally employed by Strangs International on the waterfront in Melbourne and for five months I’ve been endeavoring to get my redundancy pay out. We’re at our wits end and prior, before we present ourselves for work again on Monday, I’m wondering if either Jennie or Peter could enlighten us why we’ve waited so long to get our money?

 

MITCHELL: okay is there anybody who’d have knowledge of that?

 

REITH: I haven’t been handling that so I can’t give an answer to the details but I’d be happy if someone wants to ring my office we’ll certainly do what we canto help, in Canberra.

 

MITCHELL: Thanks Ron, Bob hello. Sorry, Jennie George.

 

GEORGE: I was going to say I wonder whether Ron had pursued the matter with the MUA, I’m more than happy to help, I don’t know the detail.

 

MITCHELL: We’ll get his number off air. Bob hello go ahead.

 

MITCHELL: Yes, Mr Reith, you were talking earlier about exploitative bosses, I’m in the defence force, the Government introduced Workplace Agreements to the defence force supposedly for an 18 month period. Why is it that when each Agreement has expired, it’s taken up to 10 months to implement the new Agreement which has not been backdated. It would seem the Government is defrauding its own employees. Do you have an explanation?

 

REITH: Well an agreement is is exactly what it says, and that is there has got to be the consent of both sides, now, again, in the defence force I’m not sure specifically the details of that negotiation but there’s certainly plenty of cases where you know, negotiations are protracted, lots of cases like that, for whatever reasons on both sides. The value of the Agreement of course remains in place until the new Agreement is struck.

 

MITCHELL: Okay, Jennie George, do you want to react to that?

 

GEORGE: Well yes, these individual contacts that Mr Reith promotes are very insidious and what we see by the research that’s been done on them is that workers who are forced off and forced to sign them are in fact missing out on wage increases for the duration of the Agreement, usually a three year period. These individual contracts are aimed at eroding the collective rights of unions and workers to have conditions enshrined in their awards.

 

MITCHELL: Well I’m not sure that it is an individual Agreement in the defence force. Secondly, I mean the question for you Jennie is are you ideologically or for whatever reasons, totally opposed to an individual having an Agreement with their employer?

 

GEORGE: Philosophically I believe that an individual worker does not negotiate on a level playing field with an employer. If there are some people in the community, professional people, people like Neil, broadcasters, that feel confident about negotiating their own arrangements, I’m not gonna intrude on that...

 

REITH: Right so what you’re saying is...

 

GEORGE: . . .but I’m very much against people in a vulnerable position being told here’s the contract or I’ll find somebody else who’ll sign up on these conditions that I’m offering.

 

REITH: This is the Big Brother you see, says to the rank and file, oh look, you’re not smart enough, you know we’re totally opposed to you being allowed to have a direct deal.

 

GEORGE: Now hang on Mr Reith, I never patronise the people I represent...

 

REITH: yes you, (inaudible), well you did because what you just said was oh well, it’s alright for Neil Mitchell because you know, he’s a broadcaster, he’s got bargaining power, he’s in a position to get a good deal but as far as anybody else is concerned, oh no, your only chance of having a reasonable deal is through a union and your problem Jennie is that a lot of people have started to realize that that is just ideology gone mad and that is why a lot of people have been leaving you people. That’s why union membership has been falling, in fact it’s fallen from, I’ve got the numbers here, in 1986, it was 45.6 per cent, now it’s 28.1 per cent because a lot of people have realised, and I’m not saying all employers are perfect, they’re not, some of them are bad news, but a lot of employers, they want to do the right thing and they want to sit down...

 

MITCHELL: But are you saying that’s good, from 45.6 to 28.1, are you saying it’s good the unions are dying?

 

REITH: No all I’m saying is that people like Jennie here have become irrelevant to a lot of workers...

 

GEORGE: ... well (inaudible)

 

REITH: and that’s why, you know here she is with all the usual sort of arguments trotted out this morning. The fact is Jennie people have stopped listening to you because they know...

 

MITCHELL: Okay well...

 

REITH: (inaudible) ... you’ve done nothing for workers,

 

GEORGE: Can I respond?

 

MITCHELL: Yes please.

 

REITH: . .. You’ve done nothing for workers, that’s your problem.

 

GEORGE: Well you can generalise as much as you like and I’m quite happy to be accountable to the people I represent. Let me tell you, when I go round, when I go round to workplaces and I ask the question of working people in plants, in factories, how would you feel about negotiating your own employment arrangements? You know what they tell you because your Textor polling shows that they don’t like the notion of individual arrangements. People belong to unions for collective protection and to the extent that we will continue to defend and represent...

 

REITH: I don’t mind people being in unions Jennie.

 

GEORGE: Well look...

 

REITH: That’s what you don’t understand.

 

GEORGE: Can I finish? Thank you, I didn’t interrupt you. Yes, membership has declining. I’m not pretending we don’t have enormous challenges. There’s been huge change in the economy, huge changes in the employment arrangement and that’s our challenge. Now, I would like to be, and the rest of the union movement, would like to be free of your constant political intervention in the democratic affairs of the union movement and its right to go about its business. You constantly seek to provoke situations. It wasn’t good enough the Maritime dispute, now it’s the building industry, you’re threatening another round of punitive, unnecessary, anti-union, anti-worker legislation...

 

REITH: What because of union picnic days?

 

GEORGE: No...

 

REITH: I mean how absurd Jennie

 

GEORGE: don’t trivialise what I’m saying.

 

REITH: Well you trivialise things because you don’t tell people what we are proposing.

 

GEORGE: And as for employers, let me tell you, we have very constructive and productive relationships with unionised plants across a range of industries and all the research will find you that a unionised plant is not a negative for productivity. Productivity is often highly correlated with the employer and employees being collectively represented and having a win win situation at the workplace.

 

REITH: Look Jennie, the trouble....

 

GEORGE: So just leave us alone to get on with our business...

 

REITH: well it’s not a matter of...

 

GEORGE: ... in a democracy.

 

REITH: Look, you’re, the problem that you have Jennie is that you see workplace relations as part of a big political fight. You see this as an ideological battle. We see this as you know just simply trying to get better pay for people, trying to improve productivity, keep, you know, interest rates down, so that they can afford the mortgage. You see this as part of a great social divide, the them and the us, the you know, your Communist Party background which you denied for years, still is part of the thinking, the political thinking of the senior hierarchy of the ACTU.

 

MITCHELL: Are you saying, hang on, are you saying that Jenny George’s Communist Party background is relevant to what she is doing now?

 

REITH: What I’m saying is that a lot of these senior Labor ACTU leaders see all this as a political fight. They see this as a philosophical divide and in fact she said it today. Now, the fact is that for most workers, they’re not interested in, you know the ACTU executive having resolutions on East Timor as important as it might be...

 

MITCHELL: Okay.

 

REITH: Most rank and file people are saying...

MITCHELL: Jennie George.

 

GEORGE: And could I just say...

 

REITH: . . .What about our wages, what about our jobs, what about sensible reform that will actually help us get a better job?

 

GEORGE: And could I just say most of the people that I’m accountable and am elected to represent and accountable to I don’t think give too much cheer about what I might have believed or thought or did almost 30 years ago.

 

REITH: I think they would care about the fact that you denied it for years.

 

GEORGE: The Cold War I think is over except in your mind but just let me say, when you talk about me promoting ideology, this is a quote from a business lunch; talk about ideology, Mr Reith; “never forget the history of politics and never forget which side we’re on, we’re on

 

REITH: What’s wrong with profits?

 

GEORGE: Now, I’m using this as a response to your contention that all I’m motivated is by ideology, not by practical things and I’m very motivated by looking after and protecting and defending the interests of people today to the best of my ability.

 

 

MITCHELL: Did you, could I just ask you on this point though because this is interesting it’s been even raised in this era. Is it correct you were a member of the Communist Party?

 

GEORGE: Yes I was involved with the Communist Party.

 

MITCHELL: Were you a member?

 

GEORGE: Yes, almost 30 years ago.

 

MITCHELL: Did you deny it?

 

GEORGE: I didn’t make it a public issue out of respect for my family and I think I’m entitled to some personal considerations.

 

REITH: But you publicly denied it.

 

GEORGE: But you...

 

REITH: That is the point. Well that’s the quote that Brad Norrington’s book, that’s all.

 

GEORGE: Well can I tell you on legal advice that I’m not obliged to tell anyone who chooses to write a book about my life anything other than I want to tell them.

 

REITH: No but you, no, Jennie, the problem that you’ve got is that you denied it. No one is saying that your private matters should be publicly exposed or that you have necessarily an obligation, that’s another issue.

 

GEORGE: no that’s right

 

REITH: I mean people like John Halfpenny, I mean they were up front about their background

 

GEORGE: well that’s fine

 

REITH: and so was Laurie Carmichael, but you weren’t.

 

MITCHELL: But it is, I guess it is a side issue, I was interested that it was raised. Now the waterfront, the waterfront, have either of you been interviewed by the Federal Police about what happened on the waterfront — Jennie George?

 

GEORGE: I’ve never been interviewed by the Federal Police about the waterfront or about any other other matter, so I can’t comment on that

 

MITCHELL: Peter Reith?

 

REITH: no

 

MITCHELL: is it correct that Mr Corrigan is under new investigation by the Federal Police?

 

REITH: well as I understand this story, the Industrial Relations Commission sent off evidence that he gave in February ‘98 to the Director of Public Prosecutions and they took the matter no further. Now, when that was in the press a few weeks ago the MUA said they were gonna take it on and I gather that they, well I’m assuming that they’ve sent it off to the Federal Police so when the Police were asked are you investigating the matter? They would have said yes they were. Now I don’t know any more about it than what I’ve read in the paper this morning?

 

MITCHELL: do you know anything further about that Jennie George?

 

GEORGE: well I think I know a little bit about it and Mr Reith, who was just five minutes ago portrayed himself as some paragon of virtue about people’s integrity and morality, as you know is very close to Mr Corrigan, was part of the what we allege to be a conspiracy and what prima facie is Federal Court and the High Court found that there was an ....

 

REITH: oh that’s not true

 

GEORGE:... can I finish, there was an arguable case...

 

REITH: it’s not true

 

GEORGE: that a conspiracy occurred. My understanding ...

 

REITH: now that is not true, hang on

 

GEORGE: can I...

 

REITH: that is just plain no true, now you ought to tell the truth about this...

 

GEORGE: well I am telling the truth

 

REITH: there was no finding in respect of the Commonwealth whatsoever, absolutely none.

 

GEORGE: well I think that...

 

REITH: thank you very much

 

GEORGE: my interpretation I think the community’s...

 

REITH: well we’re not interested in your interpretation, the facts are there was no such finding by the Federal court

 

GEORGE:... I said an arguable case

 

REITH: no, there was no such finding in respect of the Commonwealth Jennie

 

GEORGE: I didn’t say the Commonwealth, sorry

 

REITH: (inaudible)

 

MITCHELL: okay well I see your point...

 

GEORGE: can I finish, can I finish? My understanding that the concern is that under oath, in the Industrial Relations Commission, I think Mr Corrigan made statements which alleged and denied an involvement with the funding of the Dubai mercenaries and we subsequently find out in documents that have been on the public record by people like the Finwest Directors with bank evidence that it does seem that in fact he had an involvement in financing the Dubai experiment. So that is I guess the matter that the Federal Police are investigating and that’s certainly an issue that’s been raised....

 

MITCHELL: do you...

 

GEORGE: and as far as the Federal Government is concerned, if Mr Reith has nothing to hide, not about the politics of 30 years ago but about the politics of yesterday, why is it that we have been denied under Freedom of Information access to the documents that the taxpayer paid a million dollars for that outlined the strategy behind the failed attempt to smash the maritime union?

 

REITH: look, there’s

 

GEORGE: ... and (inaudible) that’s now in the Federal Court

 

REITH: there’s a simple answer to this Jennie, the fact is that Corrigan stood up to you and the MUA and he stood up to you because he as an employer, and I think most Australians agree, they had had enough of the wharfies union holding this country to ransom for years and as we’ve now seen, here on the Melbourne wharf we have had a productivity increase of over 100 percent, we’ve got six man crane teams instead of 11 man crane teams, we have the wharfies here doing 25 crane lifts and hour, which for a long time they said they couldn’t do, on a third of the occasion they do more than thirty. Now you are digging all this up against Corrigan because he for once stood up to you people and said enough is enough and it’s about time that Australia had a competitive waterfront. And I say as far as what has happened on the waterfront, that is a complete answer to all your claims of conspiracy and all the allegations you want to make. The fact is that when the dust settled on this issue Australia has a much more productive waterfront....

 

GEORGE: well...

 

REITH: and that’s something that you have never been able to really you know stand MITCHELL: okay...

 

REITH:..because for years you supported the wharfies and the rip-offs and the rorts that we had on the waterfront

 

MITCHELL: okay, we’re going to have to wrap up I’m afraid, we could sort of go on for all day with this and I’d like to, it’d be fascinating. Just a final question, do you claim, to each of you, Jennie George, do you claim the workers of this country are being exploited?

 

GEORGE: I think the workers are far worse off under the Howard/Reith Government than they were prior to that. I think we’re seeing growing income inequality, we’re seeing job insecurity, we’re seeing people working longer hours, we’re seeing people nervous about hanging on to their existing entitlements and we’re seeing a Government that constantly takes the side of the employers in the on-going issues that are involved in the world of industrial relations

 

MITCHELL: Peter Reith can you get unemployment down any further?

 

REITH: I’d like to get it down further but we will need further reform, which Jennie is opposed to. For workers more jobs are being created, wages are up, the level of industrial disputes is now the lowest it’s been since 1913 and job security’s about what it’s been for the last twenty years. But I don’t say things are perfect Neil, I certainly don’t say that.

 

MITCHELL: is there anything the two of you agree to, agree on?

 

REITH: well I would hope that Jennie would genuinely support further reform as we can demonstrate that that will help create more jobs and give people higher pay

 

GEORGE: Well I certainly support further reform, I mean I’m interested in the wellbeing of the nation, but I certainly don’t support further reform at the expense of the conditions and entitlements of people I represent and I don’t support reform where the people who are asked to continue to bear the burden are those that are least able to carry the burden.

 

REITH: Jennie you won’t even support secret ballots though will you?

 

GEORGE: I don’t know what you’re talking about, I haven’t seen your legislation, what secret ballots?

 

REITH: well we are proposing secret ballots prior to industrial action, in other words, give the workers a say

 

GEORGE: yeah, do you know what I support

 

REITH: now do you support that or not, yes or no?

 

GEORGE:... I support absolutely the principal that workers exercise control democratically over the decisions of their union

 

REITH: yes or no, do you support secret ballots or not — yes or no? it’s a fair question

 

GEORGE: I support the right of workers to democratically

 

MITCHELL: okay

 

GEORGE: (inaudible)

 

REITH: she’ll oppose everything Neil, I can promise you that, she’ll oppose absolutely every last proposal.

 

MITCHELL: Jennie George, Peter Reith thank you

 

ENDS