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Shadow Minister and AIG comment on possibility of a Senate inquiry into proposed industrial relations changes.

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Tuesday, 16 August 2005



TONY EASTLEY: the Prime Minister, John Howard, has played down the possibility of a Senate inquiry into workplace relations changes, despite his Minister, Kevin Andrews, calling for one yesterday. Meanwhile, another protest against the changes will focus on Canberra today, when a convoy of 500 trucks will roll into the nation’s capital bringing a message to the government about the impact the changes will have on independent contractors and owner-drivers. Employer groups are urging the Prime Minister not to give in to the pressure. Louise Yaxley reports.


LOUISE YAXLEY: Public holidays and smoko breaks have been pawns in a chess game being played over the new industrial relations system. Last night the Australian Industry Group warned the government not to be lured into trying so hard to reassure people about its changes that it puts in rules that aren’t there now. The group’s President, John Ingram, said smokos were abolished 20 years ago in most places, and it would be a backward step to create a right to them.


Public holidays are particularly politically sensitive. Key senators have called for public holidays to be included as one of the government’s minimum basic conditions. Last night Mr Ingram urged the Prime Minister to reject that idea.


JOHN INGRAM: There are calls for the government to include public holiday provisions within the legislated minimum conditions to prevent people being required to work on public holidays. Again, any ‘one size fits all’ approach will cause far more problems that it solves. In many industries public holiday work is essential and in some cases public holidays are their peak times.


LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Ingram says there are important issues still to be resolved about how the system would work when the government uses its corporations powers to take over industrial relations. That’s the sort of detail that could be examined by a Senate committee. Yesterday the Minister, Kevin Andrews, said he wanted a Senate inquiry.


KEVIN ANDREWS: I’m the one who’s making the suggestion we have a Senate inquiry, so we’ll have one and it will be something of the government’s doing.


LOUISE YAXLEY: But last night the Prime Minister didn’t back the idea.


JOHN HOWARD: The question of what we do in each House is a matter for each House, but this is a government that is very happy to have its proposals looked at carefully, but not of course made the subject of deliberate obstruction.


LOUISE YAXLEY: Labor’s spokesman, Stephen Smith, says the Senate should look into it.


STEPHEN SMITH: Well absolutely, but it has to be a serious and substantive Senate inquiry. These are extreme proposals and they deserve the full attention of a Senate committee. Now, whether the Minister has in mind a quick and dirty inquiry again pursuing arrogance rather than substantive examination time will tell, but again, as I say, even that looks like a bit of a makeup on the run, with the Prime Minister seeming to walk away from that late last night.


LOUISE YAXLEY: It’s a Labor tactic to refer to these changes as extreme. Last night the Prime Minister hit back.


JOHN HOWARD: Not extreme, but measured.


LOUISE YAXLEY: As well as the calls on public holidays and smokos, Mr Howard’s been asking to guarantee that no worker would be worse off under his workplace relations changes. Last night he put it this way:


JOHN HOWARD: No government has an interest in hurting ordinary people, no government wants to hurt ordinary people, no government I lead will hurt ordinary people.


TONY EASTLEY: The Prime Minister, John Howard.