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Minister says Opposition Leader has given in to unions about abolishing AWAs when ALP gains office.

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Tues day 13 June 2006

Minister says Opposition Leader has given in to unions about abolishing AWAs when ALP gains office


TONY EASTLEY: Workplace Relations Minister Kevin An drews has likened Kim Beazley's promise to rip up Australian Workplace Agreements, to former Labor leader Mark Latham's pledge to have Australian troops out of Iraq by Christmas.  


Mr Andrews says Mr Beazley didn't consult his senior colleagues, and he says the Labor leader has simply appeased the unions. 


Mr Andrews is speaking here with Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath. 


KEVIN ANDREWS: What Kim Beazley is doing is ripping up the wages and conditions of hundreds of thousands of Australians. He's tearing down the economic structure that's delivered 1.8 million jobs and a 16 per cent increase in real wages. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: We'll look at those numbers if we can - only between 2.5 and 5 per cent of workers are on these AWAs anyway. 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, this just shows how economically incompetent Mr Beazley is. He said last year that… 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: No, but you're saying how successful they are. Wouldn't there be more on them if they were more successful? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, what he said was there'd be a million people on AWAs; we've got a total workforce of 10 million. That's 10 per cent. So he can't even get his figures right. Even if there's only half a million people on AWAs, that's 5 per cent. So he can't even get the basic figures right. 


But significantly, this… what this has done is reinforced what Australians know, and that is, basically, he's a weak and vacillating character.  


He's done a Latham, he didn't consult with his Caucus apparently, he didn't consult with his Shadow Ministry, he's done a troops out by Christmas statement in relation to this, and rather than having the guts to stand up to the unions, like Tony Blair did in the UK, Kim Beazley has just caved in, once there's a bit of hint that his leadership might be under pressure. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Mr Andrews, Kim Beazley has said the spotlight case was what pushed him towards this stance. Now, how do you defend a position where a company pays workers two cents extra per hour, and in the process they lose a whole lot of conditions? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, the people on AWAs, on average, get 13 per cent more than those on collective agreements, according to the Bureau of Statistics, and something like 100 per cent more than those on awards. But what Kim Beazley has done is simply appease the union bosses, and there's… 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well, can we talk about the Spotlight case though? - Two cents extra an hour and losing a whole lot of conditions? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, if you look at the Spotlight case, you have people in the western suburbs of Sydney, many of them who had been unemployed, who are now getting $543 a week rather than the $205 a week they were getting on Newstart.  


What Kim Beazley wants to do is to rip away from Australians the opportunity to actually earn more, and rip away from Australians the ability to be able to have more people in employment. That's what's occurred. This is total appeasement by Mr Beazley. He's put his own job ahead of the national interest. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: While you're talking about appeasement, what Labor is going to be talking about is the minimum conditions offered by the Government under what they're arguing. Now, do you think that people are going to find that attractive in some way?  


Under the Government's new IR laws there are minimum conditions that include protection of maximum ordinary hours of work, annual leave, personal and carers' leave and parental leave, but Labor is promising to consider also penalties, overtime, public holidays? 


KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, this is just the start of the appeasement. Once you appease people once there's no end to it. So we've already got, in the papers this morning, firstly the union leaders gloating that Kim can keep his job, and then secondly saying we're starting to draw up a list of all the other things that we want.  


He's buckled once; will he buckle again? Is there a secret agenda? He said he's made this decision two weeks ago without telling anybody. Is there a further secret agenda with the unions? Are we going to have a new accord which drove down wages in Australia? 


I mean, Mr Beazley has shown his real character in relation to this announcement, and that is that he is a very weak person. 


TONY EASTLEY: Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews, speaking with Catherine McGrath.