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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12819

Mrs DRAPER —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Minister, are you aware of any benchmarks against which the Workplace Relations Act can be measured? Would you inform the House of these benchmarks and whether or not the act has achieved them?

Mr REITH (Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I am aware of some benchmarks because the then shadow minister, the member for Canberra, laid down some benchmarks by which the Labor Party would assess the Workplace Relations Act, which went through in 1996. We have been going back to actually have a look at the benchmarks which they themselves established. There were five—

Mr McMullan —Only some of them.

Mr REITH —No, these were your five benchmarks. You were invited to put up the benchmarks. It was not six, seven, eight, nine and 10. You were asked what were the benchmarks—

Mr SPEAKER —I would remind the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business that in fact I had nothing to do with the benchmarks and the references to `you' are entirely inappropriate. I call him to make a comment through the chair.

Mr REITH —Mr Speaker, in that parliament you probably supported them, very sensibly. He had five benchmarks. The first was: would industrial disputes come down under the coalition's Workplace Relations Act? As everybody knows, they have come down. The second one was: will there be more jobs created in this parliamentary term under this regime? The official figures show absolutely and without any question there are a lot more jobs under us than under Labor. The third was: will the wage outcomes be fairer? We do now know that low paid workers have in fact been dealt with much more fairly with a 7½ per cent increase in real wages in the time that we have been in office compared to a five or six per cent reduction when Labor was in office. His fourth benchmark was: will labour productivity increase faster after this act than the current trend rate of 1.75 per annum? The latest figures are 2.4, much better than the 1.2 and certainly better than the 1.75. Thank you for being so specific. His fifth question was: will the overall wage and salary outcomes be more consistent with a low inflation, low interest rate environment than the outcomes of the present system? Every home owner in the country knows that we have the lowest interest rates since the man walked on the moon, inflation is much lower and wages are tied to productivity. That is a good result for everybody.

It is interesting that Labor set their own benchmarks quite specifically, put out in April 1997, and now they do not have the courage or the ticker to admit that they were wrong. They do not have the courage to stand up to the trade union movement and acknowledge that this legislation was opposed by them against the interests of the average worker. Why don't they do that? It is because, as usual, they do what they are told by the trade union movement, not just those outside this parliament but all the trade union officials sitting on the front bench, including a decade of former ACTU presidents sitting directly behind the Leader of the Opposition. It is time that the Leader of the Opposition actually developed a policy of his own, that he actually stood up against the vested interests who sit behind him and that he acknowledged the benefits for workers by sensible evolutionary reform. For this country there is no option just to say no; this country has to move forward. As we saw with the first set of reforms, we will see the beneficiaries of that approach: the average working Australian men and women.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper .