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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29390

Mr JOHN COBB (3:02 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister advise the House how the government's workplace relations reform agenda in the transport sector has helped business in regional Australia? What further workplace relations reform would benefit these businesses and are there any alternative policies?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for Parkes for his question. Indeed, transport and logistics constitute nine per cent of the Australian economy and there are a lot of people in both large and small business in the sector. It is very important to jobs right across Australia—I think the Minister for Trade pointed out that one in five Australian jobs depends on trade, and one in four in regional areas.

Reform in the transport sector has been successful in many ways. We have real transport costs at their lowest levels ever in Australia, which is quite an achievement in itself. But, of course, it is within the transport portfolio that you find perhaps the most potent example of the need for and benefits of industrial relations reform right across Australia. That, of course, is in the waterfront. When we were in opposition, no more potent an example existed by which you could demonstrate to people the need for industrial relations reform and talk about the national disgrace that was our waterfront.

We had had endless inquiries into it. I think, if my memory serves me correctly, there were 39 inquiries between 1945 and us coming to power. Interestingly, the Labor Party—occasionally you will get a little bit of an outbreak of honesty over there; just occasionally—had actually conceded that the waterfront needed something done about it and they had set up a program called WIRA—the Waterfront Industry Reform Authority. It failed, but they at least conceded there was a problem.

When we came to power we said again that we were going to have a go at industrial relations reform on the waterfront. What happened when we announced the modest target of 25 container movements an hour on average across our major ports? The ALP and the union movement, having failed to reform the waterfront, said, `That's un-Australian—you can't achieve it in the Australian context.' Did we achieve it? Yes, we did. For the last 13 consecutive quarters we have exceeded our own target and, indeed, in the last quarter we were managing around 27 container movements per hour on average. This is a very potent symbol of what can be achieved. There is no doubt it is greatly to the benefit of people in rural and regional Australia and exporters generally. When you raise this at community forums and inform people that it would all be sacrificed under a Latham government because Martin Ferguson—

The SPEAKER —Order!

Mr ANDERSON —The member for Batman, rather—would give the waterfront back to the MUA, you can see them visibly react with horror. But there is another way you can get a reaction. You can say to people, `Do you know that 41 times we have attempted to relieve you of the burden of unfair dismissal laws and 41 times the Labor Party in the Senate has opposed that reform?'

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr ANDERSON —They contest the number. They say it is not 41, it is only 40. The fact is that you have repeatedly blocked it.

The SPEAKER —Order!

Mr ANDERSON —The Treasurer enjoys watching Lateline. I am not quite such a fan of that. My old mate Tony Jones—we were at university together—has shifted a bit of political ground since then. I do not find I have quite so much in common with him anymore.

Mr Costello —You have more interesting nights than I have!

Mr ANDERSON —I do not know that I do have more interesting nights than the Treasurer—we will stay out of that! I have to say I enjoy my early morning copy of the Australian. I was delighted this morning to find a lot of very encouraging news about Farmhand, which of course the Australian was involved in, and water politics.

But I was even more delighted when I thought I had at last discovered a kindred spirit on the opposite side. I have not found much in common with them before—not much in common with the member for Rankin—but I discovered two things. He had been a small business employer. I have been one of those and I still am. I thought: `This is very interesting. He has employed people. He will understand then that unfair dismissal is a real problem.' Indeed, he went on to confirm it. According to several people at the meeting that he attended just a couple of nights ago, Dr Emerson said he had not employed extra staff for his small business because of fears about the unfair dismissal law. Before I was in this place—as a minister, I stress—I was in precisely the same situation. I stopped employing young people, having got caught up in this web, because it became impossible to proceed. Several young people in my area did not get a start because of the actions of one young person I took on, who embroiled me and my manager in this mess, and we said, `It is not worth it.' I thought we had a kindred spirit. Do you know why I do not believe his denials? Precisely because he has been a small business employer—that is why I do not believe his belated denials.

The SPEAKER —The Deputy Prime Minister will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr ANDERSON —Mr Speaker, he has been a small business employer—that he does not deny. Not many people opposite have been a small business employer. Plenty on this side have; the person who asked the question has. If you have been an employer in the small business sector, you know what a problem this is. You know it costs jobs. I see the member for Rankin does not deny that. He has been an employer—he knows it costs jobs and he does not deny it. He really belled the cat recently when he made this very interesting comment:

The Labor Party and unions are in partnership once again.

Who are they in partnership with once again? The union movement. What percentage of the private sector work force belong to the union? Seventeen per cent. I tell you what: they are not just against small business, they are not just against the employers, they are taking the side of the unions against the workers and, in particular—to the shame of the Leader of the Opposition—young workers looking for a job. Here is a challenge: side with the workers and move against the union movement on unfair dismissal.