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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2070

Mr DUTTON (2:17 PM) —My question is addressed also to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House of what impact the government's workplace relations reforms have had on Australia's productivity performance? How have the benefits from improved productivity benefited the people of Dickson and all Australians? Are there any risks to sustaining this productivity performance?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Dickson for his question. In the increasing debate about the opposing industrial relations policies of the two sides of politics in Australia, it is relevant to ask the question: what is the track record of the policies that have been applied over the last 8½ years? Those who advocate a radical departure from the last 8½ years have the burden of demonstrating that their policies would produce a better outcome than the policies that we have followed.

Over the last 8½ years we have seen 1.3 million new jobs; we have seen unemployment fall from 8½ per cent to 5½ per cent; we have seen the number of federal electorates with double digit unemployment fall from 35 to only four; we have seen massive increases in real wages—14 per cent increases in real wages over 8½ years compared with 2.9 per cent, miserably, over 13 years under the previous government. Also, interestingly—because we have been able to sustain real wage rises and, through the linkage of pension adjustments to male total average weekly earnings, have been able to sustain those increases—one of the by-products of this has been not only the increase in real wages but also a greater increase sustainably in the old age pension than would otherwise have been the case. Over the last years, as a result of that linkage, the old age pension is $40 a fortnight higher than would otherwise have been the case.

It is all very well for critics of that comment to say, `Well, that's the result of the increase in nominal wages.' The point is that if you can sustain increases in nominal wages—and that is through containing inflation, which we have been able to do because of the rises in productivity—you can therefore sustainably see rises in the pension. So not only do you have 1.3 million new jobs, not only do you have a 14 per cent increase in real wages, not only do you have significant reductions in interest rates, not only do you have a significant reduction in the number of electorates with double-digit unemployment but, because of the success of this policy, you have also been able to sustain significant increases in the old age pension.

The member for Dickson asks me, `Is that at risk?' Yes, it is at risk. It is at risk if Labor's policy is introduced. Labor's policy would undo the productivity gains of the last 8½ years. You cannot deny the fact that in 13 years real wages rose by 2.9 per cent under Labor; in 8½ years under us real wages have risen by 14 per cent. Why has that happened? It has happened because we have had higher productivity. It is because we cleaned up the waterfront; it is because we stared down the MUA and cleaned up the waterfront. It is because we have seen a significant rise in labour productivity in the market sector. That will be threatened by the abolition of Australian workplace agreements. It will be threatened if you give unions greater power of entry. Why, I ask, at a time when 17½ per cent of the private sector work force of this country chooses to belong to a union should you hand back control of industrial relations to the organised trade union movement? That is the question that defies logic.

Perhaps if 50.1 per cent of the work force belonged to a trade union you could justify handing back 100 per cent of control over the industrial relations system to the unions; but how on earth can you justify doing it with only 17½ per cent? What the Australian people have been saying to the trade unions of this country over the years is: `Yes, we choose to join or not to join your ranks. We no longer think you are relevant to our future. We are prepared to live in an industrial relations environment that gives us the opportunity of higher wages, lower interest rates, more jobs, better pensions.' These are all benefits of our industrial relations policy, and Labor would undo it all in the name of something that was the subject of the first two questions asked by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition is talking about the donations from a particular company; I remind him of the $40 million of donations from the trade union movement—the $40 million which has bought an industrial relations policy that will destroy the magnificent performance of this economy over the last 8½ years.