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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 109

Mr EDWARDS (7:32 PM) —I certainly support the very worthy second reading amendment moved by the member for Perth in this House. I want to refer very briefly to the speech of the previous speaker, who claimed that we on this side and those out there in the community who are involved in fighting the government tooth and nail—because that is what we should be doing—are running a scare campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do not know how a person could be so hypocritical as to get up in this place and make a statement like that, in the full knowledge that he is a member of a government that has spent over $55 million trying to advertise what it calls ‘a fairer system’.

That is not the way the public sees it. I want to quickly refer to an article in the Australian this morning under the headline ‘Arrogance rules the IR debate’. It is interesting that the person who wrote this article, Glenn Milne, is hardly someone that anyone on this side of the House would refer to as a critic of the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister’s government, because, 99 times out of 100, whatever you read is certainly in support of this government. But such is the arrogance of the government, and such is the arrogance of the way in which they are conducting this whole campaign of misinformation in the community, that even people like Glenn Milne and the Australian, because of their professional integrity, feel that they must take up their pens: ‘Arrogance rules the IR debate’. The subheading is ‘The Government’s moves to steamroller legislation show weakness rather than strength’. The article starts off:

Arrogant? Anxious to close down debate and curb dissent? What, this government? You betcha. We had another example of the creeping hubris that may yet consume the federal Coalition ...

I do not want to quote the whole article, because it would take up most of the 20 minutes allocated to me. But the article—and it is talking about the government trying to push this legislation through—goes on to say:

The solution, from the Coalition’s point of view, appears to be: get the bills through the parliament as quickly as possible, batten down, take the issue off the front pages and hope the continuing good performance of the economy will mask any bad side effects of the changes. Because the Government knows that when growth turns down, and the skills shortage eases, that’s when employers will begin to use their new-found power to wind back wages and conditions.

Is it any wonder that there is another headline in the Age today: ‘Ex-chief slams Libs as cruel, scary: Former Howard ally goes on attack’? I will just quote the first couple of paragraphs:

Former federal Liberal Party president John Valder has launched a blistering attack on the Howard government which, he said, had betrayed the principles it once stood for.

The article goes on to say:

Mr Valder, who was one of Prime Minister John Howard’s closest political allies during the 1980s, has attacked the Howard government as “cruel” and “scary”, and warned Mr Howard that many Australians were now “questioning your honesty and integrity”.

That is the truth of it. In the media, we are seeing more and more what you would term supporters of the government taking pen to paper in a fairly scathing way that is very critical of this government—and for good reason. We have seen a massive taxpayer funded campaign, a campaign that should be being paid for by the Liberal Party. This campaign is aimed at trying to convince the people of Australia that the things they fought for over many decades are no longer worth fighting for and that the changes that will occur will be good changes.

The Prime Minister says, ‘Trust me.’ But I do not trust him, and nor do a lot of people in my electorate of Cowan or in Australia. Let me quote from an article by Greg Combet in the Herald Sun today, called ‘Under IR you like it, or lump it’. Mr Combet says:

The Howard government’s WorkChoices is nasty legislation.

It is the wrong economic strategy for Australia.

It encourages exploitation, not enterprise.

It will undermine the security of working families.

…         …         …

It is ideology we are dealing with here—the articles of Liberal Party faith.

Mr Combet goes on to say:

Certainly we must continue to make economic reforms that will generate future prosperity.

But reform that makes it harder for working families to share the benefits of the economic good times, and leaves them with little protection in the hard times, is not the way forward.

In another part of the article—and this is the main point that I want to deal with in what I have to say tonight—Mr Combet goes on to say:

Penalty rates for weekend and shift work, overtime, allowances, career structures, public holidays, redundancy pay, meal breaks and a host of other award conditions will be up for grabs.

It’s not a matter of trading these rights away, they can be taken away without compensation.

They will not be protected by law.

The take-home pay of many workers can and will be cut, particularly the wages of those most vulnerable.

You or people opposite might be able to dismiss that last quote, Mr Deputy Speaker Baldwin, because it comes from Greg Combet, a person clearly identified with the labour movement in this country—and a good movement it is. But you cannot dismiss him in isolation; you would have to dismiss the other quotes I have used, the reflections of other people in the community who have nothing to do with the labour movement and who indeed have a record of being anything but supporters of the labour movement, and you cannot dismiss them.

This government is an arrogant government, and that arrogance is starting to show through. I suspect that the government and the Prime Minister, along with his think tank and his spin doctors, are now mightily concerned about the way that this ad campaign has increased people’s awareness of what is happening in this parliament. It has made them more aware that the things that give them safety, security and certainty in the workplace are things that, once this legislation passes, will not be there. You can fool the people some of the time, but you are not going to fool the people of Australia this time. It does not matter whether the government spends $55 million, $110 million or $220 million; the people of Australia do not trust the Prime Minister on this issue. They do not trust his government, and they are mightily sceptical over the timing of the terrorist legislation which was introduced into this House. Many of them are saying that the terrorist legislation was introduced to camouflage the passage of this legislation, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005, through the House.

I listened to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations when he was answering questions today, and he accused me of running a campaign of misleading people in my electorate. He accused me of that because I have written to a number of pensioners in my electorate. I want to read this letter to the House because, far from misleading these people, what I am doing is making sure they are aware of what is happening in this parliament and what this Prime Minister is about. I am making sure that they are aware that the changes we are debating are not just about those who are in the workplace now but about those who were in it before, many of whom—particularly in my father’s generation—fought tooth and nail to achieve the sorts of conditions and awards and safeties and certainties that we have in today’s workplace. I want to make sure that they are aware of what this Prime Minister is trying to do.

The letter reads:

Dear < Salutation>

As you are no doubt aware, the Howard Government is proposing to introduce some extreme industrial relations laws in Australia in the near future.

What you may not know is that these industrial relations changes are aimed at reducing wages. If the government is successful this will inevitably lead to cuts in pension rates for some 3.5 million Australians—

and they know it too, I might say. The letter goes on:

Currently most pensions are benchmarked to 25% of Male Total Average Weekly Earnings. Just a 1% per annum reduction in wages growth will leave a single pensioner almost $20 per fortnight worse off and a couple $30 worse off.

That statement, which went out in this letter, was attacked in the House today by the minister for workplace reform. I could not understand the basis upon which he would attack it, because, on the back of the letter and the petition I sent asking people to sign, there is an article from the Sunday Times which quotes a spokesperson for the minister. I would assume that the minister employs spokespeople who are able to accurately portray what is in the government’s policies, and this spokesperson said:

Pensions are tied to male total average weekly earnings. Increases in those are based on wage increases across the board—certified agreements, Australian Workplace Agreements and enterprise agreements, not just the federal minimum wage.

Far from misleading the people in my electorate, what the minister’s spokesperson has said actually supports what I have said in my letter. Therefore, in my view, the minister himself has misled the House. I suggest that he needs to go back to the Sunday Times article of 16 October and see what his spokesperson had to say—‘Pension threat in IR move’. The Sunday Times and I were not the only ones talking about that issue at that time, nor have we been since. Another heading, in the Australian of 13 October 2005, reads ‘The wages gap is about to get a whole lot wider’. People who are on pensions, who have been in the workplace, who have committed their lives to working in this nation and who now are on age, disability or veterans pensions need to be aware that their incomes are at stake too, not just the incomes of those in the current work force or the incomes of those who will go into the work force in the future. In my letter, I said:

 Enclosed is a news article from the Sunday Times about how your pension may be affected by these industrial relations laws.

On the reverse side of the page is a petition calling for the protection of workers’ job security and conditions so that the minimum wage is not adversely affected. I went on to say:

If you are concerned about these proposed changes, I urge you, your family, your friends and your neighbours to complete this petition and return it to me by 3 November 2005.

The only problem is that 3 November has been and gone and still the petitions arrive at my office. I will be seeking leave to table those petitions. They contain 2,698 signatures. For instance, I have received today at my electorate office another 213 signatures on these petitions and I expect to receive a heck of a lot more. I must say that I only sent out about 10,000 letters, so the response to this has been quite staggering. If it is appropriate at the moment, I will seek leave to table these petitions.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Baldwin)—I would make the honourable member aware that they cannot be tabled as petitions but as papers. If you wish to table them as petitions, they must be tabled through the Table Office and will then be presented on a Monday.

Mr EDWARDS —It is a matter of the definition, I suppose, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I seek to table these papers relating to workplace changes.

Ms Julie Bishop —Mr Deputy Speaker, I would have thought that, if these are petitions, the honourable member—

Mr EDWARDS —I am not going to argue, Mr Deputy Speaker. They will be tabled in the House. I would have thought that it is a fairly straightforward thing to do. I have done the same thing when I have been on duty; I have given leave for members opposite to table things.

I go back to the statements made by former Liberal Party President John Valder, under the heading ‘Ex-chief slams Libs as cruel, scary’. We are seeing just this sort of arrogance being demonstrated here tonight, because they will not let me table these papers signed by pensioners in my electorate. They are telling me to go through a more bureaucratic process so that I can bring to the attention of the parliament the fact that pensioners, people on low incomes, in my electorate trust neither this government nor this Prime Minister. Is it any wonder that we are getting headings in the paper like the one from Glenn Milne, ‘Arrogance rules the IR debate’? We have just seen a bit of that arrogance demonstrated here by the minister at the table.

Mr Tollner —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member, by inference, has called the minister at the table cruel and scary. He is now calling her arrogant. I think he should withdraw those comments.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —It is not without precedence that such language has been used and implied, but the member herself has not drawn attention to that matter or taken umbrage. As reluctant as I am, I will—

Mr EDWARDS —I am more than happy to withdraw those comments. Once again, I simply quote the headline in the paper—not said by me, but reported in the Age today: ‘Ex-chief slams Libs as cruel, scary’. Perhaps you should write to the paper and get it to withdraw the headline! You might be able to stop me from saying these things in this place, but let me tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will not stop people out in the community believing these things and you will not stop journalists who have demonstrated themselves to be fairly conservative writing those things in papers that have demonstrated themselves over the last decade to be fairly conservative.

I recently put out in my electorate a pamphlet with the following heading:

It should be a question of priorities ... not politics’.

I will read some of it into the Hansard. It states:

Spiralling fuel prices ... increased health care costs ... deprived age care ... an education system that could be much better ... and the constant worry about terrorist attacks on our cities.

Yet the most important priority for Prime Minister Howard is to attack the pay and conditions of ordinary Australians. His attack on penalty rates, holidays, overtime and the minimum wage will make everyone worse off—except the very rich. The Liberals abolition of Unfair Dismissal will make job security only a memory for most people.

Most importantly: Under Prime Minister Howard’s changes the balance of power between employer and employee will change forever and no working person will ever be able to negotiate with strength or protection.

I asked people to respond by signing some papers and returning them to me. Because they are not in the form of a petition, I cannot seek to have them tabled as a petition. Mr Deputy Speaker, there are about 464 of these papers and I seek leave to have them tabled, because they reflect the views of a number of electors in my electorate. I would think it would be a fairly straightforward move to give leave.

Ms Julie Bishop —On the basis that these do not constitute a petition to be tabled in the usual way, leave is granted.

Leave granted.

Mr EDWARDS —I thank the minister at the table for leave. (Time expired)