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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 77

Dr SOUTHCOTT (2:20 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Will the Treasurer inform the House of the link between a flexible industrial relations system and productivity growth. How would greater union involvement in the industrial relations system affect the Australian economy?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Boothby for his question. I think I can say that all the international advice from all of the respected agencies, including the OECD and the IMF, is that the more flexible the labour market is the higher the productivity outcomes you will get, all other things being equal. The point was made yesterday by the OECD in their Employment outlook where they said:

The clearest result emerging from our analysis is that too strict statutory employment protection for regular contracts appears to dampen productivity growth, most likely by restricting the movement of labour into emerging high-productivity activities, firms or industries.

What they are saying is, ‘Don’t tie your labour market down with too strict statutory controls such as unfair dismissal laws. Make sure that it’s flexible enough for people to be able to move into high-growth, high-productivity activities and for those firms to pick them up.’ That is the best way of having a productivity-centred industrial relations system.

This week, of course, we have been witnessing the gaffs of the Leader of the Opposition in relation to productivity. But, leaving aside all of the gaffs that he has made, what policy lessons are there to draw in relation to productivity? The first is this: if you really want a system that is pro-productivity, you will support flexible industrial relations; you will not want to have a return to the past. Another thing that you will want is workplaces where people can get on with work without having to put up with thuggery and intimidation. That is why this government introduced the ABCC: to bring an end to thuggery and intimidation. The Leader of the Opposition, it appears, has discovered for the first time in his life that thuggery and intimidation occurs on building sites in Australia. He discovered that because he has discovered film evidence of Joe McDonald, the Assistant Secretary of the CFMEU, engaging in that very behaviour in Western Australia. It came to light because the ABCC, investigating, managed to get some video. But, of course, if the Leader of the Opposition had had his way, there would have been no ABCC, there would have been no video and there would have been no end to the continuing pattern of behaviour of Joe McDonald and his cohorts on building sites, not just in Western Australia but as goes on on hundreds of building sites and other workplaces around Australia.

Having suddenly discovered what everybody who knows anything about industrial relations in Australia has known for decades, the Leader of the Opposition says that he is going to get rid of Joe McDonald. He says he is going to draw a line in the sand. I have this question to ask the Leader of the Opposition: on which side of that line in the sand will Kevin Harkins, the ALP candidate for Franklin, stand? Joe McDonald is not the only building official who has engaged in intimidation. One of the candidates that is lining up as a Rudd Labor candidate at the next election, in the seat of Franklin, Mr Kevin Harkins, an official of the ETU, is in exactly the same situation. He is still, to this day, being paid by the ETU, having been despatched to Tasmania by Dean Mighell. He has been described by Harry Quick, the current member for Franklin, as ‘a foul-mouthed, bullying trade union person of the worst ilk’. Seeing that Mr Rudd is now in the business of getting rid of bullying union officials—

The SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer will refer to the Leader of the Opposition by his title.

Mr COSTELLO —the Leader of the Opposition ought to have a very careful look at Kevin Harkins. You can take the word of the member for Franklin or you can take the word of the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, which found that Kevin Harkins had ‘engaged in unlawful conduct’. At the Melbourne Eastlands project he threatened a builder by saying, ‘If necessary, the union will block off the entrance to our site with a truck, in the middle of a concrete pour.’ That is the Labor candidate for Franklin. It is all very well to say, just because Joe McDonald got caught on video and you are embarrassed about it, that you want to do something about Joe McDonald, but I call on the leader of the Labor Party and the whole of the Labor Party to dissociate themselves from this ETU official, Kevin Harkins, to make it clear that they will stand up against thuggery, whether it is captured on videotape or not, and to immediately disendorse Kevin Harkins as the ALP candidate for Franklin.