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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6349

Mr HARTSUYKER (4:46 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter of public importance. I note the member for Blaxland’s preoccupation with the member for Higgins, the former Treasurer. There is a very stark difference between the contribution that was made by Peter Costello, as Treasurer, and the contribution that is being made by those members opposite. On the former Treasurer’s watch our government was focused on putting in place the settings that were going to make this country prosper and grow. Treasurer Costello oversaw one of the strongest economic expansions in this nation’s history. On his watch we saw a country that was confident. On his watch we saw incomes grow. On his watch we saw unemployment fall. On his watch we saw a self-assured Australia.

I note the comments by Paul Kelly in today’s Australian where he said of Peter Costello that Australia avoided three recessions—the Asian financial crisis, the 2002 US recession and the potential recession from the housing boom in the third term of the Howard government. On his watch we saw the implementation of policies that increased the prosperity of this country. On his watch we saw the implementation of policies that increased income, reduced unemployment and gave Australia a bright future—policies, I might say, that were opposed every inch of the way by the members opposite. Everything that our government tried to do they opposed every inch of the way. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century—and they have not changed much, I might say.

They are now in power. When we look at the policy settings of the members opposite and when we look at the impact they are going to have on this nation’s prosperity, it is a very concerning scenario. What is Labor’s response to the current challenges that this nation faces? Their first response is to blame everyone but themselves. It is to blame the global financial crisis, to blame the economic lottery that they allegedly inherited. They blame everyone but themselves. Their second response is to implement policies that make this country’s situation worse, that reduce economic growth, that reduce prosperity and that adversely impact on employment and opportunity in this country.

We have seen their industrial relations agenda. What is their industrial relations agenda going to do? It is quite clear that basically every economist around the world agrees that a more flexible labour relations policy produces better outcomes for employees, for employers and for nations. It produces lower unemployment; it produces higher growth. But what are we seeing from this government? We are seeing a government that want to reregulate the labour market. They want to produce worse outcomes for employees and worse outcomes for employers, in pursuit of Labor dogma. At a time when unemployment is rising, at a time when this country faces great challenges, they are actually going to reduce flexibility in the labour market. The government are increasing regulation. The government are in the process of condemning thousands upon thousands of Australians to the dole queue because they are putting their political agenda ahead of good policy.

We see this government paying back its union mates rather than putting in place the policies that this nation needs. There is no more glaring example of this than its decision to put down the industry watchdog. It is not reform of the situation. Let us see it for what it is. This government is basically putting down the industry watchdog step by step. Yes, we see the stage-managed theatre of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister allegedly muscling up to the unions, talking tough, but the cold reality is that in private they are rolling over. They are just towing the line, playing out the script, and at the end of the day they are going to get rid of this watchdog because it is a watchdog that is not a favoured family pet of the Labor Party. It is certainly not a treasured pet and it is one the Labor Party is very keen to put down.

When you look at its results, you would have to wonder how anyone could wind back this organisation. Econtech have estimated that the results of the ABCC are an increase in GDP of 1½ per cent and CPI being 1.2 per cent lower than it would otherwise be. The existence of the ABCC would result in real consumption increases of 0.8 per cent and a higher standard of living for the Australian people. What is wrong with that? Why would you change it? Why wouldn’t you recognise the fact that the lawless, outrageous behaviour, particularly in Western Australia, of construction unions has been reigned in by this organisation? It has resulted in an economic benefit and one that has helped to set up Australia for the future. We note that the ABCC resulted in improved efficiency in the residential sector of 5.3 per cent and reductions in the cost of housing of three per cent. In the non-residential sector the figures are even more compelling: labour efficiency is up 12.2 per cent and there are reduced costs for business investment. Is that a bad thing for the country? Is that a bad thing? I think not. It may be a bad thing for the vested interests of the building unions, but it is certainly not a bad thing for this country.

I would like to move now to what the Labor Party calls award modernisation, which I think is very much a misnomer.

Mr Keenan —‘So-called’.

Mr HARTSUYKER —Yes, the ‘so-called’ modernisation. It is dragging back the very worst features of all the awards and putting them in one package that does not seem to benefit anyone. That is what award modernisation is all about.

We have the Deputy Prime Minister using this weapon at her disposal to destroy jobs. She claims that no employee will be worse off but that no employer will pay more. The question I have for the Deputy Prime Minister is: how is that going to be achieved? How is no employee going to be worse off and no employer going to be paying more? I am certainly waiting for an explanation. I know the shadow minister for employment is waiting for an explanation. We are yet to hear it. All we hear is incredible silence. This is just another case of the Rudd government economic policy magic pudding. No-one believes it, but the spin masters keep spinning it.

I would like to quote a letter I received from industry. This is not this side of the House speaking; it is industry speaking. It is very much a call to members opposite to hear the concerns of industry. BerryExchange, a major employer in my electorate, said:

… any increases in labour costs imposed through the modern award will make the industry less competitive against overseas farmers and growers.

Their General Manager, Peter McPherson, goes on to say:

Initial data gathered in the sector indicates that these changes will increase labour costs by … 30%.

What happened to the Deputy Prime Minister’s claim that no employer would pay more? It is going to cost this organisation 30 per cent more in labour costs. He goes on to say:

Also given the minimum hourly rate is guaranteed under a modern award, employers will no longer be able to employ certain groups of employees that are currently being paid according to the volume of fruit they pick.

Alarmingly, Mr McPherson goes on to say:

… the increase in costs will impact on our decision to invest in the electorate … the existence of our operation at Corindi is under threat.

There we have one of the largest private sector employers in my electorate saying that the very existence of their operation is under threat. Here we have a decision by this government which may reduce the viability of a major employer in my electorate to the point where it would close. How does that benefit the economy locally? How does that benefit the economy nationally? We are waiting for an explanation, and all we get is silence.

How does a local producer explain to his customers on a Monday that, because he has to pay a 200 per cent labour premium for picking on Sunday, he will no longer have any goods to provide for Monday markets? Does that mean that Monday retail produce markets will be a thing of the past? Does that mean that we will be missing a whole day’s productivity purely because of this ridiculous, allegedly modern, award situation?

The Pharmacy Guild said:

With almost 5,000 community pharmacies in Australia, many of these small businesses will be forced to change the way they operate, especially on weekends and after hours, withdraw some services, and shed jobs in a time of worsening unemployment.

The Pharmacy Guild calculates that 1,390 jobs will be lost across the state of New South Wales alone. How does that benefit community health? How does that benefit those employees? It is absolutely outrageous.

The Nambucca River Co-Op said:

If this award becomes operative it will have a serious and damaging effect on my business. We provide an important service to our local community but we may be unable to do that in the future if we are required to pay these large increases.

John Cummings, Chairman of NARGA, said:

Gillard guaranteed that there would be no disadvantage to the employer or employee under Labor’s new laws but how can this be when she has introduced two new penalties. An increase from 20 to 25% for casual employees and an extra 10% penalty after 6 pm and all day Saturday.

We have the outrageous situation where this new award is taking Australia down the low road to lower growth, higher unemployment and poorer outcomes for all Australians. All Australians will pay the price for this alleged award modernisation and Labor’s industrial relations policy.