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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11237

Fair Work Australia

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (14:56): My question is to the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, Minister for the Arts, and Minister representing the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations. Will the minister inform the House how the implementation of the Fair Work Act has improved the working conditions of Australians? How does the government intend to protect those conditions?

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (14:57): I thank the honourable member for her question and know her commitment to protecting workers' conditions in this country, like all of those who sit on this side of the House. I was asked, first of all, how we have worked to improve the working conditions of Australians. The most effective way we did that was to get rid of Work Choices. I was also asked how we intend to protect those conditions going forward and the answer to that is pretty simple too: by not returning to any aspect of Work Choices.

This is a position that we hold firmly and are convinced about because we saw in the government that we replaced a continuous and progressive dismantling of workers' rights in this country. The first instance of that most graphically came in 1998 with the Patrick's dispute, a dispute that saw the mass sacking overnight of an entire workforce and the replacement with another workforce, a scab workforce, and legislation passed at midnight by the cabinet, or approval passed at midnight by the cabinet, that allowed it. We also saw, in 2000, the workers' entitlements stripped away in the case of National Textiles and then special legislation to protect only one employer in this country—the Prime Minister's brother. So there you had, in the previous government, legislation on the one hand to strip away workers' rights and on the other hand no action on legislation to protect workers' rights. That is what we replaced.

2004 saw the culmination of this encroachment with the stripping away of workers' rights. It was called Work Choices. It removed unfair dismissal protection and it made it easier to move to individual contracts in this country. Those individual contracts collectively were responsible for stripping away even more workers' rights, because two-thirds of the individual contracts that were entered into in this country saw a reduction in annual leave loading and a reduction in penalty rates. Half of those that were introduced in this country saw a reduction in shift loadings, in overtime, in rest breaks and in holiday pay.

So much for Work Choices—these were workers that had no choice. They were told, 'Take the job and the cut in conditions or no job at all.' That is not the way this country functions. We believe in the dignity of working people in this country—you give them dignity and they return benefits to the nation. Under us, we saw fairness restored—the requirement to bargain in good faith and the protection of workers' rights. As a result of that, we saw job security. And, in four years, the largest number of jobs ever was created because of the fairness and dignity that we reintroduced to the workplace by the Prime Minister when she was Deputy Prime Minister.

The economy also benefited from all of that. Why would we move away from it? Who wants us to move away from it? There are members of this House who want us to move away from it. The member for Mayo said as much the other day, and the member for Higgins wants us to move away from it. And I could name a lot more of them. They are being spurred on by the cheerleader, the person who introduced the balaclavas, Peter Reith. He wants them to return to Work Choices. Say no to the return of Work Choices and you will only get— (Time expired)