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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4820

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (11:32 AM) —For the benefit of Senator Harris, I will respond. As I understand it, he is arguing that, because the IMF thinks there are productivity benefits to be derived from an efficient workplace relations system, which would include streamlining the approach to bargaining processes, somehow we are simply implementing their regime slavishly. The reality is that those on this side of the chamber, certainly the government parties, have always taken the view that industrial relations is an unnecessarily arcane science. Many people on the other side have made a good living out of it and got themselves into parliament as a result, but we do not like the huge amount of involvement and intrusion—and this latest case is probably a good example of it—where parties are not left to their own devices: they always have to have someone acting on their behalf; you have to have the commission looking over everyone's shoulder. It just becomes a very tightly regulated area.

We are in favour of deregulating the labour market and we have been consistently pursuing that policy approach since we have been in government. I hasten to assure Senator Harris that that is because we make an independent judgment that that is ultimately in the best interests of consumers. If you recall, under the accord some years ago there were very modest increases in real wages. I cannot recall the stats now, but I think during the period of the accord there may have even been a negative increase in real wages. Under us, low income earners in particular have seen significant real wage increases. We say that is very much because of a freer environment in which to negotiate and to reward productivity. We do not like this `one size fits all' pattern bargaining approach. What we much prefer is for people to negotiate according to their contributions and their capacity to pay and get better outcomes for workers as a result. We are not doing what the IMF says. If they happen to agree with us on some matters then that is good, but that is not really what is driving us at all.