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Tuesday, 19 November 2002
Page: 6691

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (10:56 AM) —Firstly, in relation to the government's performance in the Arts and Sport portfolio, since Senator Kemp has moved into the portfolio, Australia's performance in a range of sports has massively improved. At the Commonwealth Games, under Senator Kemp's leadership, we saw our greatest performance in an international sporting event in Australia's history. One needs only to look at the Australian cricket team's performance to see what a wonderful influence Senator Kemp has provided since taking over the sport portfolio, not to mention the arts. Labor is a bit embarrassed about this, because former Prime Minister Keating spent almost all of his time devising an arts policy and forgot about the economy and everything else.

Senator Murray —What about the Wallabies?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —He is working on the Wallabies, Senator Murray. Many of us who follow the game that they play in heaven will know that he needs to do a bit more work in that area, and that is why Senator Kemp is leaving the chamber now.

We are considering the Workplace Relations Amendment (Genuine Bargaining) Bill 2002. There are a number of points that should be made. We welcome Labor's agreement to the passage of this bill, with a compromise in relation to two or three provisions. In relation to the attack on the government's overall policy, the government has had a quite clear commitment to improving the wages and conditions of workers. In fact, the record clearly shows that workers in Australia, particularly low-paid workers, have done particularly well under the coalition's industrial relations policy.

We believe that workers should have a true choice regarding how they go about making arrangements within the workplace. We do not agree with Labor's ideologically driven position—a position driven, of course, by the fact that the Labor Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the trade union movement. The trade union movement has a preferred and powerful voting bloc in the preselection of all Labor members. In fact, it has a majority vote at the national conference. It is interesting that the Australian Labor Party will not allow the Australian government to reduce its 50 per cent holding in Telstra but it guarantees a 50 per cent voting bloc by the trade union movement at Labor's national conference. That is why Labor insists, in all of its industrial relations policies, that the trade union movement has a special place in all negotiations.

Senator Sherry —Are you a lawyer, Ian? Are you one of the majority of lawyers over there? You're a wholly owned subsidiary of the Law Society.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I am not a lawyer, actually.

Senator Sherry —You're not a lawyer?


Senator Sherry —How many others over there are?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —It is an interesting point but the Law Society does not have a majority in the Liberal Party national conference—I can tell you that. What we do not have in the Liberal Party are special votes for any special interests. In fact, whether you are a doctor, a teacher, a farmer or a sheetmetal worker, you can actually get an equal vote in the Liberal Party's preselection processes. It does not matter where you come from; you can join the Liberal Party and get an equal vote. But if you join the Labor Party your vote is worth only half of the membership of the Liberal Party because you are always outvoted, 50 per cent at the minimum, by the trade union movement. That is why Labor's industrial policies always say that there has to be a special place at the table for a trade union.

What we say to individuals in Australia is that, if you want to join a union, you should be free to join a union; if you do not want to join, you should be equally free. It should be a matter of birthright, a matter of choice. We think that is fair. We think no-one should be forced to join a union. No-one should have to face a sign, for example, on the front fence of a car yard, a vehicle manufacturing plant, a construction site or a university campus that states that you cannot walk onto the premises if you have not joined a union. We think that is obscene; we think that is unfair; we think that belittles people and we think it takes away their human rights by saying that you cannot work somewhere unless you have joined an organisation that you may choose not to join. It is an obscenity. In Western Australia we see the Premier of that state now saying to university students that they cannot get a degree or even go to university unless they join the student union and pay $200 or $300 up front. It is the same principle that we have stood by.

Senator Sherry —Weren't you in the Democrats when you were in the student union?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —In fact it is the same principle that Don Chipp stood by when he formed the Democrats in the first place. One of their core policies was to get rid of compulsory unionism, to get rid of the industrial relations club. That was one of Don Chipp's early strong policies in the Democrats, which I have to say I found very attractive. I would hope that, with Andrew Murray's influence within the Democrats, that same principle of voluntary unionism and protecting individuals' rights with regard to their choices when they get to the workplace will be upheld within the Australian Democrats. The Australian Democrats have in fact, particularly in 1996, assisted the coalition in bringing in significant reform of Australian workplaces.

To rebut the argument made by Senator Sherry about just where the coalition stands on industrial relations/workplace relations policy, during the years 1983 to 1996 low-income earners—low-paid workers—had a reduction in their real wages of 5.2 per cent; so you can argue about who cares most about workers. When people abuse coaches when they walk off the football field, coaches point up to the scoreboard—and the scoreboard for low-paid workers is a significant improvement under more flexible workplace arrangements under the coalition. Low-paid workers had a reduction in their real wages of 5.2 per cent under Labor, and the result under the coalition's policies has been a real wage increase of 6.8 per cent. That is a very significant turnaround. They also benefit of course from broader, strong economic management: lower interest rates, lower inflation, lower taxes—

Senator Sherry —Higher taxes!

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —much lower tax rates for low-paid workers, and much lower interest rates. Senator Sherry's economic policies gave low-paid workers 17 per cent interest rates and massive inflation, so their savings were run down, and of course much higher tax rates and much lower tax-free thresholds. So the situation of low-paid workers has significantly improved under a coalition government.

The reality at the workplace level is that you get greater productivity and a much better atmosphere of cooperation between employers and employees. You build a workplace culture that is focused on achievement: focused on delivering better service, better quality products and servicing an international market. Senator Cook and Senator Sherry have said, `Oh, well, we've got the automotive industry in Australia doing really well.' It is doing very well—but what happened when we introduced significant reform to the waterfront? Crane rates—that is, the number of containers that are moved across the wharves on an hourly rate—have increased from around 15 or 16 per hour under the old prereform days and are now better than 25 per hour. That is a massive increase in the number of containers getting onto ships. We talk about crane rates, and that term probably does not mean a lot to a punter. But I think most Australians would understand that one good way to measure productivity in the workplace is how quickly you can load and unload a ship; how quickly a ship can come into a port in Australia, be unloaded and then loaded and then sent back out to sea. In broad terms, that is happening twice as fast now than it was before the reforms introduced by this government and put in place, against massive opposition by organised labour, by former minister Peter Reith, who is demonised by the Labor Party and demonised by the union movement because he dared to take them on.

Senator Sherry —Through action deemed illegal by the courts! He broke the law!

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Peter Reith had the guts and the intestinal fortitude to take on organised labour. He said that Australia could do better on the waterfront. He said, `We are a trading nation and we cannot have the wharves controlled by a militant trade union. We need to improve Australia's export performance, and you cannot do that if you have a bottleneck on the wharves,' and he took the unions on and won. And of course he is demonised and he will be demonised for all his days because Labor cannot stand the fact that Peter Reith was such a successful workplace relations minister and such a successful reformer. Again, as the coaches show you, look at the scoreboard: the crane rates have massively improved with a much lower work force, so productivity has gone up and the waterfront of Australia is doing better.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —It raises the question, Mr Deputy Whip: why can't the Australian automotive industry do better?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Collins)—`Chair', please.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —The Deputy Whip was interjecting very softly. I picked it up and you did not.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Yes, but through the chair, please.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —But, Madam Temporary Chairman, we are a very small nation with two per cent of the world's capital markets and Labor would be happy for us to just chug along and do relatively well. For Australia to succeed in the new century and in the new millennium, we have to do exceptionally well. You cannot just say, `The automotive industry is doing really well. There is no need for improvement. We don't need to lift productivity. We can't have better workplace relations in the car industry. It is all hunky-dory.' That is Labor's policy—no change; steady as she goes. We are doing really well, but we cannot improve any more. The Liberal government rejects that. We say that there is need for improvement. If you are going to have ongoing reform, you have to keep improving. The Button plan was back in 1983. Senator Sherry is saying, `We'll just stick to the Button car plan.' That was a very good plan back in 1983.

Isn't the Labor Party unfortunate that it does not have any people of the quality of former Senator John Button in the place anymore? The bloke had guts. He would write a policy, get it through cabinet and implement it. Where are the John Buttons in 2002? They are long gone. You wonder what John Button thinks these days when he watches the Australian Labor Party absolutely devoid of policy and absolutely devoid of anyone who can write a policy. The guy believed in something. Labor believed in something in those days. They do not know what to believe in anymore. They are leaderless and rudderless. John Button must be despairing.

The government would have preferred this bill as originally introduced to pass without amendment, but we are prepared to accept the changes. We welcome the opposition's agreement to allow this bill to proceed with amendments, and the government will accept the amendments. We would ask the chamber to reconsider its decision not to insist on amendments (4) and (5). We wish this bill a speedy passage.