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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 64

Senator JOHNSTON (2:09 PM) —My question is to the Special Minister of State, Senator Abetz, representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Will the minister outline to the Senate the level of union involvement in the Australian workplace? Will the minister further outline how that Howard government's industrial relations policies are contributing to real jobs growth, real wages growth and less industrial action? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thank Senator Johnston for his question and acknowledge his longstanding interest in these matters. The latest figures indicate that only around 17 per cent of private sector employees now belong to a trade union—or, in the case of those opposite, 100 per cent. Indeed, the latest figures indicate that there are now more self-employed entrepreneurs in Australia than there are trade unionists.

Labor asserts that we on this side are somehow antiunion. I assure the Senate and the Australian people that that is just wrong, as was seen shortly before the federal election in those wonderful scenes at the Albert Hall in Launceston, in the seat of Bass—now so ably represented by Mr Michael Ferguson. We could have crowd surfed the Prime Minister across all those trade unionists—at a rally where there was not a single Labor senator in sight.

The Labor Party wonders why trade unionists are no longer interested in their trade unions and why they are deserting the Australian Labor Party. Ask those workers who were at the Albert Hall in Bass just before the election. You and I were there, Mr President, as were all the Tasmanian senators. We are very proud to be Liberal senators. I must correct myself—only Liberal senators were there; the Labor senators did not feel comfortable in the presence of so many workers. The reason is that the Australian people are now recognising that it is the Howard government that looks after the workers' interests. That is why, after 8½ years of the Howard government, we now have the lowest rate of industrial disputation since records were first kept in 1913. The average worker is now $280 a fortnight better off in real terms since 1996 because we have been able to combine jobs growth with real wages growth. Those on the other side suggest you cannot do that. That is why they want to abolish the junior jobs rate, the junior wage, which would throw thousands of young Australians on the unemployment scrap heap again. We as a government have broken that circuit because we wanted to ensure that as many Australians as possible could get employment.

Since former senator Graham Richardson put Green preferences before jobs, the Labor Party have been losing support. Once, the trade union movement was the cream of the workers of Australia. Today, you will find union officials who have never had any dirt under their fingernails but who have been university educated—middle-class apparatchiks—and I am sure Senator Conroy would agree with me that that is now the archetypal trade union official. All they are concerned about is their preselection to get into this place, rather than the interests of the workers. The fact is very clear, as shown on 9 October, that the Howard government is the government for the workers. That is why the workers of Australia supported us in such unprecedented numbers. (Time expired)

Senator JOHNSTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the minister further provide to the Senate the reasons for the generous ovation the Prime Minister received from Tasmanian CFMEU members shortly prior to the last federal election?

Senator Chris Evans —You were just telling us they were all thugs. Now you've changed your mind.

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —Isn't it amazing how sensitive those opposite get when you are able to point to examples where trade unionists and workers are supportive of the Howard government and its policies? Unlike Mr Latham, who snuck in and out of Tasmania to deliver a policy that he was too scared to tell the workers about, Mr Howard announced his policy, not to a media contingent but to the workers and those affected by the policy. That is why he got the ovation. Mr Latham will not be able to make up for his misdeeds in Tasmania by trying to employ the defeated member for Braddon on his staff, because Mr Sidebottom's failure as a federal member will now simply be translated into Mr Latham's office, which will make it even worse for Mr Latham and the Labor Party.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans, I remind you that it is not in order to turn your back on the chair and verbal people in the chamber. I cannot hear what you are saying.