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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1020


Senator CAROL BROWN (2:44 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Workplace Relations, Senator Ludwig. Can the minister inform the Senate of how the government’s new workplace relations framework, which will provide a strong safety net that workers can rely on, will address the effect of the global financial crisis on the Australian workforce, and can he describe the impact on employment across the country?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank Senator Carol Brown for her question and note her interest in the role of the government’s new workplace relations system in these difficult economic times. The new workplace relations framework delivers on the promises set out by the Rudd government at the election. We were given a clear mandate by the Australian people to get rid of Work Choices and that is exactly what we are doing—implementing a fair and balanced workplace relations system based on collective bargaining, underpinned by a strong safety net. The government’s workplace relations framework was designed to be the right policy for the good economic times and for the difficult economic times, to balance flexibility and fairness. The Fair Work policy was not designed for one set of economic circumstances. The elements of flexibility and good faith mean that it is responsive to the needs of business, at the same time providing a safety net for working people.

There could not be a worse time for Work Choices—no safety net, no security, no provisions to assist those who are low paid. Work Choices is what the Liberal opposition still thinks is alive and well. Work Choices allowed basic pay and conditions to be stripped away and meant that an employee could be sacked for no reason, without any entitlement to redundancy. Let us be very clear: the impact of the global financial crisis is hurting Australian businesses and, therefore, hurting Australian jobs. Far from destroying jobs, the Fair Work framework’s primary focus on collective agreements at the enterprise level will, of course, promote greater flexibility and deliver higher productivity. (Time expired)


Senator CAROL BROWN —I have a supplementary question for the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Is the minister aware of any attempts to preserve the Work Choices legislation that was so comprehensively rejected by the Australian people in 2007?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank Senator Brown for her supplementary question. It does seem that the Liberal and National parties, at the very least, have not listened to the voices of the Australian people on this matter. It seems they just cannot quite commit themselves to vote for a new fair and balanced workplace relations system. Let me be clear about this. The alternative Leader of the Opposition, Mr Costello, has put his policy forward. The member for Higgins believes that the answer to the global financial crisis is Work Choices. This is what he said on the Today show on 5 March 2009 in answer to the question:

How would you fix it, that is, the GFC? You tell Australia right now.

Mr Costello replied:

It—

the government—

has to reconsider its proposal in relation to industrial relations.

It did not stop there. There was a rejoinder by Senator Boswell, who agrees with the member for Higgins. (Time expired)


Senator CAROL BROWN —I have another supplementary question for the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Can Senator Ludwig further inform the Senate of any other measures that the government will be providing to secure Australian industries and jobs for workers.


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I am happy to inform the Senate that, unlike those in the opposition who would have us do nothing, we have announced a range of other initiatives to support workers in addition to the announcements through Fair Work Australia. These include immediate employment services to support retrenched workers, a $298.5 million additional investment in employment services in Australia, $6.3 billion towards a new car plan for Australia—


Senator Abetz —We would actually get them jobs!


Senator LUDWIG —Those on the other side interject, perhaps because they believed Senator Boswell when he said, ‘Look the Labor proposal is going to cost a lot of jobs and I agree totally with Mr Peter Costello.’ That is where the Liberals are. This government is doing something about it. We have $4.7 billion for a nation building package, $300 million towards local government infrastructure and, of course, $15.1 billion— (Time expired)