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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1096


Senator PRATT (7:07 PM) —The defeat of the Howard government in 2007 was an unequivocal statement that Australians rejected the ideological policy of Work Choices and its attack on the Australian fair go. I think it is time for Australia to once again have laws to protect rights at work, including the rights to fair treatment, to a safe workplace, to protection from unfair dismissal and to collectively bargain. The Forward with Fairness policy, which is being implemented in the Fair Work Bill 2008, has the support of the Australian people. We are implementing it with a very clear mandate. But, more than that, research by Essential Research for the ACTU demonstrated that eight in 10 Australians want this government’s new and fairer industrial relations laws. I would like to congratulate the government on the unprecedented level of consultation that it has put in place for this bill—consultation with big business, small business, unions and every other sector of the economy. At a time when we face the reality of growing job losses, there is a greater need than ever for these reforms.

The opposition while in government made some pretty incredible claims, arguing that Work Choices was driving jobs and growth in the economy. It is now painfully evident that what was driving jobs growth was not Work Choices but rather the resources boom. Not surprisingly, very few members of the opposition are singing from that song sheet now. Now they are arguing that the repeal of Work Choices is threatening jobs. Well, just as Work Choices did not create jobs—the resources boom did—fair work laws such as those contained in this bill are not threatening jobs; rather, the global economic crisis is threatening jobs. The Rudd government, on the other hand, have recognised that there are a variety of factors that affect jobs growth. We know that we are not immune from the global financial crisis and, unlike those opposite, we can safely say that as a government we are taking every step possible to support growth in the Australian economy and protect jobs.

Workers need to know that their entitlements are secure in these insecure economic times. Work Choices stripped away redundancy provisions, provisions which workers need in the context of this global financial crisis. The Rudd government, the Rudd Labor government, is committed to protecting Australians who are vulnerable—something the Liberals do not want to do. They have opposed the stimulus package designed to prevent the loss of thousands of jobs. They have opposed payments to pensioners in the stimulus package. The Rudd Labor government, as our commitment to managing the global financial crisis and our commitment to this Fair Work Bill show, are committed to protecting the interests of everyday Australians.

This country needs to take practical measures to protect the community. Sadly, the opposition has time and time again failed to protect vulnerable Australians. The Rudd government understand that it is our job to look after people. At its core, this bill is about values—basic protections for working people. What will happen if workers such as those from Pacific Brands are not protected by our industrial relations system? We do not want to see workers such as these abandoned without things like redundancy provisions.

The Australian people voted to reject Work Choices. They voted for fairness and for balance, and that is what the legislation before us delivers. It delivers on what Labor promised at the election: it abolishes new and phases out existing AWAs; it provides for minimum employment standards; it gives low-paid workers access to enterprise bargaining and the benefits that brings; it supports the most vulnerable workers, those that have been left behind, in sectors like cleaning, community work and security; it provides for unfair dismissal rights; it institutes balanced and fair right of entry provisions; it provides for the inspection of records in a manner that protects privacy while enabling unions to ensure proper payment of workers’ entitlements; and it defends collective bargaining, the right to take protected industrial action and the right to organise. In respect of collective bargaining, I think it is important to note that productivity based bargaining and flexibility are at the centre of this new system. In fact, there are studies that show collective agreement making can and does enhance productivity. That is because the bargaining process gives employers and employees an opportunity to look together at the way they work, how they do things, and find new ways of improving efficiency and productivity, including by making workplaces more flexible.

Those opposite should recognise the mandate Labor have to deliver on our fair work policies. It is time that those opposite gave up on their Work Choices ideology in practice, not just in their rhetoric. The Leader of the Opposition said Work Choices was dead. However, I note that the opposition is struggling to make up its mind. Peter Costello says, ‘Bring back Work Choices.’ It is time for the opposition to get its act together and give Australians what they asked for, what they voted for: a fair and balanced industrial relations system.

Do not frustrate this bill from becoming law. Be it on your electoral heads. Wear the consequences of that, if you want, but it is not what the Australian people want. Labor knows that what employers and employees want is an end to this uncertainty. They want to know what the workplace relations laws of this country will be as we move through these difficult times. It is time to give employers and employees certainty, stability, productivity and flexibility—all things provided for within this bill. Labor is delivering a system that develops productivity, flexibility and a truly national workplace relations system. It is a system in which employers are clear about their rights and obligations. It is a system where workers can have confidence that their pay and conditions are secure. It is a system where employees and employers, and those that represent them, can get on with the job of making agreements that protect the fair go and protect jobs in these difficult economic times. I commend the bill to the Senate.