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Thursday, 24 June 1999
Page: 7465

Mr BEAZLEY (3:46 PM) —I intend to rehearse this issue in precisely the same way as did the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. He started with a bit of history, went to the generality of his industrial relations position, concluded with an assessment of this particular report and invited us to consider his legislation. I intend to respond in precisely the same way. We heard him in silence, and I expect the same as far as my remarks are concerned.

Let me first rehearse the history of this and the starting point response of this government. Until they were stupid enough to accept my amendment in the chamber here, they were of course going to introduce the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Youth Employment) Bill 1998 during this afternoon. They will now not have the opportunity to introduce this bill—either that or they have reneged on the agreement to the amendment that we put forward—because this parliament is going to debate this motion for the rest of the afternoon.

Mrs Crosio interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Prospect will excuse herself from the House under the provisions of standing order 304A.

Mr BEAZLEY —If you do not debate this motion for the rest of the afternoon you will have ratted on your agreements in this place, so we will be testing you on this. Well might we take vantage of this brief period for delay. Contrast this: those Oakdale miners that were out there during this week have a proposition seeking protection of the justly awarded conditions that they have lost and moneys that are due to them. These issues have been before the government for several years now with a promise for their consideration that is two years old. Have we seen anything? Not one word out of this government, apart from an undertaking for consultation. I will tell you this: if ever there is a proposition that defends workers' wages, if ever there is a proposition to use competency and skills to enhance workers' wages, if ever there is a proposition for workers to be able to defend themselves collectively and advance their interests collectively, this government will defend none of it.

The minister says he stands shoulder to shoulder with the workers. Eighteen months ago he said that about people in a similar situation to those at Oakdale. Eighteen months on, it is a very weak shoulder for the workers to rely on. Contrast that delay—when we are actually dealing with decent terms and conditions for working men and women—with the government's performance on this: they get a report, a 330-page report, in the morning. They legislate on that report in the afternoon. This is the deliberation that the community is to be permitted on a 330-page report. I suppose what the minister would say in answer to that is, `Trust me.' This man has been identified as the least trustworthy of ministers in this government, and that is world best practice in untrustworthiness. The least trustworthy minister, courtesy of his last great foray into industrial relations—his utter defeat in the waterfront dispute. The MUA was finally obliged to take on his conspiracy and his manoeuvring to deprive them of their own legislated right—legislated by him—to choose to join a trade union. When it comes to slipping and sliding, this is a bloke who is prepared to conspire to overturn his own legislated arrangements. For him to come in here and challenge us on that particular front is a case of him using an old Stalinist technique, which some very old members of the Left will be very used to around this country: if you are guilty of something, immediately accuse your opponents of the offence and hope they stay on the backfoot and do not expose you. They might in this regard.

Let us now look specifically at the history of this promise. Why was the Industrial Relations Commission considering this? They were considering this because the minister entered into an agreement with the Democrats. He entered into an agreement with the Democrats that he would not move on this issue until he had a report from the IRC. He reneged on that agreement, so this whole thing before us is a massive piece of slipperiness on his part. It is no wonder that, some months ago now, Senator Murray, the Democrat spokesman—given high accolades these days by our political opponents; the honourable people with whom they wish to enter into coalition—spoke about this. What did he say about it? He said:

The rising shrillness of Peter Reith's doctoring of the truth adds to my growing lack of faith in any agreement or assurance entered into by this government.

He should have reflected on that a couple of weeks ago when he started talking to the coalition about GST matters, because that quote is directly related to his experience in dealing with them on this youth wages issue. Then Senator Harradine said that it was now clear to him:

One could not take at face value what this government has said. That is my experience now in respect of certain ministers of this government.

The senator was referring to him. Senator Harradine said that the government's credibility was in tatters and it was a serious matter when at least half of the Senate did not take at face value what this government says.

Again, related to all of this, a completely and utterly untrustworthy government. What is the urgency? The urgency is this: these matters do not come to fruition for another 12 months. This government hoped—until they fouled their tactics—that they were going to oblige us to start the discussion of this three or four hours after production of this report for a problem which will occur 12 months from now. They ask us to accept their bona fides when they want to rush a piece of legislation into this parliament.

When we look at this report we see precisely why it was necessary to get it. The speed with which those opposite want to legislate on it arises because they do not want the community to absorb what the report says before there is an opportunity for the Senate to vote on it, and so that they can continue to erect straw men around their particular proposition and say, sight unseen—or hard to read—that it is endorsed by the IRC. It has not been, of course. The IRC has come to a set of conclusions with which we can agree.

Mr Reith interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the House should be aware of the general warning. He will be treated as the Leader of the Opposition would be treated if he exercised the same discourtesy.

Mr BEAZLEY —But they are not the conclusions that were drawn by the legislation of this government when it was previously introduced. They are fond of quoting, let me go to the whole paragraph. What the IRC says is:

The essence of our report is that none of the identified non-discriminatory alternatives most closely examined by us were feasible. We give our reasons in Chapter 7 in the body of the report. We do not close off the possibility that there are feasible alternatives. We explored the possibility of developing our own proposal but did not persevere. We were already persuaded that in the design of replacement of junior rate classifications no one size fits all. The fit of an alternative is a matter of attention to detail and the merits in particular circumstances. The industrial parties and other interested parties would need to be involved, and that procedure fell outside the statutory limits of our inquiry.

In other words, all those particular propositions in relation to competency based arrangements fell outside their inquiry. They had to give it a `once over lightly' but then came to the conclusion that no one size fits all. We agree.

We agree with the propositions of the IRC as far as this matter is concerned. We agree that the issue of junior wages ought to be considered on a case-by-case basis. We agree that the presumption on changing junior rates should be a presumption that is exercised by those advocating the change. We think there should be no automaticity in that regard. The IRC agrees with us on this matter. We agree that there will need to be change in relation to the legislation, where there is an automatic end. We agree with that proposition. We do not see the urgency, but we agree. That was stated by our spokesman this morning, whose position was lied about in this chamber during question time—but that is just par for the course these days. We pointed out that we agree.

In this chamber there is now only one party that disagrees with the IRC. That is the government, because the proposition of the government is not the IRC's proposition. The proposition of the government is that there will be an automatic extension of junior rates to all areas where it is possible to employ a junior. That is the meaning of their legislation—an automatic extension to all areas where there is the possibility that a person under age can be employed. We say: no; the onus of proof should go the other way. The onus of proof should be that, if you wish to establish a junior wage in a particular area where, potentially, a person with junior wage status may be employed, then you should argue your case. It is your job to establish that case. You do not have it established by a fief and a direction to the IRC to arrive at that conclusion.

The IRC has asked to be empowered on a case-by-case basis. We agree with the IRC. They should be empowered on a case-by-case basis. We will go through your bill, and if you fail that test, old son, we will be moving the appropriate amendments—don't you worry.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition knows that the chair is also not planning to fail any test. He will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr BEAZLEY —Mr Speaker, that is our response. They are getting a very clear-cut response to the slithering and sliding that the minister has managed in the remarks as far as this is concerned. But we also say this. The poor old IRC had to confess that they did not have the capacity and skills to consider competency based wages. They did not have the capacity to invite all parties in for a discussion on what ought to be done about awarding value on a training outcome. They did not have the capacity to do that.

Well, they darn well ought to have. They ought to be given the capacity to do that. Because this is yet another example of how this man, with his slip-sliding deceit, has one agenda—and one agenda only. It is not an agenda for families and it is not an agenda for security in the work force. It is not an agenda for high skills. It is not an agenda for high wages. It is an agenda to deprive workers of rights. If he is faced with a test where he has to defend them, he fails. If he is faced with a test where he has to defend them, he obfuscates, he confuses and he walks away.

He was invited to do that by the Oakdale miners. He said, `Well, we will introduce legislation at some point in time to deal with the sorts of activities that were undertaken by Patrick—with my personal encouragement—during the MUA dispute. We might actually do something about that.' But what about the situation of workers in a circumstance where the company fails? The company may fail in an environment where it is not necessarily the fault of the management, or even if it is the fault of the management, the deprivation of workers rights and entitlements is not a product of the interesting arrangements of the companies to avoid their due obligations by hiding assets. What about those circumstances?

Every other country in the industrialised world protects people in those circumstances—every single one but Australia. If you had an opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with a few people around this place, we might see a bit of a defence of that. And when it comes to the issue of competency based wages, it is not that the IRC has difficulty and that they draw attention to that. How about endorsing it? How about supporting it? How about encouraging people to skill themselves? You are the only government in the Western world where expenditure on education and training is actually decreasing. You are the only government in the Western world where expenditure on R&D is actually decreasing—the only one. What sorts of jobs are there going to be in the next century if the people of this nation are not skilled and if our businesses are not encouraged when they are inventive? What sort of future will there be for the security of the employment of our people?

What will you give the young people of this country if you want to impose on the commis sion a presumption—not allowing the commission to conduct its affairs on a case-bycase basis but telling the commission that they will produce a junior wages level if a young person is employed in an area, with no obligation on the employer to argue why that should be so. Are we going to see junior rate policemen? Are we going to see junior rate politicians? Are we going to see junior rate teachers? Are we going to see junior rate soldiers? Are we going to see junior rate airmen? Are we going to see junior rate sailors? Because such a rate is not applied on those at the moment. But you will be obliging the commission to arrive at a few conclusions in that regard without the obligation on the employer to argue. So we throw the challenge back to you lot. How about you support the IRC's report and come up with a piece of legislation on it? (Time expired)