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Thursday, 4 December 2003
Page: 23908

Dr EMERSON (9:50 PM) —The remarks of the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations prove once and for all that he is sublimely oblivious to the terms of reference of the Senate inquiry which of course do include occupational health and safety. Such is the contempt with which he treats the Senate that he is unaware of the terms of reference of that inquiry. It also gives us a very early indication of the sincerity of this government in cooperating with that Senate inquiry. If the government do not know what it is inquiring into, I do not think we can expect a lot of cooperation from it—but then there are no surprises in that, because this bill, as I was saying, is designed to fail.

This is not a bill designed to reform the building and construction industry; it is a bill designed to fail so that this minister, Minister Andrews, following carefully in the footsteps of his predecessor, Minister Abbott, can go to the industry and say, `Gee, look, we tried, but those terrible people in the Senate knocked us back.' Of course his predecessor, who is sitting right beside him, has got form on this because he did not get much through the Senate in the way of workplace relations bills. That was also because of his pig-headed attitude and because the legislation was against the interests of the decent working men and women of Australia, and the Senate in its wisdom rejected those bills. I think he only got one out of about 13 through. This minister, his successor, is not looking any better in terms of his capacity as a legislator, because the Senate would not treat very happily the minister's ignorance of the terms of reference of the inquiry that has been established by the Senate.

I point out this bill is not only designed to fail but also not deregulatory at all. The member for Kingston is here, and he knows a little about the market. The great contradiction of this government is that it says that the bill is deregulatory but it runs to hundred of pages of regulation of the building and construction industry. If the government was fair dinkum about being deregulatory, it would not have such a bill. But it wants to regulate the building and construction industry. I understand the basic philosophy behind this—that is, when unions are strong, when unions have a capacity in their own right to achieve decent wages and conditions for their employees, the government seeks to regulate them. But when employees are not in such a position—when they do not have much bargaining capacity in the first place and they seek to join a trade union movement—the government seeks to deregulate the industry.

The common theme is that the government seeks to tilt the bargaining table consistently in favour of employers and against employees. That is the common theme, not that it is regulatory or deregulatory. On some occasions, it is highly regulatory and, on other occasions, it is really deregulatory—that is, when it tears away the safety net protecting the lowest paid workers in Australia. But, in this case, it is really regulatory—it wants to heavily regulate. You would find no more astonishing critic of this government in this case than the HR Nicholls Society. They have been very critical of this bill. They are your friends. The Minister for Health and Ageing, the former minister for workplace relations, has addressed the HR Nicholls Society on many occasions.

Mr Cox —I think the Treasurer used to be a member.

Dr EMERSON —The Treasurer was a member. I certainly know that the Treasurer has addressed the HR Nicholls Society. So what does the HR Nicholls Society say about this mob? They do not like the bill—`very complex', `highly regulatory'. So there is your arch critic, Minister. You are being criticised by your mob, the HR Nicholls Society, for a very complex bill—which of course will not do anything to improve productivity in this industry. It is designed to fail.

I refer the minister to discussion paper No. 150, commissioned by the Cole royal commission and then disregarded because that discussion paper showed that, by international standards, productivity in this industry is high—ranking in many instances, by various indicators, first or second compared with the other countries with which we like to compare ourselves. So how about a cooperative approach to reform? I do not think there is a chance in hell, because this bill is designed to fail. The ACTU offered a cooperative approach many months ago, and it was completely ignored by this government. (Time expired)

Bill agreed to.