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Thursday, 22 November 2012
Page: 9567

Senator McEWEN (South AustraliaGovernment Whip in the Senate) (16:40): I too would like to contribute to the debate on this motion. What we have seen here from the opposition today is more muckraking, more negativity, more trawling over ancient history, more sleaze and more personal vilification—all of those things that they specialise in, things that they have learnt from the opposition leader, Mr Tony Abbott. We notice that he has withdrawn from that sort of attack line at the moment, because he knows that it does not wash with the Australian public and he knows that the Australian public does not like it. So, instead, he sent out his attack dogs—the masters in sleaze, the gutter dwellers: Senator Brandis and Senator Fierravanti-Wells, and I know we are going to hear Senator Ronaldson making loud pronouncements, for sure, following me. We saw the same thing happen in question time. You would have thought that the opposition might use this general business time to debate something that is really important.

I know, for example, that if I were in my home state of South Australia today, my constituents would probably be asking me questions about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. That is the news story of the day. That is what is really important to people in my state—how the government has acted, after a long period of time and a long period of consultation, to introduce a plan that is genuinely going to support South Australia, that is going to restore our river to health and support our river communities. That is what is really important in South Australia. But, instead, we have got the opposition gutter dwellers here reading out excerpts from their favourite newspaper, the Australian,and reading out transcripts from the ICAC inquiry that is currently happening in New South Wales. I would not want the public to think that the opposition are actually doing any of their own research. They just recite what is already in the public sphere. Do not think they are smart or clever or anything like that; they just pick up on what is already being talked about out there.

It continues the opposition's long campaign of denigration of our Prime Minister. They have been doing that for a long period of time. I think they will wake up fairly soon to the fact that the Australian public do not like that either. Perhaps that is why they are turning their attention now to Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, one of Australia's most important public figures, who is engaged in some of the most important debates not just in this country but in the world. But what do they do? They come in here and trawl through the history of the New South Wales Labor Party and the New South Wales government in the 1990s. My goodness me!

This motion is about the relationship between the Labor Party and the trade union movement, and I am more than happy to talk about that relationship and about the culture of the Labor Party. The relationship between the Labor Party and the trade union movement has delivered great benefits for working people in Australia—for all Australians and their families—and that relationship continues to deliver benefits. I am going to trawl over a bit of ancient history myself in my contribution today by talking about what that relationship has delivered for Australians, because it is always worth reminding ourselves how important it is.

The Labor Party was formed as the legislative arm of the labour movement. It was formed so that issues of importance to working Australians could be prosecuted in the parliament.

Senator Williams: There are no shearers over there now.

Senator McEWEN: Yes, Senator Williams, the Labor Party certainly arose out of the great shearers' strike. We know that and we are proud of that history. We celebrate that history.

Unions are collectives, collectives formed to pursue the interests of their members—working Australians and their families. Together, the Labor Party and the unions have worked together for good in this country. I will outline some of the good things they have done, but first I wanted to say that I am very proud to be a member of a trade union. I have been a union member for many years. I am a member of the Australian Services Union and I was formerly a member of the Federated Clerks' Union. I have been a union delegate in my workplace, I have been a union official and I have been a union secretary.

I have worked with many union officials and, in my experience, most of them, like ordinary Australians everywhere, work very hard. They are honest, hard-working and committed people who use whatever talents, skills and opportunities they have to support other people in our community. If there are exceptions in the trade union movement, just as if there are exceptions in the employer community, amongst politicians or anywhere else, and if people are misusing members' funds, they should be subject to whatever processes are available. The issues should be investigated to determine whether there has been any wrongdoing and those responsible for any such wrongdoing should be punished.

But the opposition continues its smear campaign about union officials. It is all part of their plan to destroy unions. They do not like what unions stand for, they do not like collectivism, they do not like a fair go and they do not like to see working people and their families effectively represented. Unions stand in the way of the opposition's determination to implement a workplace relations system in which protections for workers are minimal and in which opportunities for bad employers to exploit people are maximised.

I was tempted to use my contribution to revisit the saga of Work Choices, to revisit the underlying extremism which fed Work Choices and to revisit the pathetic attempts by the coalition during that period in 2005 to try and hoodwink the Australian people by pretending that they actually cared about working Australians and that Work Choices was going to be good for working Australians. The people of Australia were not hoodwinked; they saw right through you. We saw the result of that in the 2007 election. I should also mention that Mr Abbott was front and centre during that industrial relations debate. We know that in his little heart—if he has one—he secretly harbours the hope that one day Work Choices will come back in some other guise. And he has a chorus of supporters over there who would also like to reintroduce it.

This motion gives us the opportunity to reflect on what unions and the Labor Party have achieved and I will outline a few of those achievements. As an example, did you know that we would not have paid annual leave had it not been for the trade union movement? It was one of the great early achievements of the union movement when the arbitration commission granted workers paid leave back in the 1930s. It started off at one week, went to two weeks and now the standard is four weeks. It was a long campaign by the union movement working with the Labor Party to introduce that basic right.

We would not have industrial awards and all the protections they include for working people had it not been for the trade union movement. Since 1904, we have had industrial awards to underpin pay and conditions for working people. We know that the opposition wanted to destroy those awards and still does. They have been dreaming about a free-range, no-protection kind of workplace relations system—probably ever since the Labor Party was first created.

We can thank trade unions for penalty rates, penalty rates which compensate people who have to work unusual hours, longer hours or when other people are not working. We know that penalty rates were one of the things targeted by the opposition in Work Choices. They wanted to get rid of penalty rates altogether.

The union movement can also claim responsibility for maternity leave. For paid maternity leave we can thank the Australian Labor Party, who introduced the first paid parental leave scheme in Australia. Many of us in this chamber were early participants in the campaign to get parental leave included as standard in awards.

We can thank the union movement, together with the Labor Party, for universal superannuation in Australia—a fantastic achievement of a great government, the Keating Labor government. It took a long time to bring that in, too. The union movement worked with employers and government to bring it in as part of the Accord. I read somewhere today that Minister Bill Shorten has announced that investment in Australian superannuation has reached $1.5 trillion. That is a phenomenal investment in Australia's future. It is this Labor government which is working to increase superannuation savings for the Australian people and it is those people over there who do not like superannuation and who would like to get rid of it.

Another thing we can thank the union movement and the Labor government for is the pursuit of equal pay for women, something that I know you, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore, me and many other people on this side of the chamber have campaigned long and hard for. We were proud of the union movement—my union, the Australian Services Union, in particular—and the Labor government working together to bring about the pay equity case. That outcome of that case will be to deliver, for the first time ever, decent wages for those people in our community who work to support people with disabilities, who work with families in distress, who care for elderly people and who do all those sorts of jobs. Those jobs have always been undervalued because they have always been done mainly by women. The people in those jobs deserve the recognition that has now been delivered—delivered as a result of the equal pay provisions that this Labor government put into the Fair Work Act. I note that some 150,000 Australian workers, most of them women, are going to get pay increases of between 23 per cent and 45 per cent as a result of that.

Another great achievement of state and national Labor governments, working with the trade union movement, was the introduction of workers compensation schemes. These schemes provide income, support and rehabilitation services for people who have been injured at work. Those schemes would never have been introduced if it had not been for the long campaigns by the union movement to ensure that people who were injured at work through no fault of their own were compensated. We would not have sick leave if it were not for the union movement, which campaigned very hard to ensure that when people were sick they could still get some pay. Now we take these things for granted, but we should never be complacent about ensuring that these benefits are retained.

The union movement can be thanked for long service leave. It was the coal workers who went on strike in 1949 over the long service leave issue, and now of course long service leave is a universal entitlement and one that Australia is very proud of. It is a rare thing in the developed world—indeed, anywhere in the world.

We can thank the union movement for redundancy pay for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. If it had not been for the union movement we would still be in a situation where people could be made redundant or lose their jobs and have to walk away without any compensation. We know also that the Labor government introduced the GEER Scheme, which ensured that, where an employer had to make people redundant because the employer itself was broke, workers would not miss out on all of their entitlements and some would still be paid through a government funded scheme.

We can thank the union movement for other things, like shift allowances and uniform allowances and meal breaks and rest breaks. We can thank them for unfair dismissal protection—again something that the opposition hate. They hate the fact that working people have some redress in a court that is accessible and free in the event that they are unfairly dismissed by their employer. They are just some of the things that the labour movement has introduced, the unions and the Labor Party working together.

It is worth going through the history of Labor governments in Australia and highlighting a few of the other things that Labor governments have introduced. This is a debate about good government. Labor governments are good governments, and they are good governments because they have introduced measures like the ones I am about to mention. The Fisher Labor government in the early 1900s was the first to introduce a payment to mothers on the birth of a child—what we later called child endowment—and it was the first government to legislate for a national workers compensation act. The Scullin Labor government increased social services payments for people during the Great Depression so that people had a bit of an income to protect themselves through that terrible time. The Curtin Labor government in the 1940s introduced the widow's pension and increased child endowment, and it began funding public hospitals for the first time. The Chifley Labor government was the first to recognise the value of immigration and assisted people to come here to help build our great nation. It was the Chifley Labor government that began building the Snowy hydro-electric scheme, a typically visionary Labor initiative. It employed a lot of people and provided a lot of energy for the developing states of New South Wales and Victoria. The same government played a major role on the international stage by helping to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has become the basis for protecting human rights throughout the world. A little bit of history from South Australia is that it was also the same government that helped create the Holden motor company, Australia's first car company—again, the kind of visionary Labor initiative that we are very proud of.

The Whitlam Labor government took our troops out of Vietnam and got rid of the White Australia policy—fantastic initiatives. It opened Australian relations with China, increased the age pension and brought in the Racial Discrimination Act. The Hawke Labor government brought in Medicare. Who over there wants to get rid of Medicare? All of them. The Hawke Labor government intervened in Tasmania to protect the Franklin River from damming—action I was very proud of. It also led efforts to protect the Antarctica from mining and exploration, yet another thing I was very proud of. They were great environmental initiatives from a great Labor government. Of course it also introduced the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, which provided security for women in the workforce and paved the way for other antidiscrimination legislation that Labor governments have continued to pursue since that time. I have mentioned the Keating Labor government and superannuation. We should also remember that the Keating Labor government recognised native title through Mabo legislation and it helped to create the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. That great government freed up the Australian economy and brought us into the modern world and, again, it paid attention to issues such as sex discrimination as well.

While the opposition are using this debate to continue their sleaze and smear campaign against the Prime Minister and other members of the government and their campaign against union officials and are continuing to trawl over ancient history and read out bits of the Australian, Labor senators are taking the opportunity to highlight the value, the importance and the goodness of the labour movement in Australia, with that special relationship between Labor governments and the trade union movement. We have nothing to be ashamed of over here. Those opposite can sling as much mud as they like; we can proudly say that we have a lot to be proud of in the Labor movement in Australia and, while people are listening to this ridiculous debate and the contributions from those on the other side, perhaps they would like to take some time to remember that all of those things that I talked about today, all of those good things that have been implemented by the Labor movement, would have been opposed by those opposite. Have we heard any policy from them today? Have they come up with any alternative policies, any big picture stories, any good news? No, it is just another afternoon of negativity, mud throwing, sleaze and trawling around in the gutter, and now we will have a contribution from the ace gutter dweller, Senator Ronaldson.