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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 7957

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (13:40): I rise to speak on a matter of public interest, and that is the issue of productivity and industrial relations. I want to indicate that I think we are witnessing a very worrying development, and that is the development of increasing employer militancy in this country—employer militancy supported by the coalition. Nothing could epitomise that employer militancy more than the reprehensible behaviour of Qantas in recent days. Qantas took a position that did more damage to the economy than any other industrial dispute I have known for many, many years. Qantas did this in an underhanded manner. They did it without notification to the government, notification to their employees or notification to the community. It seems to me that when you have the combination of Mr Joyce, the chief executive, and Mr Leigh Clifford, the chairman of Qantas, you have a toxic mix for the working people at Qantas. I hope that businesses are not looking to that approach as what they should be doing in the future.

The argument being put is that we need flexibility to achieve improved productivity. I have to say, I do not see any flexibility in the big business sector in relation to executive salaries. Executive salaries continue to go through the roof when workers are being told that they have to pull their belts tight and they have to increase productivity. The business group that brought us the global financial crisis, the business group that created uncertainty in this country, is still giving itself massive salary increases. What could be more sickening than to watch the Qantas board and the Qantas shareholders give the chief executive a $2 million pay increase when they knew that they were going to close down the airline industry in this country in a couple of days time? I am pretty sure that the Leader of the Opposition knew that was going to happen as well. I think the opposition and Qantas were up to their necks in this approach. What this demonstrates about the opposition is that they will continue to take a hardline position on industrial relations, that Work Choices has not disappeared.

We know that there is a huge debate going on within the coalition about reintroducing Work Choices, and we know what Work Choices delivers to workers. It sees their penalty rates being ripped away. It sees their annual loadings ripped away. It sees them working extended hours. It sees them losing rights on the job. Industrial democracy goes into the trash bin. You simply come to work fearful for your job. You come to work fearful that, if you do anything that the boss does not like, you will be terminated. And you will have no unfair dismissal rights at all. For young people, this is how many of them entered the workforce under the Howard government—fearful of their employer, fearful for their job, with no rights and absolutely no industrial democracy on the job. This is where we are heading again with the coalition. Have you heard one word of criticism from the coalition about the reprehensible behaviour by Qantas? No. Why? Because they were in collusion with Qantas on this issue. They knew what was going to happen. The coalition were out there quite clearly knowing that this was going to happen and supporting the proposition. They were supporting a proposition that ground the airline industry in this country almost to a halt. They were supporting a proposition that said that workers would be locked out when there was no industrial action being taken. They were supporting a proposition that stranded airline passengers around the world and they were supporting a proposition that brought this country into massive disrepute around the world because people could not get to or from this country. This is because Leigh Clifford, a former Rio Tinto executive, is running Qantas and calling the industrial shots at Qantas. It is about ensuring that managerial prerogative is there for every minute of the day at Qantas. The workers will have no say on any of the issues or changes at Qantas. The management will simply determine what happens and when it happens.

Call me old fashioned, but I do not think that is appropriate in this century. It is inappropriate for workers to come on a job and have absolutely no rights and absolutely no say. This was what we saw under Work Choices and this is what we see again from the coalition. This is a coalition who again are debating to resurrect Work Choices. We see Senator Abetz, the leader in this house of the opposition, trying to say, 'No, we won't be introducing Work Choices.' But we know all the young turks in the coalition want to reintroduce Work Choices. They want to be able to say to employers and their mates in big business, 'We have delivered for you again.'

Never forget when the coalition engineered Work Choices they actually said that they thought they should do more. They apologised to employers for not doing more. Workers lost the penalty rate, shift allowances, rights on the job, annual leave loading and any argument that they could determine when they could come to work and when they could not and when they could accept overtime and when they could not. The coalition actually said, 'We want more of this. We want to do more, and we apologise to the HR Nicholls Society'—the right-wing extremists in the employer area—'for not doing more.' Let me tell you that more is on the cards if this lot across the chamber ever come back to power.

Workers should be very worried about what is happening and the silence of the coalition in relation to employer militancy. There has been not one word on the employer militancy and not one word of criticism of Leigh Clifford or Mr Joyce, the chief executive of Qantas. There has been not one word. They have been absolutely silent. If it had been a union that caused that disruption, if it had been a union that stranded people all over the country and all over the world, they would have been screaming about union militancy. But what did we hear? Nothing. That is because the coalition are in it up to their necks. They knew this was going to happen. The Leader of the Opposition has got a lot of hard questions to answer about exactly what he did know. His arguments at the moment and his cries of, 'I'm innocent,' do not cut any mustard out there. People are on to what was going on, and that was that there was clear collusion between the coalition and their big business mates to bring this country to a standstill on the basis of industrial relations ideology. That is what it was about—the coalition's industrial relations ideology.

You do not have to look at just industrial relations to see the closeness of the coalition to big business. How about the minerals resource rent tax? When some of the biggest companies in the country were saying, 'Yes, we give up. You've got us. We actually should be paying more tax. We are making superprofits. The money is coming out our ears. Our wallets are too thick. We cannot even sit down comfortably because our wallets are too thick. We are making huge amounts of profit unheard of in this country. Yes, we will pay an extra $10 billion,' what did the coalition say? They said, 'Oh, no. Twiggy Forrest should not pay any more tax. Gina Rinehart should not pay any more tax. BHP, Rio Tinto and Anglo American should not pay any more tax. Let them keep the tax. Let them get richer and richer. Never mind what is happening in the rest of the economy. Never mind that business elsewhere is doing it tough because of the high dollar. Never mind that we have a patchwork economy where workers are losing their jobs. We do not want to give any help to small business. We do not want a cut in the tax rate for small business so that we can give small business a boost when they employ most of the employees in this country. We do not want to do that because we are the mates and friends of big business.' That is the position of the coalition. They are the mates and friends of big business. They will do anything to snuggle up to big business, including denying Australians $10 billion in taxation that mining companies are prepared to pay. How ridiculous is this?

So not only are they on the side of big business when it comes to industrial relations, to take workers' rights away, but also they are on the side of big business when it comes to denying small business in this country a fair go, denying workers an increase in their superannuation and denying communities access to decent infrastructure, because those are things the minerals resource rent tax will fund. It will provide a cut in taxation to a small business to allow them to employ more people, it will provide more superannuation for ordinary Australian workers so that they can retire in dignity and it will provide communities around Australia the access to infrastructure investment that was never applied under the Howard government. They snuggle up on industrial relations and they snuggle up on taxation. They are the party purely of big business. They do not govern for anyone else but themselves and big business. That is the pedigree of the coalition in this country.

They will set about reintroducing Work Choices as sure as night follows day. It may not be called Work Choices; it will be under the banner of flexibility—flexibility to take workers penalty rates away, flexibility to take their annual leave loading away, flexibility to sack them without any recourse. Why shouldn't workers in small business in this country have access to unfair dismissal rights? It seems bizarre to me that there is a party across the chamber here that says workers who work in a small business can be treated unfairly. That is their line: you can be treated unfairly. Why do they do that? They do that because they are absolutely controlled by big business. Big business determines the direction of the coalition in this country. It is big business that determines policy—and we have still to see that policy from the coalition. This coalition will have Work Choices back, under another name, in a flash. It will give back to big business money that should be paid to Australian workers in increased superannuation, paid to reduce tax for small business and paid to build infrastructure around this country. The coalition is an utter disgrace. You are up to your necks in what Qantas did, you knew what Qantas were doing, you are apologists for Qantas, you are apologists for big business. You do not care about ordinary workers in this country. If you can get back in, Work Choices will be back in a flash, because that is what you are all about.