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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 15558

Mr CHARLES (2:44 PM) —My question without notice is to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Minister, are you aware of whether government policies relating to Australian workplace agreements are being implemented in my state of Victoria? Are there any barriers to their successful implementation in that state?

Mr REITH (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for La Trobe for his question. When the Bracks government were elected, the first thing that Steve Bracks did was appoint a former union official as his Minister for Industrial Relations. The second thing he did was confirm as his chief of staff a former ACTU official. Shortly thereafter, the Victorian government issued a ban on Australian workplace agreements in the Victorian public service. It has now come to pass that the Victorian state government also in a very deceptive way set out to bury a report which showed the benefits that were flowing to workers in the Victorian public sector at the time that they themselves moved to ban them and their availability. In 1999, an independent report was undertaken at the consent of the then Victorian government into Australian workplace agreements. When the Bracks government were elected, the report had been completed, but the Bracks government did not want the positive message about AWAs to get out, so they withdrew the permission that had previously been given to the Employment Advocate for the release of that document.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Brisbane!

Mr REITH —This comes from a state government. This was done independently—

Mr Bevis —By your former staffer!

Mr REITH —Mr Richard Curtin of Curtin Consulting has never worked for me, so it was not a fair statement.

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Brisbane.

Mr REITH —I did not even know that bloke's name until I read it today. What is interesting is that the state government claims to be an open and transparent government, but when there are reports that are not suited to its political purpose then it works to make sure that they get buried. We will expect this week to see 100,000 AWAs approved, and they have been for many employees a vehicle for improvements in working terms and conditions. This particular report showed not only that there was no lessening of terms and conditions but that in fact there were terms and conditions available for workers under AWAs that were not otherwise available—for example, the opportunity to cash out long service leave, access to family leave provisions, access to novated leasing and access to discounted health benefits. These are benefits for workers which the Labor Party are opposed to because the unions tell them to be opposed to them. The report says:

Three-quarters of responses indicated that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statements that measures to balance work and family responsibilities were included within the AWAs. This strong perception of inclusion of measures to balance work and family responsibilities within AWAs carried over into what the AWAs were seen to deliver.

The report said that workers were happy with the consultation, they were happy to receive the benefits not otherwise available and they were happy with current employee relations. What did the Labor Party do? Because the unions tell them what to do, they set out to bury the report. Fortunately, this report has come to see the light of day by access through the Senate. It shows you that, if ever Kim Beazley were leader in this country, he would dance to the tune of the unions and the people who would pay the price would be the very employees that they claim to represent.