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Thursday, 11 May 2000
Page: 16311


Mr BARRESI (2:47 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Would the minister advise the House whether threats exist to Australia's system of enterprise bargaining? Has enterprise bargaining provided employers and employees with mutual benefits? Minister, how does government policy propose to address these threats, and are there any alternative policies in existence dealing with enterprise and workplace bargaining?


Mr REITH (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Deakin for his question. There is no question whatsoever that there are some people within the trade union movement and within the Australian Labor Party who are anxious to destroy the system of enterprise bargaining which was introduced in Australia by our predecessors in the early 1990s and which has been very effective. The Prime Minister today spoke of 699,000-plus jobs being created—nearly 700,000 jobs. One of the reasons for that is that we have been reforming the workplace relations system, and the introduction of enterprise bargaining was an important element of that. Whilst we had our many criticisms of the reform legislation introduced by the member for Kingsford-Smith, we were, however, always consistent in saying that, to the extent that enterprise bargaining was introduced, it was the right policy for this country. In 1996 not only did we endorse the concept of enterprise bargaining but also this parliament went further and saw the entrenchment of enterprise bargaining in both the unionised and non-unionised sector.

In Victoria—and one should hardly be surprised that this would be coming out of Victoria, given that they now have Steve Bracks as Premier and a Labor government—in the manufacturing sector, there is a campaign called Campaign 2000, which is aimed at undermining enterprise bargaining. Such a threat is this campaign—so I am informed by the media—that it is referred to in Steve Bracks's office as `Apocalypse Now'. They ought to be concerned because many jobs will be lost unless these campaigns to knock off enterprise bargaining are in some way resisted. This government's policy is to introduce further measures to the Workplace Relations Act to achieve the retention of the system of enterprise bargaining. We intend to give new powers to the Industrial Relations Commission to prevent the industrial action associated with pattern bargaining. New powers will be given to the commission to act in a timely way to require a return to work. We will also provide the commission with a new power to order a cooling-off period where it believes that to be appropriate—an idea which even Steve Bracks, the Labor Premier in Victoria, thought was sensible only a month or so ago. Lastly, as the fourth of four measures, we intend introducing by legislation today a measure which will ensure that the states' supreme courts continue to have jurisdiction to deal with common-law matters, which they have long held but which has been subject to anti-suit applications in recent times.

To give you a sense of the threat which is now being mounted by the ACTU and some unions, Doug Cameron, for example, said recently:

It is a simple fact that the ALP cannot survive or win government without the support of trade union members.

Julius Roe from the AMWU said:

I support militant action. You can't win things without militant struggle—

an obvious reference to the widespread industrial action and chaos that some of these union leaders are intent on bringing upon the manufacturing sector. Craig Johnston, also from the AMWU, said:

The employers make us out as mad. But if we were mad, we wouldn't have won all these disputes. We've been threatened with fines and jail, but we haven't paid and we aren't in jail.

Even within the Labor Party, you must realise that there are some people who are intent on destroying a system which you yourselves supported.

The member for Kingsford-Smith, for example, back in August 1993, at a lunch hosted by none other than the now shadow minister, said this about the move to enterprise bargaining:

We are unquestionably moving towards a system in which the primary emphasis is on workplace bargaining underpinned by awards, a system where for the majority of employees wages and conditions of work are covered by workplace agreements: agreements between workplace participants, agreements that are tailored to the needs of individual enterprises and based on improving the productive performance of those enterprises. I am encouraged by the commitment of all parties to this objective.

The test today is whether or not the Leader of the Opposition can stand up to the ACTU and remain committed to a policy which has demonstrably provided great benefits to the Australian people: 700,000 jobs and much improved productivity performance since we have been in.



Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition!



Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition is defying the chair.


Mr REITH —The Leader of the Opposition is between a rock and a hard place. This is a real test for the Leader of the Opposition. When he stands tonight, not only is he going to tell us where the income tax cuts are going to come from, where all the expenditure is going to come from, how he is going to keep his surplus, how he is going to roll back and when he is going to roll over—what he has to do is to give us some sense of what his commitment is to genuine structural reform, particularly in the labour market. He has got to distance himself from the trade unions, who are trying to knock over the system the Labor Party once supported when it was in government. We hope to have this legislation through by 1 July. This is a real test for the Leader of the Opposition.