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Monday, 2 April 2001
Page: 26138

Mr PROSSER (3:13 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Can the minister inform the House of union influences on Australian workplaces and other institutions? What is the effect of declining union representation on Australian workers?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Forrest for his question. Last year, when total employment grew by some 300,000, total union membership grew by just 23,000. I can inform the House that union membership has fallen in the past two decades from over one-half to under one-quarter of the Australian work force. Just under 20 per cent of the private sector work force are now members of trade unions; just under 50 per cent of the public sector work force are now members of trade unions. Even though fewer than 25 per cent of Australian workers are union members, 100 per cent of Labor members of parliament are union members. Nearly 60 per cent of the Leader of the Opposition's frontbench are not just union members; but former trade union officials.

Because the unions control 60 per cent of the vote at Labor Party conferences, there are many safe Labor seats which are virtual rotten boroughs of the union movement. Between them, the Australian Workers Union and the Shop Assistants Union control more rotten boroughs than the Duke of Newcastle controlled before the 1832 reform act. This is why the member for Werriwa could point to members of the Leader of the Opposition's frontbench and say that they owe their positions entirely to Nepotism Inc.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order which goes to relevance. This historical treatise is neither very accurate nor very interesting; nor is it in order or relevant to the question.

Mr SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business has raised a point of order on relevance. I was having some difficulty in linking the comments of the minister to the question on the effect of union decline on the Australian workplace. I invite the minister to return to the question.

Mr ABBOTT —I appreciate that members of Nepotism Inc. are not happy with this, but the fact is that, because the unions control the Labor Party, they completely and utterly dictate opposition policy. This is why members of the opposition are going to abolish Australian workplace agreements, abolish the Employment Advocate and turn contractors into employees. What members opposite want to do is to allow unions representing fewer than two million workers to completely determine the pay and conditions of nearly six million Australian workers. It is not right; it is not fair. If the Leader of the Opposition had any guts, any ticker, any integrity, he would cease being the ventriloquist's dummy of the ACTU, he would end the union bloc vote and he would remove the socialisation clause from the Labor Party platform.

Government members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —Is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition seeking the call? While I am not being assisted by some ministers, I would remind the Deputy Leader of the Opposition of his status in the House.