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Thursday, 23 August 2001
Page: 30154

Mr LLOYD (3:19 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Minister, in what manner has the government's policies improved job prospects for all Australians? How would alternative policies, particularly Knowledge Nation, affect job prospects, workplace relations and small business prospects? What is the government's response?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Robertson for his question. This government said that it was going to deliver better lives to ordinary Australians, and it certainly has. This government has produced more jobs. People are earning higher pay and they are paying lower tax. This government has delivered on its promises.

The only alternative policy is a document entitled Knowledge Nation, which has been described as `long on rhetoric, short on detail and blank on costing'. That is not my description. That is the description of Knowledge Nation by someone who knows the Leader of the Opposition well: former Senator Peter Walsh who, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, was a minister who actually got things done in government. If you look at this extraordinary spaghetti-and-meatballs diagram which is supposed to encapsulate Knowledge Nation, there is one truly remarkable omission. The one remarkable omission from this diagram is jobs. I have the missing meatball. I recommend to the Leader of the Opposition that any policy worthy of the name must have jobs as its centrepiece.

The nearest thing to an employment program in knowledge nation is in recommendation 13, which talks about `ensuring that employers increase their level of investment in training'. So what we have is another trip down memory lane with Keystone Kim, or in the case of the Leader of the Opposition it is recovered memory lane—

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —The minister will refer to the Leader of the Opposition by his correct title.

Mr ABBOTT —or false memory lane. He wants to go back to the training guarantee levy of the Keating government, which did not stop apprenticeships falling to record low numbers and did not stop Australia developing the best trained dole queues in the world. There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of Knowledge Nation. This Leader of the Opposition expects these switched-on, wired-up, online workers to operate under a 1970s style industrial relations system. He expects these young, dynamic entrepreneurs to leave their high-tech laboratories, get into their P76s and their Trabants, go down to the Industrial Relations Commission and ask for directions about everything that happens in their workplace. He expects these people, who can out-compete the world, to become industrial zombies and to put their hands up every time the union officials say so.

There is a very simple reason why there is no reference to decent, dynamic workplace relations in knowledge nation. When you actually look at the people who made submissions to knowledge nation, you see that there were 10 academic organisations, one academic trade union and, of course, who else but the AMWU—our old friends the AMWU who bankroll the Labor Party and determine its policy. I doubt very much whether Dougie Cameron actually wrote Knowledge Nation, because only someone as prolix as the Leader of the Opposition could write a 55-page wish list. Knowledge Nation entirely symbolises the character of the Leader of the Opposition: embellish the bad news, fib about the facts and bluster when you get caught out. Knowledge Nation is a fairytale—every bit as much a fairytale as Kim's hospital tales.

Mr Price —Mr Acting Speaker, I raise a point of order. During the minister's answer you drew his attention to standing order 80, and he concluded his answer by again breaching standing order 80.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Unlike some members of this chamber, I am not deaf. I did hear him, but he had finished his question and, in the interest of the House and to facilitate your Deputy Leader asking his question, I decided to ignore it.

Mr Crean —Love that facilitation!

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —I am sure I can facilitate anything you like, coming or going.