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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11840

Mr RANDALL (11:45 AM) —I rise to speak today on the Fair Work Bill 2008 and the implementation of Labor’s workplace reforms. The coalition does accept that the Rudd Labor government has a mandate for workplace relations changes, as proposed in its election policy last year. But the government does not have a mandate to be extreme and sneaky, it does not have a mandate to destroy Australian jobs and it does not have a mandate to destroy the Australian economy through this bill. In her second reading speech, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Ms Gillard, said this bill is ‘good for employees, for employers, for families and the economy’. This must not be another broken promise by the Rudd government.

Significant parts of this bill were not part of Labor’s industrial relations platform at the election, including the reintroduction of compulsory arbitration, pattern bargaining and the expansion of union rights of entry to workplaces. In fact, before last year’s election Minister Gillard indicated that the existing laws had balanced the rights of employers and unions and Labor did not want to jeopardise productivity or cause industrial unrest. Now that has all changed. This is something that I will elaborate on extensively later.

When I spoke on the transition to Forward with Fairness legislation earlier this year, I spoke about the importance of flexibility for workers, the importance of a safety net and, predominantly, the creation of jobs and keeping people in work. In these tough economic times, jobs must be a priority. The Prime Minister’s war, in this case on unemployment—and he has a war on everything—must be more than just rhetoric. The legislation must not destroy jobs. A Senate committee process will examine the key elements of the legislation, and the coalition will reserve its right to move responsible amendments. Importantly, the legislation establishes Fair Work Australia, the ‘all-powerful’ new independent body that will oversee the operation of this bill and also the Fair Work Ombudsman, who will replace the existing Workplace Ombudsman.

The government’s changes to workplace relations come at a very difficult time for the Australian economy. The coalition trusts that these government changes have been carefully considered and will not cost jobs—but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. As we know, this government has been handed an Australian economy in pristine condition, with no debt, a surplus generated by the coalition and a future fund for savings with more than $60 billion in it. The condition that the Australian economy is in is one of the reasons why Australia will be able to get through the global crisis far better than many other countries. The scary part is this legislation destroying flexibility and productivity. When we have a workforce that has its lowest unemployment level, at 4.3 per cent nationally, that level must not be put in jeopardy.

The Organisation for Economic and Community Development expects that by 2010 Australian unemployment could be at six per cent. That means that there will be at least 200,000 more Australians out of work than there are now. You will recall that the coalition had a strong record of job creation. In fact, 2.2 million jobs were created on the coalition’s watch, with around 60 per cent of them being full-time positions. The move in recent times has been towards greater casualisation of the workforce, something that the Labor Party railed against when in opposition. Unemployment under the coalition was at its lowest level in 30 years. Labor inherited from the coalition last year an unemployment rate of 4.3 per cent. In 1996, Labor had left us with a rate of 8.1 per cent. Remember how far that blew out under the Hawke-Keating governments—to over 11 per cent! The Labor Party are not very good at actually creating jobs. They are very good at destroying jobs. This is the real concern with this sort of legislation: has this really been taken into account? Turning to wages, real wages increased under the coalition by 21.5 per cent compared to them actually decreasing by 1.8 per cent under the 13 years of the previous Labor government. That is a stark contrast as to who creates jobs and who creates improvements in real wages.

This legislation will be judged on its ability to create jobs, maintain productivity, bring lower inflation and continue to deliver lower levels of industrial action. The Australian people will eventually be the judge. On inflation, let us remember that, in line with the Reserve Bank of Australia’s preferred band, inflation was kept under three per cent for all of those coalition years. However, on taking office the Labor Party wanted to hype up the inflation mantra, so we kept hearing about genies out of bottles, which put pressure on the Reserve Bank to lift rates. The bank did and now we can see the consequence, as rates now have to be addressed. This is all part of the matrix of the Labor Party’s inability to manage a strong and productive economy.

In the electorate of Canning there is a labour force this year of 70,804 people. The unemployment rate in Canning was 4.1 per cent in June 2008. This was down from 8.4 per cent in December 2001, when I became the member for Canning. In other words, under the coalition the unemployment rate in my electorate more than halved. Currently the local rates of unemployment are as follows. In the main centre of Armadale the rate is 4.6 per cent. In the City of Mandurah, it is 5.7 per cent. It has gone up 0.6 per cent in the last six months. I have said before in this place that unemployment levels in Canning, particularly in the Mandurah area, were very high when we look at a publication called Peeling away the mask, which not only detailed the unemployment rates but described the lack of social cohesion and the issues that people in the high unemployment area of Mandurah were facing. But, as I said, the unemployment rate is at 5.7 per cent these days. The problem is: how long will it stay at such a low level? When I was elected to the seat of Canning in 2001, youth unemployment was extremely high. It has come down to a very small figure—in fact, about a quarter of what it was when we took office in Canning in 2001. It is one of the great tragedies that this inflexible regime that could be foisted upon us would see a lot of young people not only out of a job but without the ability to secure a job.

The matter of individual statutory agreements was dealt with earlier this year in the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill 2008. The coalition has been advised by industry that the government’s changes in the Fair Work Bill to provide individual flexibility in awards and agreements are sufficient. One in three Canning workers—in other words, 29,382 people—were employed under flexible workplace agreements, giving this electorate the second highest take-up of AWAs in the country. We know that ‘AWA’ in this place is a dirty word, but the Canning electorate was evidence of the fact that people sought to gain not only those individual agreements but the benefits that flowed from them—jobs, higher pay and individually negotiated conditions. As I have mentioned previously in this place, the seat of Kalgoorlie had the highest number of AWAs in Australia. That certainly has something to do with the mining industry, but many other electorates in Western Australia had thousands and thousands of people on individual agreements. That may have had something to do with the fact that, at the last federal election, Western Australia actually gained a seat—the only state to gain seats from the Labor Party.

Western Australia has an unemployment rate of 2.2 per cent, which is just unbelievable in this current environment. It is well below the national average of 4.3 per cent. The teenage unemployment rate is 11 per cent. I will be watching very closely the impact of this legislation on the Western Australian workforce. With mining and construction being one of the foremost industries in Western Australia, the input of industry is very important. Premier Barnett has warned that any industrial unrest will drive investment out of Western Australia, with the threat of strikes sending the wrong message to potential investors. I say to my colleagues in this place, and to the rest of the country, that it is really quite fortunate in this current environment that we do have a Liberal coalition in Western Australia, because we know that more than 30 per cent of this nation’s income comes from Western Australia—in fact, many of the mendicant states like New South Wales, which is an absolute basket case, are living off the teat of Western Australia in this current economy. We are having to carry the country, and thank goodness there is a coalition government that is going to protect the jobs of workers, protect the industries that provide those jobs and protect the exports and the income that is derived from the industries in Western Australia.

I was fortunate enough recently to go to the Burrup Peninsula and see the Woodside operations there, where they are investing billions of dollars in future income earnings in Western Australia. This will have a flow-on effect through royalties both to Western Australia and to Australia—we will keep the rest of this country in good health. So the impact in Western Australia is going to be crucial to the wellbeing of the Australian economy.

We know that the government and the department have had extensive consultations with industries throughout the compilation of this legislation. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry met last week to discuss the Fair Work Bill. Executives expressed concern about the prospect of additional regulation and labour costs at a time of global financial instability and downturn in business. The ACCI noted that the legislation was:

… skewed to union rights; higher wages and conditions in modern awards; new industrial relations rules affecting outsourcing, redundancies and the sale of businesses; wider union entry rights; adverse impacts for investment certainty and stable industrial relations in some sectors; and unnecessarily broad scope for compulsory arbitration of agreements.

When you just say, ‘Oh, look, we have consulted widely, and others agree with us,’ don’t forget the ACCI speaks for a huge range of employers. Industry must be brought fully up to speed, should the legislation be implemented, by its start date of July 2009.

Within the government’s new workplace relations framework, union accountability must be maintained and unlawful behaviour penalised. That is why the watchdog must be kept in place and its powers not watered down. There is some belief that this is where the government may be heading after it receives its report. This gives too much power back to the unions. I wonder why the Labor Party want to give power back to the unions. We know it has something to do with them giving $30 million towards the last election campaign. We know it has something to do with the fact that union members were out there manning the polling booths in my electorate, and every other electorate in Australia, and making sure that they got their Labor mates back in. We know that this place has former ACTU presidents in it—it is almost a retirement home for ACTU presidents. We know that the member for Maribyrnong and the member for Charlton want to be in this place as former union bosses because they want to help control legislation like this—it is in their DNA; it is in their heritage. As the hereditary peers in the Labor Party they want to make sure that they can gain control back over the workplace by using this place as a tool.

Remember under Labor that the average number of days lost to strikes per year was 22.6 working days per 1,000 employees. In September 2007 this was down—this is unbelievable—from 22.6 working days to 1.2 working days per 1,000 employees, an absolutely notable figure. Even the Australian Industry Group’s chief executive, Heather Ridout, said last week:

Unions will need to be responsible in their use of the new laws or risk causing economic damage at the worst time for Australia when pressures on business and employment are intense.

She is right. The new right of entry provisions are beyond extensive. With 24 hours notice union officials have the right to enter any workplace to inspect the books and hold meetings for recruitment—get names, addresses and superannuation details of members. I wonder if people in workplaces when they voted for the Labor Party knew that this legislation would allow union thugs to walk in on worksites and go and check the records of payments, addresses and personal details of non union members. This is what this sneaky legislation is actually paving the way for. All that is required to inspect non members’ records is the investigation of any alleged breach—and here comes one of the captains. Any fabrication will be possible. As the Australian’s Paul Kelly wrote on the weekend:

… the new right-of-entry provisions for unions are extra-ordinary and unacceptable in a democracy.

Last year, barely 15 per cent Australia’s workforce belonged to a union. But, with around 70 per cent of Labor Party’s frontbench being ex-union officials and with the union spending, as I said, in excess of $30 million in Labor’s campaign, one can only see why the unions are being repaid with additional power.

As I mentioned earlier, the Labor government did pledge to retain existing rights of entry. Such an extension of power gives a green light to union heavyweights to continue their thuggish behaviour. I might mention on this issue the misuse of safety issues for rights of entry. This was well documented in the Cole commission with the likes of Joe McDonald going onto work sites claiming bogus safety issues which were found out later to be just a sneaky way of getting on site and causing havoc for the builder or the construction company and for recruitment. I might add, just recently, Kevin Reynolds and his mate Joe have been re-elected in Western Australia and Reynolds claims that he now has a mandate for militancy, and that after being re-elected he believes that he now has the ability to extend his militant behaviour on all work sites in Western Australia.

Obviously industry is concerned about the wielding of union power. The West Australian last week reported that the provisions in the Fair Work Bill 2008 relating to unions could lead to harassment in the workplace. The Australian Mines and Metals Association noted that, while you are trying to have your lunch, you could have someone tapping on your shoulder saying: ‘Hey mate, are you member of the union? If you’re not, you should be.’ It is annoying and harassing. They are supposed to only be there on 24 hours notice in a prearranged place such as the crib room during lunchtime or breaks. But that will not stop the likes of Joe McDonald. He has been warned off. It is illegal for him to be on sites, but he just ignores that and goes there and causes mayhem. I have had phone calls to my office from people trying to do business in their area saying: ‘Joe is here again. How can we get him out of the place?’ With his great braces and pot belly, he is the stereotype of the union thugs that we are talking about.

Kevin Reynolds’s recent election win, as I said, gives him this mandate. The image of him wearing a T-shirt of his guerrilla revolution with Che Guevara on the front is embedded in our memory. This legislation could see him more and more on building sites wearing it. Then we have his mate, Joe, hurling abuse at representatives on Perth work sites. We saw that on the ABCC footage dealing with his unlawful rights of entry, where he was hurling obscenities at the bosses and workers who would not join the union. This is just one of several examples of thuggery.

Earlier this year, the site of the multimillion dollar Burswood development in Perth was closed down after a fracas when McDonald’s union meeting ran over time. It was the Cole commission that first exposed the power of Reynolds and McDonald in the Perth construction industry. The commission’s finding in relation to the union power in the building and construction industry held that, among other things, members of the CFMEU, including Kevin Reynolds and Joe McDonald, engaged in unlawful conduct, there was disregard by the union of contractual agreements and the views of employees and the union abandoned the rule of law.

In coming to a conclusion, I refer again to Paul Kelly’s article on Saturday where he warned about the powers the unions will have and confirmed that the Rudd govern-ment, in turbulent times, is reframing workplace relations completely and giving more power back to the unions. It states:

The global crisis means everything has changed: the budget goes into deficit, fiscal stimulus replaces fiscal restraint, the Reserve Bank does a volte-face and begins to slash interest rates, and the Government guarantees deposits as Rudd declares the crisis is ‘sweeping across the world’.

But standing immovable is Labor’s support for greater trade union power, more costly restrictions on employers, a greater role for the revamped … commission, an effective end to individual statutory contracts, a revival of arbitration, and a sharp weakening of direct employer and non-union employee bargaining.

The article goes on to state:

The … model … is a significant step into the past—

and I reiterate ‘past’—

It is hard to imagine how its impact will be other than to weaken productivity and employment.

The core of this legislation is that it must maintain the productivity and flexibility which have given Australia a stellar performance economically. (Time expired)