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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12354


Mr HAASE (1:43 PM) —The Fair Work Bill 2008 was introduced into the House a week ago. This bill establishes Fair Work Australia, a body that will carry out arbitral, judicial and enforcement functions. This body will replace the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, the Australian Fair Pay Commission and the Workplace Authority. This bill also creates the Fair Work Ombudsman, a position that will replace the existing Workplace Ombudsman.

The Rudd government were elected after an extensive campaign that promised all manner of bells and whistles to the Australian people. After a very long and expensive campaign funded by the unions across Australia that tried to convince the people of Australia that hell was going to freeze over, they were elected. They have decided now that the people of Australia expect that there will be a new system of industrial law that will be more rosy than ever before and that will mean that we will all be able to walk on water and live the life of luxury for ever after. Some of my colleagues and I question the veracity of that belief and perception across Australia. In fact, some of us have even questioned whether the Fair Work Bill 2008 in all its highly questionable glory is quite the workplace relations change that the Australian people were led to believe would occur. I believe that it is exceedingly valid to question that. I will go into that in more detail later.

Colleagues before me have also mentioned that, as we all know, the economic conditions are vastly different now than they were in the lead-up to the election last year. We have already seen how the Rudd-Swan government is learning magic tricks, keeping the public distracted with patter and spin while performing the amazing $20 billion surplus disappearing act. We should all worry about the tricks that they will try to pull next.

Jobs are very important to the coalition. Jobs are our focus. We have a very strong record on jobs. During the coalition’s term in office, unemployment reached a 33-year low and more than two million Australian jobs were created, more than 400,000 of them after the introduction of the coalition’s Work Choices legislation. There was also an increase of more than 20 per cent in real wages under the coalition, compared to a 1.8 per cent decrease under the Labor government that preceded us. Thanks to our legacy, we currently have a record high of more than 10.6 million Australians in work. By the current government’s own forecast, they will put 134,000 people out of work. Therefore, I reiterate this point: conditions now are very different to the time when Labor was elected just over a year ago with its perceived or supposed mandate for workplace relations change.

These changes have been introduced at a difficult time for the national economy and consequently a difficult time for the government. I earnestly hope that the government will repay not just the coalition’s trust but the trust of all Australian people that these changes have been very carefully considered and will not result in additional and unnecessary job losses.

The coalition has acknowledged that industry stakeholders support key elements of this bill. The coalition also believes that union accountability must be maintained and unlawful behaviour penalised. I will talk about union accountability in a moment. The coalition is not opposing the Fair Work Bill 2008 in the House of Representatives. But we reserve our right to propose amendments following the Senate committee process.

Members, to this point the Rudd-Swan government has been a triumph of spin over substance. But here we see the rare flipside, for Minister Gillard has provided far more substance in this bill than even in her own spin—also known as election promises. Prior to the election, Ms Gillard said that it was an untruth that Fair Work Australia would reintroduce compulsory arbitration. Just three months ago, Minister Gillard said to the National Press Club that compulsory arbitration will not be a feature of good faith bargaining. Surprise, surprise: compulsory arbitration is back in—just one of several features that have presumably been included in this legislation so that Labor can pay off its hefty election debt to the union movement.

Something else that the unions must be licking their lips about is pattern bargaining. Minister Gillard and colleagues have said on numerous occasions, both before and after the election, that pattern bargaining would not be part of Labor’s Forward with Fairness plans and that they did not consider it legitimate or lawful. In this case, it seems that the spin was to try and detract attention from the substance, because pattern bargaining is in the legislation. Minister Gillard has tried to usher it in quietly with one hand while everyone else was watching the other hand.

That is not all. Prior to the election, Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd said that federal Labor would maintain existing right of entry provisions in workplace legislation. Earlier this year, Minister Gillard also told the Master Builders Association of Australia that Labor’s promise to retain the current right of entry framework was a promise that would be kept. That is another sleight-of-hand approach by Labor—another promise that has not been kept. Unions can enter a vastly expanded number of workplaces. They can access the records of nonmembers. And they get a privileged seat at the bargaining table. This legislation is no tame white rabbit; it is a very feral bunny indeed that Minister Gillard has pulled out of this hat.

Let me now expand on the coalition’s stance that union accountability must be maintained. Minister Gillard’s explanatory memorandum—it is some memorandum indeed at 519 pages—states that the Fair Work Bill creates a national workplace relations system that is ‘fair to working people, flexible for business and promotes productivity and economic growth’. Labor seem very keen indeed to spin their legislation—not just this piece but, for example, the nation-building legislation as well—as promoting or building productivity, or productive capacity at least. Labor do not have a great record in this area. In fact, they have an appalling record if the $96 billion debt—which we inherited back in 1996 when the Howard government came into office—means anything. Beyond the spin, we hope that they mean well. If union accountability is not maintained, productivity will not be promoted and the economy will not grow. Instead, we will have a return to the dim dark days of union domination and thuggery which impeded many industries from achieving their full capacity and productivity.

In the energy and resources sector in my electorate of Kalgoorlie we know something about productivity and economic growth. For example, the iron ore industry in the Pilbara contributed more than $20 billion to the state and national economy in the most recent financial year. It would be unacceptable if legislation were rammed down the throat of the nation’s fiscal powerhouse that, amongst other things, would give unions a free hand, that allows random strikes under the phoney guise of safety standards, that allows walkouts under the sham pretext of unsafe working conditions and that allows unions to practise their bullyboy standover tactics and flex their steroid enhanced muscle to no other end than to impede productivity and boost their self-importance.

I repeat: this legislation purports to be fair to working people and flexible for business and purports to promote productivity and economic growth. I happily hold up energy and resources as a shining example of a sector that is eminently fair and flexible whilst promoting productivity and economic growth. Companies in this sector lead the way and are innovators in workplace safety, equity and flexibility. They reap the rewards in their own increased productivity and economic growth, and those rewards are returned to shareholders. That is what big companies are about. They employ Australians and they return wealth to shareholders. As of June this year the mining sector alone directly employed more than 159,000 people. Last financial year mineral resource exports were worth $116 billion to the national economy. It is a lot of jobs and it is a lot of financial clout to potentially put at the mercy of the unions. And that is just one sector of the economy. For Australia to return to the dark days of union intimidation and standover would have much more significant ramifications now than in past years when the sector was smaller and employed fewer people.

The government has called its workplace legislation the Fair Work Bill—another piece of spin. Furthermore, in her second reading speech commending the legislation, Minister Gillard said:

… Australians voted for a workplace relations system that delivers a fair go, the benefits of mateship at work, a decent safety net and a fair way of striking a bargain.

It is interesting the way they wove ‘striking’ into that statement. The definition of ‘fair’ in my Macquarie Concise Dictionary is ‘free from bias, dishonesty or injustice’. Although its union bias is clear and quite well defined in the legislation, and Minister Gillard has been demonstrably dishonest in breaking her election promise about the content of this bill, we must hope and trust that the government is not doing the Australian people an injustice with this legislation. And I say we hope; there is no evidence that our hope is justified.

So much has been said by members of the government in addressing this particular piece of legislation. I have here five pages of examples of government members’ speeches on this legislation that are absolutely outlandish in their claims of how hell would have frozen over if ever the Howard government had been re-elected at the last federal election and the evils of Work Choices had been implemented upon the people of Australia. In the time remaining to me, it is very difficult to determine which particular example I should select. The member for Throsby is one who knows something about industrial relations. She said that Work Choices was ‘a radical manifesto never put to nor ever endorsed by the electorate in the 2004 election’—demonstrably hogwash.

The Australian electorate repeatedly elected a Howard-Costello government on the basis of making the workplace more flexible, providing opportunity for Australians in jobs to be secure in a manner of employment that they wanted to be secure in. So much has been said about there being so many part-time employees across Australia today. My straw polling indicates very, very clearly that part-time positions are held in Australia today because it is part-time positions that are wanted. Mothers, wives and individuals that do not want to devote their life to the corporation see—quite rightly, in my estimations—a higher order to serve, and that is their household, the future of their children, their pleasant life. They do not want a full-time position. They are very happy working part time. For this they are generally denigrated by members of the government today for not pulling their weight, for not getting out there and supporting corporate Australia by working hours and hours per week and then taking additional overtime as well. I know that the people that work part time in my electorate do so because those are the jobs that they want. That is the nature of flexibility that they desire, because their commitment is not to the corporate bosses and it is not to the shareholders; it is to their family, it is to their home and it is to their children. Flexibility in the workplace is something that that now-dead legislation that was generally referred to as Work Choices provided for.

The same bullyboy union bosses that funded that $20 million campaign so that members of the innocent Australian voting public would be convinced that Work Choices was some great ogre have now got the pocket of this government. They have got the pocket of the minister concerned and the minister is delivering. The minister is saying, ‘Union bosses of Australia, put down your tools, sit on your arses—

Honourable members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —Order! The member might withdraw.


Mr HAASE —relax; we are about to repay you.’ There has been a debt incurred of multimillions of dollars and this government through this minister will now deliver to the union bosses of Australia Valhalla: ‘You will have entry where you have never had entry before.’


The SPEAKER —Order! The member might withdraw the remark that he made in a bit of a florid way.


Mr HAASE —I am sorry, Valhalla is a perfectly legitimate term.


The SPEAKER —No, earlier.


Mr HAASE —Are we talking about the arses of the union bosses? I am sorry—I am not referring to union bosses as being arses. If there is any belief that I was implying that, I apologise to the House and I withdraw.


The SPEAKER —I would say to the honourable member for Kalgoorlie that that was not the way to go about a withdrawal. I was serious in endeavouring to have the honourable member withdraw.


Mr HAASE —I beg your pardon, Mr Speaker. I was unsure as to exactly what term was expected to be withdrawn.


The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.