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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12428

Ms SAFFIN (7:05 PM) —In rising to give my contribution on the Fair Work Bill 2008, I give my strong support to it. When I stood for election in 2007, I pledged to do a number of things. I pledged to work as part of the Rudd Labor team to get rid of the extreme, unfair, ideologically driven workplace laws that gave rise to Work Choices. With that pledge, I published a list of priorities to Page that included polices and programs in the areas of health and education, which are clear priorities in Page; reform of the workplace relations system; and getting rid of John Howard’s extreme, unfair, ideologically driven workplace laws, and particularly Work Choices. It is as important to traverse the system as it was to locate the Fair Work Bill 2008 within the framework of industrial relations that the Australian people wanted.

The Fair Work Bill 2008 does not just get rid of Work Choices and AWAs and all of the nasties of the industrial relations system; it also modernises and revolutionises the industrial relations system—the system that was created at the federal level in 1901 and that has served us reasonably well but was moribund. It was not until the Hawke-Keating years, when enterprise bargaining was introduced, that we started to see some modernisation, some changes and some balance coming into the system.

Part of the plan that I pledged to work with at the election was Kevin Rudd’s plan, a plan for Australia’s future. It was a plan that would deliver, among other things, balance and fairness in the workplace, balance and fairness that John Howard had thrown out. But he was not alone. He had a lot of help. He had the help of the Liberal Party and the National Party. National Party members where I live were telling us that Work Choices and AWAs were good for us. In country New South Wales and in country Australia they were saying that somehow Work Choices and AWAs, which stripped rights away from workers and away from working families, were good for us. They were saying that something that took money out of our pay packet, that lessened our pay, was good for us; that something that took away conditions was good for us; and that something that gave us very fractured working hours was good for us. A woman came to me and said that under Work Choices she had been told that her working hours would be split, with just a couple of hours in between. She would have to work early in the morning, go home for an hour, go back at lunch time, have another hour off and then go back again in the evening. She had family responsibilities. And we were told that this was good for us.

Fair Work Australia gives expression to Labor’s plan, Forward with Fairness. It is important to note that the Australian people, and that includes the people in Page, very firmly and decisively said: ‘No more. We don’t want Work Choices; we don’t want this workplace relations system—we reject it.’ It was not about the fair go. We calculated that about $2 billion was spent on political advertising, telling us how good this system was. If one has to spend that much money to tell us that something is good for us then certainly that suggests that maybe there is something wrong. Who can forget the advertisements? We saw the ads on TV, particularly in the lead-up to the election campaign. Again, those ads were telling us that Work Choices was good for us.

I would like to talk a little bit more about Work Choices and then Forward with Fairness, our plan, which is reflected in the bill. I also want to make a contribution on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In so doing I note that the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support and the member for Fremantle both talked about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—and, no, we have not caucused, but I think it says something about our shared professional backgrounds in particular areas of international affairs and human rights.

The Work Choices laws cut away the safety net. They slashed wages and they trashed vital conditions and protections. They were workplace laws that removed job security for working families and made it harder for them to spend time together. They were workplace laws that shredded the notion of fairness in the workplace. They were workplace laws that, quite frankly, were an assault on and an affront to the Australian value of a fair go for all. I refrain from saying that they were un-Australian. I heard that phrase used for a long time, particularly under the Howard-Costello government. I heard the previous Prime Minister say it. People used to talk about things that were un-Australian. It was something that was used to silence people. So it is not a phrase that I use, but I can clearly say that Work Choices was an absolute affront to the Australian value of a fair go.

When the Work Choices laws came into effect we heard about people getting sacked for no good reason, about people being forced onto individual contracts which cut their pay, erased their entitlements and forced them to work weekends and public holidays when they had not done so in the past. Australia knew that that was clearly the wrong direction in which to head. At the time, the previous government’s own figures on AWAs—and they were the centrepiece of the workplace laws—showed that 100 per cent of those agreements, all of them, took away at least one protected award condition. Sixty-three per cent of all agreements removed penalty rates; 52 per cent removed shiftwork loading; and 46 per cent cut public holiday payments. How can that be fair? How can a system like that be fair? What Forward with Fairness said—and it is worth repeating some of it here, because it is reflected in the Fair Work Bill—is that it would provide a new single national system and for the private sector it would provide a new independent umpire in Fair Work Australia, and it clearly does that.

I think we inherited six or seven agencies under the current industrial relations system. All of those will be coalesced into Fair Work Australia. Forward with Fairness said it would abolish AWAs, and that is what we did. Forward with Fairness also said that there would be a transition period, and that is clearly what we have been working through in this place. Forward with Fairness said that in abolishing AWAs it would provide for modern, simple awards with decent minimum wages, overtime and penalty rates; it would provide for individual flexibility by allowing certain common-law agreements in addition to new flexibility clauses; it would give support to families by providing parents with unpaid leave when a child was born; and it would protect workers from being unfairly sacked, while providing businesses with the confidence that unfair dismissal claims would be resolved quickly, including special arrangements for small business. When I stand here and talk in support of Fair Work Australia, all of those things have been done, all of those things have been delivered and all of those things are reflected in the bill.

Now I will turn to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is apt because we are discussing its 60th anniversary. It was an issue before the House. That debate is now completed and I would now like to speak about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its resonance with this bill. I will look first at article 16 of the UDHR. Article 16 talks about the family being the natural and fundamental group unit of society and about it being entitled to protection by society and the state. Article 25(2), which sits squarely with that, says:

Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.

In looking at the resonance of the UDHR with this bill you see that it is actually reflected in the 10 National Employment Standards. The UDHR speaks to every standard, and what is reflected in the UDHR is fairness. That is clearly in the 10 national standards. I will turn to them in a minute. Article 20 of the UDHR says:

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

And article 23(4) says:

Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

That is the language of the document at the time. So the Universal Declaration of Human Rights talks about the freedom of association—the freedom of association in your workplace, whatever grouping that be. It also says that people have the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of their interests. That is what it is for. We hear a lot from the other side. They do not seem to like trade unions. That seems to be the collective view. They somehow do not recognise that unions are there to protect the interests of workers and working families. Article 23 begins:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work ...

It goes on:

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity ...

Article 24 says:

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25 says:

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family ...

What I would say about that is that we have had the debate in this place with speeches from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister gave a statement on the 60th anniversary of the UDHR, giving strong support to it. The Leader of the Opposition did the same. These things are contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These things are contained in the Fair Work Bill, in the 10 National Employment Standards. With those comments I commend the bill to the House.