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Tuesday, 7 December 1993
Page: 3987


Senator KNOWLES (12.26 p.m.) —Today we are debating the Industrial Relations Reform Bill 1993. This is the most poorly drafted, ill-conceived piece of legislation we have seen for at least a week. We are likely to see another next week, of course—the Mabo bill. This bill is one which has been put together by a government that is chock-a-block full of people who have never had to run a business. The problem is that they do not understand what business is about. They do not understand what negotiations between employer and employees are all about. They do not understand profitability or the fact that profit means continuation of the business and that, without profit, one cannot employ a soul. They do not understand that many employers and self-employed people actually pay their workers more than they are paid themselves. Moreover, they do not want to know.

  As a result, we have this mishmash of industrial relations legislation that has been cobbled together not in consultation with business but in consultation with the ACTU—the political masters of this Labor Government. We must never forget, as my colleagues pointed out last night and today, that this is the ultimate payback. This government sits opposite thanks to the ACTU. Not only did the ACTU fund the lie campaign but it helped to distribute it to all its union members and their families right up until the Friday night prior to the election. The lies contained within that material were just breathtaking but, nonetheless, the ACTU did it. It funded this government to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. Many of the dollars poured in to fund this campaign were given by workers who could not afford the money in the first place and, secondly, did not want it given. But here we are today debating a piece of legislation that is all about saying, `Thank you very much for your kind donation'.

  This piece of legislation does not focus on the real problems and attempt to solve them; it simply creates more. The Labor Party ignores the plight of so many—whether it is a small business struggling to survive, a medium-sized business trying to stop becoming small or a large business trying to stop going out of business. The Labor Party does not care about the low-paid workers; it does not care about the women; and it most certainly does not care about those of overseas origin—not at all. There is nothing in this bill that will go to the heart of solving the high levels of unemployment among our migrant communities—not a thing. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Senator Bolkus) has obviously not contributed one thing to this legislation to ensure that the unacceptably high levels of unemployment being experienced by the ethnic communities are turned around. This bill will exacerbate that problem. It will create even higher levels of unemployment.

  Two groups that are enormously vulnerable in this bill are women and the migrant communities. Where was Senator Crowley when this legislation was drawn up? She is meant to be representing the interests of women. She has been deafening in her silence—absolutely deafening. She is not on the speakers list; she has not been heard of. She probably has not read this bill either. If she is not capable of reading her own guidelines on child care, I suppose she would not be capable of reading this bill. We have two minister in this chamber—one representing women and one representing the ethnic communities—who are not contributing to the solution of the plight of those people whatsoever under this legislation. Senator Patterson last night clearly put down the coalition's concern affecting women—how badly the trade union movement treats the interest of women, how poorly represented they are in the trade union hierarchy and how few are given opportunities. Where is Senator Crowley? She is silent—absolutely silent.


Senator Panizza —She's out there reading the child-care guidelines.


Senator KNOWLES —I wish that were right. I would be a bit encouraged if she were out there reading the child-care guidelines, because it would be a first. I think the situation is quite clear when we look at the issue of women and those of overseas origin. How many of them have been represented by their ministers in this parliament through this piece of legislation? How does this bill impact on their well-being? How many people of overseas origin are represented in the trade union movement at key decision making levels? I exclude those who have been imported as militant union heavies.

  I do not think it is adequate to hear half a dozen English, Scottish, Irish—or whatever nationality—union leaders talk of how they brought industry to its knees in their home countries and say that that is representative of the millions of people and the many migrants who have come to Australia to make a new life for themselves and their families. What those people want is jobs, security and a future. What they do not want is the unacceptably high rates of unemployment which have been delivered to them by this Labor government. Some rates are as high as 30 per cent—rates that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has totally and utterly ignored. He has done nothing in this legislation or in any other piece of legislation to try to overturn that situation.

  What people really want is to be able to work. They do not want to be given an opportunity to work and then be pulled out on strike by some militant union leader, who will get paid whether he works or not. That is the difficulty, because that union leader could not give a continental about the interests of the workers, who actually lose a lot of money. The union leader will simply get paid, and paid very well. Let us face it: most of them end up in this parliament. That is the sad fact. None of them have had to earn a buck. None of them have ever had to pay the wages bill, the rent for a business, the telephone account or any of the other impositions that this mob has put on top of them. They have not had to pay those bills. I have. Senator Panizza has. That is the real coalface of the facts of life. This mob has never, ever had to do it, and it is simply reflected in this piece of legislation.

  Those union bosses will get paid regardless of any outcome of the dispute. The people who are the meat in the sandwich are those workers who are taken out on strike. What we will see in this legislation is more strike action. What we will see with sections 45D and 45E effectively disappearing—the 72-hour clause—is more industrial disputation. The 72-hour factor in this bill is a further demonstration of the lack of understanding of this Labor government. It does not understand that within 72 hours a business can be brought to its knees and sent out of business forevermore. Evidence was given to the Senate standing committee that looked at this legislation to that very fact. Seventy-two hours is of no help to many businesses; 72 hours can be total, utter and permanent devastation. Does the government care? No. Is it doing anything to try to resolve the unemployment levels? No. The government is simply exacerbating the situation.

  One would think that over the last 10 years this mob would be satisfied with the extraordinarily high levels of bankruptcy that it has already achieved. It would say, `At least we have got to the end of that. We have really set the goal, and we have exceeded our expectations in sending businesses belly up. But, we want more, so we will devise a nice piece of legislation'. That is what the government has done here. This bill will certainly not help any of those people to whom I have referred. All it will deliver to them is fewer opportunities, particularly in the small business sector. As stated by a witness at the recent Senate committee, a greater degree of confusion will also prevail for many people in small business.

  Can honourable senators imagine people of overseas origin struggling to come to terms with the way in which business operates here? This government is imposing more restrictions upon them, so this will make it more difficult for them to be able to start up a business and run one successfully. What small and larger businesses alike need is less red tape, not more. What this bill delivers is the latter. As I said before, the coalition totally rejects the changes to the boycott provisions. It is not just the coalition which is rejecting that; it is also every employer.

  From my quick reading of the reports from the Senate standing committee, not one employer came before that committee and said that he or she did not reject it. What does this Labor Party say? It says, `Too bad, tough, because this is the deal that has been done with the ACTU. We do not care if you go out of business. What we do care about is our Labor mates in the ACTU'. We as a nation cannot afford to have that situation occur. Why does this Labor Party continue to acquiesce to a bunch of people who are effectively running this country? The Fergusons, the Keltys and so on have long since been de facto members of cabinet in this government, because not a decision is made without their being dragged to Canberra and taken into the cabinet room.

  When are the interests of Australian business and workers taken into account? Those interests do not get a guernsey. With whom has all the alleged consultation taken place? It certainly has not taken place with business; rather, as everyone knows, that consultation has been with the ACTU, and the ACTU alone. The business community has simply been ignored again by this Labor government. Why have the pleas of the business community been in vain, its valid concerns dismissed and its interests in security of operation and profitability treated with disdain? It is simply because this Labor government is in power today only because of the ACTU.

  There are almost 300,000 employers in Australia, many of whom employ fewer than 10 people. If an employer wants to make an enterprise deal, this bill insists that, before negotiations can even begin, the employer has to contact the union of which he and his staff are most likely not members. What absolute and utter nonsense. Today, more and more workers are opting out of unions rather than joining them. Hence, a few years ago we were confronted with the legislation to create mega-unions.

  This government is hell-bent on creating more power for the union movement when the workers on the shop floor want less union involvement. Those workers want to negotiate. Today, some 71 per cent of employees in the private sector are not members of unions—71 per cent! So, why is the government pandering to a minority?

  I do not know whether Senator West will speak on this bill. However, I have had the distressing experience of listening to her speak on this subject a number of times. She too does not understand what this is all about because she has never employed people—she has never had to pay the bills. Genuinely concerned people have been listening to this debate ever since it started—people who pay the bills, worry about profitability and worry about the security of their employees. Government members should not think for one moment that such worry is simply self-interest, which is how it will be described by Senator West if she speaks. Senator West always talks about the greedy employer—`All employers are greedy'. Employers could be a darned sight greedier if they did not employ people; but they actually create the vehicle by which people buy their homes, put food on the table and earn a living.


Senator Panizza —And build homes too.


Senator KNOWLES —And build homes—Senator Panizza is quite right. Such criticism simply highlights the policy of envy of this Labor government because its members have never had to struggle to make a business work. From personal experience I can tell those members that, if they had to struggle to make a business work, they would have a very different view of life. If they had to struggle to pay the wages bill every week, they would have a greatly different view on life. If they had to actually pay themselves less than their employees, they would be astounded. But last night we heard breathtaking nonsense from Senator Murphy who excelled himself by showing what a clown he is when it comes to understanding how the whole system of industrial relations works in Australia.

  We have to make sure that we achieve our aim: the defeat of this bill. I am very concerned that it will not be defeated for the very reasons that I have outlined today. None of the Australian Democrats here have run a business—I do not think one Democrat has ever run a business. Neither of the Greens has run a business. The majority of members of the Labor government have never run a business. So my hopes are very dim because none of those honourable senators understand what they are doing to the business community and this country's economy.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.