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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 4736

Senator McKIERNAN(11.40 a.m.) —Firstly, I commend Senator O'Brien, the previous speaker, on the excellence of his contribution in the chamber. It was very worth while and I think it will be referred to on a number of occasions by other speakers. In commending Senator O'Brien, I am not taking anything away from the previous speakers on this very important piece of legislation from this side of the chamber. The legislation is so important that we have actually got opposition senators in the chamber. We have actually got a Democrat senator in the chamber. We have not got one Liberal Party senator in the chamber at this moment in time, apart from you, Mr Chairman Watson. We have not got a government minister in the chamber. That is absolutely pathetic. It is not quite as pathetic as the bill or the grubby deal that we are effectively talking about in the chamber today.

In commending Senator O'Brien on his contribution in the chamber, I must admit that he has taken some steam out of the contribution that I had intended to make. In the latter part of his speech, he referred to an article contained in today's Australian Financial Review entitled `Consequences of compromise' by the economics editor, Alan Mitchell. It appears on page 17 of that newspaper, directly opposite another very interesting article entitled `Howard's shameful silence'. I do not want to talk about either of the articles here. Senator O'Brien has made a contribution on Mr Mitchell's article and, in order to save the time of the chamber, I will not repeat the matters that have been referred to.

In dealing with the objects of the bill which the Senate is debating at the moment, I want to draw attention to one particular part of the objectives—that is, the matter of what conditions are going to apply to workers in this country if this legislation is passed in the form that is proposed by the joint amendments put forward by the government and the Democrats.

Prior to the election in March of this year, one of the flagships of Mr Howard's electoral messages was in the industrial relations area. He said, `No worker in Australia under the Howard industrial relations policy can have his or her award conditions taken away.' That was a commendable and admirable statement made in the context of an election. One would have thought at the time that this was a core promise. This was one of the promises that was not going to be broken—like the almost 100 other promises that have been smashed in the eight short months that the government has been in office.

When the bill was introduced into this place in June of this year, everybody, not only those on this side of the chamber, recognised that core promise as smashed, breached and meant for nothing. Subsequently, the bill was referred to the Senate committee which traversed the country, taking evidence from working people, workers organisations, employer groups, employers and governments right across the length and breadth of this great land.

Still that was not enough. Even after that committee's report—a comprehensive one—had been presented to the Senate chamber, more needed to be done. The workers could have been assured by the prospect of this further work that was to be done. However, the work that was to be done on the part of the government was to get into bed with the Australian Democrats. I thought I had lived a long time and seen everything. I never thought I would see the day when the joint party rooms would consist of the Liberal Party and the National Party, a very unholy alliance at the best of times, and the Australian Democrats. I am just hoping that some day we can get some photographs of Senator Kernot sitting beside Senator Ian Macdonald in deep dialogue about matters of great import. I would love—

Senator Chris Evans —Is she the fourth faction of the Liberal Party now?

Senator McKIERNAN —I am not exactly sure if that is the fourth or maybe the 10th because you have to recollect, Senator Evans, that coming from Western Australia they bring over two very distinct factions that are unique to Western Australia and that build upon the other factions that are existing at the national level of the Liberal Party.

But I come back to the objects of this very important bill. The Democrats also went to the election with a core promise launched with great fanfare. The core promise, and I am quoting here, was they `would keep the bastards honest'. I understand `bastards' can be an offensive word and, indeed, it is offensive to some. Now with the joint amendments by the Australian Democrats and the government to the bill which is before this chamber, we find three main political parties breaching the core promises upon which they went to the election. We had Mr Howard's promise that under his government's industrial relations policy no worker in Australia can have his or her award conditions taken away. Those people have been done. That promise has been breached by this particular bill which, if passed, will become an act of parliament.

The Democrats, who went to the election saying they would keep the bastards honest—meaning that Senator Murray, Senator Kernot and Senator Stott Despoja would keep John Howard to his promise that no worker would have his or her award conditions taken away—have reneged on that agreement as well. I suppose that is politics for you. It is not a comforting thought that that should happen in this day and age. It is no wonder indeed that some people in our community are disillusioned with politicians when you see promises of this nature worth nought when push comes to shove and bills are brought before the parliament.

Now, I am hoping that somebody from the other side will come up to try to correct this impression—even from the Australian Democrats. But I suppose that in the context of this debate we should refer to `the other side' as being from where you are sitting, Senator Murray, because you are in bed together—there is no question about that—on this particular bill. I hope somebody will be able to come up to refute the claims that I am making about these core promises that have been breached.

If the promises were going to be fulfilled, where should they have appeared? They should have appeared in the bill that was presented to the parliament in June this year. They did not. The bill was referred to a committee for evidence to be taken. I know during the brief times I had the opportunity of sitting in as a participating member of the committee, in my home town of Perth and also here in Canberra, that question was addressed on many occasions to various witnesses appearing before the committee: will the bill before this committee hearing maintain Mr Howard's promises to the electorate prior to the election? The answer on every occasion, although some people did try to fudge it, was no, it would not do it.

So we get the Democrats getting into bed with the government doing a grubby, secret deal over weeks and weeks of negotiations. On that commitment to keep the bastards honest, they failed to deliver. The bastards are still dishonest and the Democrats have reneged on their commitment that they gave to the electorate prior to the election. I was very careful—

Senator Murray —I would like to take a point of order, Mr Temporary Chairman, and just correct the record through the chair—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Watson) —Sorry, there is no point of order. You may speak at the conclusion of the debate on the issue.

Senator Murray —I would like to correct a misapprehension. All the time we were fully clothed and there was a bolster between us.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —I have ruled there is no point of order. You do have the opportunity at a later date to make an explanation.

Senator McKIERNAN —Mr Temporary Chairman, I was more than happy to sit down to allow a representative of the government or the Democrats to rise in the chamber to refute the assertions that I have been making in this short contribution to discussion of the bill. I welcome Senator Murray's intervention. Unfortunately, he has not sought to refute any of the assertions, any of the accusations or any of the allegations that I have made. Whether there was a bolster there or not—I do not know what difference that makes to the thing. I know that it meant there were a number of full-colour photographs in the newspapers of Australia earlier this week when the deal was announced.

Senator West —A black tie affair too, wasn't it?

Senator McKIERNAN —It was indeed a black tie affair. As somebody who does not own a black tie—it is not bright enough for me, Senator West—I do not often get invited to these things.

Coming back to the more serious aspects of the issue: the Prime Minister made a commitment to the population of Australia that nobody would lose out. Many people bought that promise in good faith. There has been lots of debate in this chamber about the fact that some workers, and indeed I know some myself, voted for the now government on the basis of the strength of that policy. But you have let them down, Senator Campbell. You went into the election with a commitment that was unbreakable, unbreachable. Now when you have the opportunity of delivering on the promise, you desert them. You are tossing them away.

Senator Campbell —What about the workers in the seat of Lindsay?

Senator McKIERNAN —Just hold your horses for now. Rise up after me and refute the allegations that I have made. Your silence will be an acceptance that what I have been saying is completely and utterly accurate. The challenge is there, Senator Campbell. Accept the challenge. Seek to refute what I have said. I will sit down in order to allow you to do it.