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Wednesday, 30 November 2005
Page: 137

Senator JOYCE (6:27 PM) —The unrepresentative and bullying days of the unions are over, and it is the end of the funding mechanism of the Australian Labor Party. The Labor Party has to move to a new horizon and stop believing that representing 17 per cent—and falling—of the Australian private sector work force is a reason to believe that it has the right to govern Australia for all. The Labor Party has to take a leaf from Tony Blair’s book and move on. Maybe that is an ominous sign for the current leadership in the Australian Labor Party. The whole farce of open ballots, antagonism and standover tactics in the workplace is a dead or dying art form, and it is great to preside over the end of those bitter days—so prevalent in the past—when all on a work site had to participate in unions out of threat rather than conviction.

The new Australia is the vision of small business, with the entrepreneurial spirit being the powerhouse driving us forward. Today is the era of the efficient enterprise working for a profit that is only limited by effort and managerial skill. The greatest fear the local electrician has is that his work force will one day become his competition. Guess what? They will. This promotes the idea that if you think for yourself early you will work for yourself later. The automatism of being shackled to awards has to be taken over by self-determination of one’s own future.

However, the government must protect the vulnerable and keep the basic social infrastructure in place for a harmonious and continuous Australian culture. We have spent a great deal of time making sure that we amend this legislation to protect the intent of the lower house while maintaining the protections for those who are the most vulnerable. To this purpose, and with my Senate colleagues in this house, we have secured amendments. These are noted in the committee report and additional items.

The process of the Senate and its committees has called for, and shall secure, amendments on such items as outworker provisions, prohibited content, AWA terminations, apprenticeship provisions, averaging of hours and annual leave. It was the work of the National Party in this chamber that has also secured amendments on pay periods—the whole debunking of the myth that you can only get paid yearly. Obviously, that will default to fortnightly, so we have come in on that.

The National Party has come in and protected the iconic public holidays—in fact, all public holidays. So there will be a Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Anzac Day and Australia Day. When you have Christmas this year, you can thank the National Party for protecting that day. It is better than penalty rates because it protects your right, if you so choose, not to go to work. You cannot be sacked, and they cannot change your conditions because you have not gone to work. You must get paid ordinary hours if you are at home with your children. So the only alternative for the employer is to offer you something far more substantial than what you get paid for staying at home, and you still have the right that they cannot sack you. It is better than penalty rates.

The closure of loopholes is another National Party success story. We will be closing the loopholes for organisations so that a middle manager in a large organisation does not have the unencumbered right of dismissal over you. We do that because we think it is fair and just. It is another amendment that the National Party have secured in working with this legislation. The legislation is being taken to the High Court to confirm or otherwise its constitutional validity and the protection of states’ rights. I am sure the full bench of the High Court has a better idea of states’ rights than I. State awards will still exist, and there will still be a vast number of employees in the state public service, for instance, who will not be affected by this.

The new system has a range of safeguards. The Fair Pay Commission will be operational and representative of all. While ensuring fair outcomes and balancing competing demands, it will protect those who are most vulnerable. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission is conducting the 2005 safety net review, and the new minimum wage that comes out of this process will be locked in following this review and will continue to increase through future decisions made by the Fair Pay Commission. As is the case now, where very few get paid at the award and the vast majority get paid above it, this will continue under the Fair Pay Commission by reason of the demand for labour being greater than the supply due to the National-Liberal management of the economy.

Dignity and respect will remain the vestige of the Australian character and laws. The final protection mechanism will remain in place to give all employees a safety net, just in case any employer forgets and decides that they will chance their arm with exploitation. The Nationals have sought assurances that the Office of the Employment Advocate and the Office of Workplace Services will be spread over the nation, and officers will be in places such as Emerald, Toowoomba, Charleville and Townsville. The Employment Advocate will afford everyone—everyone—protection without the indignity of being forced to pay union membership fees, a proportion of which are siphoned off to support political parties and political campaigns, regardless of the convictions of the members.

Very few employers will have any hope of attaining their labour requirements if all they offer is the safety net and their competitors are offering more. Remember the primary purpose of these changes is simplification of a system that governs employment in Australia. We must simplify a system that allows for the ridiculous situation of having one workplace being governed by rules and regulations from differing jurisdictions—a situation that has led to small organisations expending resources on administering paper rather than engaging in productive activities. By modernising and simplifying the industrial relations system, we will give the many mums and dads who run many of our small businesses the confidence that they can employ people, allowing them to expand their businesses, seek out new opportunities or simply have some time off for themselves.

Finally, the legislation will be the judgment of the Australian people, who at the next election will have the opportunity, if they so wish, to give the strongest message possible on how they feel about the government’s direction. No legislation of any type is locked in for perpetuity, and the purpose of the government is to match the legislation to the requirements of the times. If in times to come changes are required, changes will be made. This is Capital Hill, not Mount Sinai, and legislation is drafted on paper and not handed down in stone. It is convenient to promote the argument that the world will change as of next week, but it will not, and those who have said that it will are going to look a little foolish when it does not come to pass.

So the Senate has been assured of these amendments. Much to the surprise of my good colleagues on the other side who now have egg on their faces, what they said we would not get we are securing right at this moment—there is a joint party meeting as I speak—and that is those amendments. It is convenient to promote the argument. So the Senate has been assured of these amendments, the majority of which have been raised by the Senate committee. This is yet another indication of the operation of the Senate continuing as a separate house and unaffected in its commitment to its role, regardless of its political make-up.

The dignity and purpose of this house shall continue on. The apocryphal bards have predicted the demise of the government so often that the masses are starting to doubt these palace shamans as they continue falling over, frothing at the mouth and predicting the end of the world. Yet every year we seem to get wealthier in real terms and, as a nation, stronger. In this instance, my good colleagues on the other side have put all their eggs in the one basket that this IR chariot is pulled by every horse of the apocalypse and, if Australians find that their world does not end, they may just start to believe that, instead of a reasoned opposition who suggested constructive changes, you are morphing into the little boy who cried wolf just one too many times. The unfortunate thing about crying wolf for the opposite side is that you actually have to deliver the wolf, and when you continue to fail to produce the specimen you all end up looking unreliable.

The interesting thing for the future will be what path federally the Labor Party take, as they realise the well of trade unionism has run dry and now they must be brave enough to build a party that inspires a new constituency. It is essential for Australian democracy that they do, and although I belong to the government I wish them all the best and will watch with interest. If they fail, the Greens, who are continuing to eat into their constituency, will eat further into the left-hand side of the Labor Party, and the National Party and others on this side will reach further into the right-hand side. The Australian Labor Party have to stop holding out the forlorn hope that there will be a depression and that the associated misery will inspire new membership for them.

You have to get smarter and move forward in the paradigm of the new social economic conditions. The 1930s ‘Comrade, how are you?’ lingua franca is anachronistic, ridiculous and insincere. For the punters on the street, it makes their flesh creep. They wonder where you have been for the last 70 years. If they grew up in Latham’s happy Green Valley, they certainly do not want to go back there.

The basis of a viable social structure is high employment and structured endeavour that leads to a robust, broad based economy. The major job that accountants now do in regional towns and metropolitan cities is set up new businesses with new ABNs. All of these new National Party and Liberal Party voters are making the move to self-determination. It is a wonderful feeling and a wonderful thing to see. We make sure we monitor the process closely so they are not getting exploited, but generally they are just getting wealthier, with a higher sense of self-esteem and a clearer destiny.

Senator Sterle interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Ferguson)—Senator Sterle, Senator Joyce listened to a provocative speech in silence. I expect him to be listened to in silence as well. There will be no interjecting.

Senator JOYCE —Those opposite should take note of the fact that there are now over 5.1 million active ABNs in Australia. That is more than in union membership, by the way. We have been so successful in putting people into business that it is very hard to find spare labour. If you have your labour to sell, you can ask for a premium price. What we have seen over the past few years with the introduction of AWAs are flexible arrangements within workplaces which better match employee and employer needs to the benefit of both groups.

We have seen examples such as Diana Williams, an Australian Business Woman of the Year, who has an almost 3,000-strong work force on AWAs. These agreements allowed flexibility which enabled very generous maternity leave arrangements as part of the working agreement. It is this flexibility that both employees and employers are demanding. There are vast numbers of plant operators and workers on mine sites in my state—and I imagine in yours, Senator Sterle—that get paid far more than us here in this house. One hundred and sixty thousand dollars a year is not unusual. There are a lot of people here who are not seeing that money. If a wage is determined by supply and demand, there is a greater demand for plant operators on mine sites than there is for federal senators. That is where our economy is and we have to accept an industrial relations policy that deals with that environment. I am sure that the mine workers of Mount Isa are happy with their pay, but the mine site needs more workers. There may be a few here who, after the next election, will have a better paying future in that new line of work.

This legislation is designed for Australia’s needs. We must match the rules and regulations that govern these aspirations to these times. Australia wants and votes for—listen to this—a government that is brave enough to lead. To lead means to look forward and head in that direction, dealing with the issues as they arise. To date, as with so many things, those opposite have failed to understand that the worker of 2005 is vastly different to the one their grandfather grew up with in 1932, comrades.