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Transcript of joint press conference with the Prime Minister the Hon P.J. Keating: Grand Hyatt Hotel, Melbourne: 16 February 1993: National Rail Corporation

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PM: This is a very historic day. It is the day, I suppose one could say when we first, our first day as a nation when we have a national rail system. This is the first day as a result of the enterprise agreement which has been reached between the National Rail Corporation, the ACTIJ and the Rail Unions, which now finalised the

two year enterprise agreement. Coming to this agreement forms the basis of the operation of a national rail system across the continent on the one set of industrial rules. As you know with the Government's One Nation policies, turning the Melbourne-Adelaide rail system into a standard gauge system will mean a standard

gauge system runs really from Queensland all the way to Western Australia via Sydney and Melbourne.

Finalisation of the agreement was the condition on the release of One Nation, the remaining $270 million of One Nation funding to upgrade that rail system which, of course, is part and parcel of the development of a National Rail. Corporation and a national rail system.

The agreement actually allows for a 50 per cent increase in the efficiency of national rail when compared with rail operations in Australia. I know when these things are said people say yes, that's good, but let's remember that for most of the last half century the Fail systems of this country, it's been a case of industrial

archaeology. You can just about slip a lot of the rolling stock straight into railway museums. And to see a 50 per cent improvement in efficiency as a result of this agreement is just a quantum leap in micro-economic reform, in change, in efficiency we've had in Australia.

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The agreement is a good example of what can be achieved through co-operation and negotiation. Again it makes the point about Labor's approach to pulling out a huge real increase in efficiency and productivity in one of the most intractable areas of our industrial structure, the rail system and, of Course, in contrast need I

say to the kind of confrontation which the Opposition and Dr Hewson would promote which would never see this agreement ever be signed or entered into. The agreement consolidates the awards of five separate State based railways, covered by more than thirty separate unions into one enterprise agreement covered

only by two unions, the Public Transport Union and the Australian Services Union. So, five railways and thirty unions go into one railway and two unions. Does anyone ever think that could have been done by confrontation? By putting people onto individual contracts which, of course, have nothing to do with the way the Corporation runs, or diminishing the number of unions represented? In fact, it is only by co-operation that we've been able to see this happen.

Key features of the agreement are shift penalties, week-end payments and annual leave loadings are substituted by one aggregate payment. This is another example of the point I've been making throughout the campaign that we've got all the

flexibility we want in enterprise agreements, but what we don't want is flexibility downwards in wages. So, here you see flexibility in shift penalty rates, week-end payments and annual leave loadings all substituted by one aggregate payment. Replacement of 2,000 job classifications with nine, only nine multi-skilled

classifications. So 2,000 job classifications which have been sitting in this archaic industrial structure have gone down to nine multi-skilled classifications. How would you have done that with individual contracts a Ia Dr Hewson or a la Mr Howard? Impossible.

The elimination of work practices that prevented productivity gains: for example, train drivers will no longer be restricted in the number of kilometres they can drive in a shift and a national shift span of eleven hours has been agreed. This means that two crews can operate a freight train between Sydney and Melbourne, compared to four crews now, So two crews can do the train Sydney to Melbourne instead of four crews. The productivity and efficiency shifts, of course, are obvious.

The agreement grants wage increases in return for productivity increases, in other words there is higher wages out of this because the business is better and the business is better because it is more productive. However, these increases will be only increases available during the life of the agreement. Can I say that under the

Liberal's individual wage contracts, the status of the award which attaches this agreement just disappears, this agreement just virtually vanishes the day the awards disappear.

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What you are seeing

.:here is-an example of Labor's commitment to improving the flexibility of the economy. and co-operative enterprises and so long as the employees are not worse off in the aggregate, anything and everything can be negotiated in shifting from awards to agreements. In other words, providing we

are not actually doing damage to anybody, the flexibility involved here can be upwards, outwards, anyway, but of course, as we know Dr Hewson wants the flexibility down, he wants to cut people's wages.

The agreement is historic in this sense: it opens the way to the formal commencement of the operation of National Rail, so today you are seeing as I said at the beginning the start of Australia's first national rail system for the first time in our history and it will have the full responsibility for the marketing of interstate freight and the operations of freight terminals by the middle of the year.

The agreement is the result of the tireless work of a number people - Vince Graham, here on my left, and Barry O'Sullivan from the Corporation, Martin Ferguson on my left and Dominica Whelan of the ACTU, and the leadership of the Aw tralian Services Union and the Public Transport Union, and need I say, the

whole process has been promoted and has been encouraged by my colleague the Minister for Land Transport, Bob Brown, on my right.

What you are seeing here is something truly historic and again, why didn't the Liberals do this in thirty years of office? Why didn't they ever decide that one or two train services between Sydney and Melbourne a day was absurd? And to have

trucks racing up and down the highways, breaking them up and killing people while they are at it, was, of course, something we couldn't stand. Why did it have to wait, as always, for a Labor government to pull it all together and do it again in the area that's most debilitating to State budgets, those huge State rail deficits

which, of course, have debilitated almost every State budget across the Commonwealth? What you've seen here is a truly huge national change, delivered by co-operation, by good will and common sense, co-operation between the Commonwealth and the State governments, co-operation between the

Commonwealth and the State rail systems, co-operation between the rail authority and the trade unions, the ACTU was the peak union body and the constituent unions as we say there, thirty separate unions agreeing to one enterprise agreement and covered by the coverage of two unions. A huge transformation, all done

without one day lost, without a dispute, without chaos, smoothly, co-operatively, decently, kindly and productively. I think with those few words I might invite Bob to speak.

BB: Thanks very much PauL Could I say ladies and gentlemen that the comments that have just been made by the Prime Minister in no way overstate the historic importance of the this occasion. There has never been an event in the history of the Commonwealth which has been as important as this development as far as national rail freight is concerned. This is the decision of this century. Arising from

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• this' we are^going . to seethe national-rail-highway that-the Prime Minister has referred to completed_ between Brisbane and Perth. We are going to see a 50 per cent increase in rail productivity and as the Prime Minister has indicated a reduction in the number of classifications from over 2,000 to nine multi-skilled

classifications and a reduction of almost 30 trade unions to two. As the Prime Minister has indicated, to achieve results of that kind can only be guaranteed by the sort of co-operation which has existed and occurred between National Rail, repre sented by Vince Graham and his colleagues, and the AC'I"U and the rail

unions, represented by Martin Ferguson and Dominica Whelan, and the period of time which they have committed themselves to bring about an enterprise agreement that wound make it possible for the first time in Australia's history to move rail fr eight across Australia - north, south, east west - with one organisation

managing it and in the process over the first three years of that operation to eliminate a continuing annual deficit on these services, an aggregate deficit of something approaching $400 million. So the whole of the national economy and the whole of the national community benefit from this exercise.

I want to congratulate the AGE and the rail unions, and I want to congratulate National. Rail as well for being effective so soon in bringing about an achievement of this kind which, to a very large extent, now symbolises the type of national vision that Prime Minister Keating has been attempting to develop and attempting

to promote. If you look at that map behind me, the absence of those State boundaries is not accidental. As far as rail freight 15 concerned on this continent we have torn them down. When we look at that, we look at One Nation, and of course that was the title and the symbol of an important statement that the Prime Minister presented in February of last year and that $270 million now that this

agreement will release will go into the improvement of north, south, east, west main line rail and other rail developments of importance to Austra li a now and increasingly into the future. I do congratulate the Prime Minister for the level of support and commitment which he brought to this exercise, to this venture,

I conclude in congratulating again the necessary high level of commitment on the

part of the ACrU and the rail unions without whose co-operation as the Prime Minister indicated so clearly this achievement would simply have been impossible. And also, of course, on the part of Ted Butcher, the Chairman of National Rail, Vince Graham, Barry O'Sullivan all of those people who have worked so hard and

with such commitment to bring it about and the symbolism, ladies and gentlemen, now, as I say from that map behind us indicating Australia's rail freight now will operate across one nation as one nation and that's now going to be formalised in the agreement, the enterprise agreement which will now be signed on behalf of the

ACTU by Martin Ferguson and on behalf of the National Rail by Vince Grahann. ] invite both of them to do so.

PM: Fll just witness those signatures and I think it may be appropriate to invite members of the media to address some questions to any member of the panel.


Mr-Keating, isn't this agreement in fact months overdue, wasn't this supposed to be finalised by the middle of last year and why the delay?

PM: I think Michelle (Grattan) it's probably about 75 years overdue, that's probably closer to it.

J: Yes, but more specifically in One Nation wasn't it due by the middle of last year?

PM: It was due in the second half of the year, it's taken us more time, but what a dagger of an agreement, what a dagger. Thirty unions down to two, five rail systems into one wasn't it worth the wait?

J; Accept that that money was also needed to ...

PM: My God, you area tough judge Michelle (Grattan). Seventy five years in the making this has been, at least seventy five years in the making, it is phenomenal. You don't see this in nations. In what other federal system are you going to see these sort of things happen'? it is a phenomenal co-operative change, there is no

place for pedanticism in this issue.

J: Does this indicate the co-operative approach is very slow?

PM: Very slow, we started on this about two years, the unco-operative approach meant it never happened in thirty years of Liberal government. You do concede it's the point don't you? It is undeniable isn't it?

J: Will the remaining One Nation money be available immediately, wasn't some of that money referred into other projects and put off ...

PM: It's only a matter of what can be scheduled in this year. Because again, these are engineering works and engineering studies have got to be up to scratch to actually start them off.

J; So who much will be spent this financial year, later in this financial year?

BB: Already we have allocated or approved projects to the value of $181 million, the other $270 million that I indicated was dependent upon the conclusion of the enterprise agreement_ Already we've spent $40 million our of those initial allocations and we would expect now as soon as the last series of studies are

completed to be able to get as much of that $270 million into place as quickly as we possibly can. Could I just say in connection with this, because I think it helps to put the question into perspective, when we allocated those funds in the first place, you will recall that some of the spending was to be delayed from this current financial years. One of the reasons for that was the very reason for which the

Federal government made this commitment in the first place, the State systems

where simply not geared up, they simply had not projects ready to run and when T said to them as the Minister representing the Federal government that what we wanted them to do was to take some of those plans, some of those projects out of the drawers, they said, what plans and what projects? There was nothing in the past which would have given them any reason to believe that capital investment on

this level would have been available to them. So for that reason it really amounted to our starting from scratch in the identification of the projects, in the determination of the projects, in the planning of them, in the approvals for them. As I say, $181 million out of the $454 million has already been approved and as from today, with the approval of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet having now

satisfied that requirement we can now start writing the approvals for the other $270 million.

J: Mr Ferguson, are you serving notice that you will disappear if agreement disappears and the ACTU would not negotiate with a Hewson government on keeping this project going?

PM: The Liberal's are serving notice.

MF: The unions are not serving notice at all. It is the Coalition that is on record as saying that it is out to destroy the award system, to rip away the achievement that is before you today, to rip away the new culture, the team effort which now prevails in the National Corporation and to provide it with individual contacts,

workers pitched one against another, workers pitched against thanagement. The key element of this agreement and the ongoing process of work place bargaining in this country as a new culture, a change in attitude, a commitment to ongoing reform and just look at the possible achievements under this new National Rail.

Corporation agreement. An improvement in productivity of 50 per cent. John Hewson says that the system is a failure, all I can say is that the real problem with John Hewson is that he just doesn't understand industrial relations and the need for people to work together.

J: So do you see industrial warfare as a result?

MF; Again, I refer to, if anything, the record of John Hewson and I cast my mind back to the Burnie dispute. The union movement did everything possible to avoid that dispute at Buernie. It is a dispute of which this country cannot be proud, but it was John Hews on who in the middle of that dispute, without ascertaining the facts

and I quote from the Herald-Sun of 14 May 1992, and he said "You've got to have some sympathy for these, that is, the Company's position in this dispute at this time". Frankly, it was John Hewson who went out and said if we can have industrial disputes and industrial war at Burnie then I`ve got sympathy with companies such as APPM. So for as the union movement is concerned, we are

absolutely committed to the ongoing process of workplace reform in this country


in a co-operative way. and more importantly• our record is second to none. The reduction in industrial disputation since 1959 is the lowest level achieved for any month, but more importantly it represents since March 1983 when the Coalition was last in Govemrnent, a -reduction in industrial disputation in this country of the

order of 62 per cent. We don't want industrial war, John Hewson does.

PM: Can I j ust add to Martin's point and say this. What would it profit the five State rail systems if each individual were put onto a contract with that particular rail system? Where would the agreement come across to work shifts of eleven hours, of only two crews, the number of kilometres? If you don't do this in a group way,

how do you do it individually? How can an individual contract displace an enterprise agreement, because you see the Liberals always promised enterprise agreements, but never ever gave it to us. What they've given us is a miserable

master and servant common law contract where that is the whole change. How would the individual contract abolish 2,000 classifications and tern them into nine multi-skilled classifications? It is a lemon. The Liberal's industrial relations policy is a lemon. And not only that it is really about cutting wages. It is not an

industrial relations approach, it is a wage cutting approach and that's what it is all about. It is nothing like this, there is no decency or invention in any of their policies like this and that's why we've had five archaic rail systems for most of the post-War years up until now, it's because they haven't the wit, the humanity, or the

courage to go and do it.

J: What effect is this going to have on the size national railways?

VG: I think progressively had this agreement not been put in place the inevitability was that rail would have surrendered its market totally on interstate freight to the road industry. That would have inevitably prolonged the decline in rail numbers in the existing rail systems who have suffered over the last decade from a lack of

investment not only in track, but in the trains necessary to run a modern rail system. What this agreement is about is a survival strategy for that business and for those employees. At this point in time, there's probably more than five or six thousand employees around Australia in rail systems who depend and their families depend for their livelihood on the success of this Corporation's activities. So this agreement today is very much about the continuing employment, about the saving

of those five thousand jobs around the country which would have inevitably disappeared as a result of the improving competitiveness of the road industry. No one owes rail a living out there in the market place, it is totally deregulated, we depend for our success on our ability to put a price and a service package in place

and I have no doubt what so ever that had this agreement, had this investment not been forthcoming then we would have been staring in the face of the job looses of thousands of individuals and thousands of families around this country.

J: Mr Brawn, how will this interface with the proposed rail award project, how is that going to work with a private, if you like, rail system operating under a


industrial relations system that the Coalition is pushing versus a public system operating under the system that you are foreshadowing?.

BB: There are two groups that have shown some interested in the Rail North proposal, one of them is Rail North itself, the other one is Morrison and Knudsen. That hasa't progressed to any significant extent at this stage. I know that it is a matter which has come back onto the agenda now as a result of some recent statements,

but 1 think it is important for us to realise that the comments that have been made about that project and the Very Fast Train project, both of which would represent a cost to the Federal government of about $1.5 billion have now either been promised or a promise has been implied by the Coalition, they intend to fund that out of their $3 billion re-build Australia fund. That $3 billion has gone already, $1.5 billion for Alice Springs-Darwin, $1.5 billion for the Very Fast Train and they

haven't even started on all of the other things that they said they would cover with that re-build Australia fund including education systems, water reticulation, electricity generation, airports, roads, it's all gone in two rail ventures ... including

the leader of the Coalition Dr Hewson to go around Australia dispensing largesse and spreading promises around like confetti. It is a fraud, it is a hoax, it's gone already and if you include as well some of the other commitments that they've made, including a dual divided carriage way from Penrith to Bathurst, that's

another $600 million to a billion dollars, and in addition to that there have been a whole series of other projects that they've announced including branch rail lines in Queensland, additional funding for the commitments to the Pacific Highway, in addition to the record level of funding the present Federal government has made

available so the re-build Australia fund not only for Alice Springs-Darwin as I say is a fraud, it is a hoax.

It is a cheap means for them to attract some attention from the electors of the Northern Territory who have already dismissed them

PM: Can I also say that for all of this year, Dr Hewsoa fed you in the media the diet that these sorts of policies were fiscal vandalism, that we didn't need a fiscal stimulus, You remember his throw away speech after the Budget which he delivered extemporaneously, decrying fiscal spending, fiscal stimulus and capital

works projects.

Of course, he turned all that around in December at the Press Club and now its in vogue, we're actually doing something that should have been done here 100 years ago to tam the national rail system, five State rail systems into one, we are doing it with the dual affect of lifting employment by these capital expenditures for long term benefit. These were always One Nation, always had substantial huge national projects, but they also fulfilled the dual role of a stimulus for the economy. Dr Hewson told all of you for a year it was wrong, wrong, wrong, it was vandalism

and then of course, in his mea culpa at the Press Club on December 20 or what ever it was, he said it's OK, and everyone said well, that's OK, good.

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J: Prime Minister, I notice you are throwing a few hard punches today, have you resolved the differences in your campaign on how you should approach ...

PM: We don't have differences, that's only peek-a-boo key hole journalism, for basically lazy minds wanting easy stories.


PM: I'm going to see all you darling lot at Toyota, so why don't we have a little gab-fest out there.

J: Mr Ferguson just before you go, how confident are you of reaching an Accord before the election day and how important for the AC IJ and ALP, how important is that schedule?

MF: Firstly T think we will reach an understanding with the Federal government on Friday, but if anything it is part of on going process and the key to that process is the reform of work places and that will be a central element of the outcome of negotiations on Friday. The other important element is the question of equity.

Nothing new, on going Commitment, support for reform in association with the managing change of this country in a humanitarian way.

PM: Thank you one and all