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Transcript of doorstop interview: Melbourne: 15 August 1999



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“THE HON PETER REITH MP ..... 7 MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND SMALL BUSINESS LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

PARLIAMENT HOUSE CANBERRA ACT 2600

15 August 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON PETER REITH MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, MELBOURNE

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REITH:

The facts of reform in Australia in recent years do undermine the claims being made by certain members of the clergy today, for example, the percentage of casual employees working less than one year has between the period of 1996 to 1998 has actually fallen from 47% to 41% according to the Bureau of Australia Statistics. Those casuals with more than

five years employment, namely being in the one job for more than five years, has actually increased from 18% in 1996 to 21% in 1998. And overall casual employment of part-timers has in fact fallen under the Coalition which completely denies the claims that we are furthering and entrenching the so called concerns that people have in regards to casual employment.

In terms of people who are on low incomes, again the official figures show that in the time of the operation of the Workplace Relations Act and in fact since this Government has been in office the wages of low income people have in fact been increasing over 7% compared to the fall they had under the system that we inherited from Labor. The fall under Labor’s thirteen

years was about 5% in real terms for low income people and of course the employment figures last week demonstrate that the reforms that we have introduced as part of the Government’s overall economic reform process has given Australia the lowest level of employment in ten years. We simply want to build on the sensible reforms that we have

already introduced and which have produced these very good results and which completely deny the claims made by the rhetorical assertions of these clergymen. Obviously they are entitled to their point of view, but the facts of the Government’s reform process are entirely different to the claims that they are making.

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JOURNALIST:

So you will reject the claim that the legislation is unjust?

REITH:

Well, our legislation has provided for more jobs, higher income for low income people and has actually reduced casualisation, rather than increasing the casualisation. The casualisation that we have seen in the Australian economy by and large occurred under the system that we inherited from Labor and the reforms that we have introduced can be demonstrated by official ABS figures to show a better outcome then what is was when we took over.

JOURNALIST:

They’re very concerned about collective bargaining being whisked away as a right of people who really can’t negotiate individual (inaudible), women for example who don’t speak much english........

REITH:

Well, those groups have actually been better off under the system that we have introduced. I mean they are official figures, the low income real wage increases have been over 7%. Under the system which Labor had in office, the income for those people actually declined by 5%, So there are more jobs and better pay and those are official ABS statistics.

JOURNALIST:

But are they doing better because of the individual contracts?

REITH:

No they’re doing better as a result of by and large decisions made by the Australia Industrial Relations Commission in respect of wage levels. That is the system that we put in place and of course in terms of employment that reflects the, not only the Workplace Relations Act changes that we have made, but the broader changes that we have made to the Australian economy leading to reduced interest rates, more productive enterprises and the like. Now all

the facts and figures, all the official facts and figures show that people on the low end of the socia-economic scale have been doing significantly better since this Government’s reforms were put in place. Now those who wish to attack our reforms would like to demonstrate with

official figures rather than rhetoric where their concerns lie, well, we are obviously happy to sit down and talk with them. But every piece of economic evidence shows that what we have been doing by way of labour market reforms has actually helped people who need a bit of help and need a system which looks after their interests, as well as providing a better

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economic system for Australian business generally.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) all individual contracts that don’t really do much for private workers, young people really don’t know (inaudible)?

REITH:

Well there have been sixty thousand Australian Workplace Agreements and again you can demonstrate for those people those agreements have been providing more family-friendly provisions, have provided outcomes which those people have happily consented to. To attack individual agreements, whether they are AWA’s or other informal arrangements, does not in my view substantiate real concerns that people have about people on low incomes. I mean how could one possibly say that when all the facts are entirely to the contrary.

JOURNALIST:

Is there any working room at all in these negotiations Mr Reith?

REITH:

We will sit down with the Democrats in due course. We have got a Senate enquiry process which we’re obviously happy to have and will certainly take submissions. I’ve been having discussions with some of the church groups and we’re very happy to continue to have those discussions. They have to be, however, on an informed basis and we are very happy for

people to put facts and figures to us and to demonstrate to us in a genuine way the concerns that they have. But I would have to say with great respect to those attacking the Government, I mean just sort of empty rhetorical flourishes when they are so obviously contrary to official figures and statistics, doesn’t advance their course much.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible)

REITH:

I’m very happy to meet them, I’m very happy to meet them. We’ve had, as I say, a number of discussions already with church groups and the like and we’re very interested to hear what they’ve got to say. But, as I say, it’s got to be on a factual basis.

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JOURNALIST:

Are these people representative do you think of the parishioners out there or do you think that these people have some sort of an agenda?

REITH:

Oh look I don’t question people’s motives, they’re entitled to their point of view and we’re quite interested to hear their point of view.

JOURNALIST:

Are you a church goer yourself Mr Reith?

REITH:

Well, I’m happy to answer these criticisms I don’t think we need to go any further than that.

JOURNALIST:

Can I just ask you on another matter Peter Costello this morning that really now is the time to decide one way or the other on a republic, but if there is a no vote, he fears that there will be an endless repetition of this debate, do you agree with that view?

REITH:

The views that I have on this issue I've put out in a comprehensive paper a couple of weeks ago and I encourage you to read it.

JOURNALIST:

Do you fear an endless future repetition of the debate?

REITH:

What I fear is that some people in the media think that the republic is a far more important issue than people getting a job. I’m pretty interested in employment and small business and getting on with the reform of the labour market because for most Australian’s that is a significant issue and it’s the issue in which they voted back in October last year.

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JOURNALIST:

Meg Lees has also said that if the republic doesn’t get up now it's going to take another two Governments to (inaudible), what do you think of that scenario?

REITH:

Oh well, I am sure those Australians who are interested in the details in all these matters will look back on the history of referenda in Australia and they will make up their own minds.

JOURNALIST:

You seemed to be so interested a couple of weeks ago and now you’re not keen on any of this debate any more?

REITH:

Well, I have put a point of view and I have put in on the public record, the reason for putting it out in a way-that I did was so that there would be answer to every question that you could think of between now and the 6,h of November.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible)

REITH:

The only other issue I would say in respect of Oakdale is that the Government is obviously concerned about that issue. There are obviously pros and cons in the public debate on whether or not the long service leave funds should be used. It should be remember the long service leave fund is like superannuation, it’s like taking superannuation monies and saying

they should be used for redundancy funds, those funds have been put aside by the industry for long service leave. That fund contrary to claims being made is not fully funded and on the advice that I have will certainly not be fully funded in the Year 2003. It is a pot of money in the same way that the CFMEU has twelve million dollars in a strike fund which they’ve not

been prepared to assist with the Oakdale workers. Finding a solution to this needs to address the problems of having a source of funds which can be ongoing as we look at not just Oakdale, but other circumstances where companies have gone broke. We estimate that there is something between seventeen thousand on one estimate or twenty one thousand people a year who are ending up with nothing or virtually nothing as a result of insolvency and

obviously we need to look at a scheme that is fair to everybody.

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JOURNALIST:

The question is how long will it take to decide?

REITH:

Well, I said to the Oakdale guys last week that we would like to have an answer on it sooner rather than later for them. A national scheme would be a further matter beyond Oakdale, so we’ve not linked the two contrary to their claims. We would like to deal with their circumstance, but we also need to be thinking about how we are going to be deal with the issue in the future. So I would hope that we could deal with Oakdale sooner than later and then beyond that we could look further at a national scheme, knowing, however, the general direction which we might be going.

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