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Transcript of doorstop interview: Canberra: 1 September 1999



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THE HON PETER REITH M P ^

MINISTER FOR EMPL0YMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND SMALL BUSINESS LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

PARLIAMENT HOUSE CANBERRA ACT 2600

1 September 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON PETER REITH MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW, CANBERRA

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I have great fears that the Labor Party is preparing a tactic to reverse the position they’ve only just taken on junior wage rates. There are press reports this morning of the Labor Party adopting a different position on junior wage rates. The ACTU yesterday, when asked to comment on the issue said “no comment”, which is surprising indeed given their strong

outbursts when the decision was made. We also have some behind the scenes information that the Labor Party is in discussions with the ACTU to see if they can recover some ground on the junior rates issue.

I find all this quite incredible given that it was part of the negotiated settlement with the Labor Party that the issue would, as a result of our agreement put the issue of junior wage rates behind us. In fact our commitment that we would take no further action on this issue was made by us because they requested that of us and we were happy to do so because we felt that the outcome was a fair and reasonable one.

We now know that the Senate is not going to deal with the issue this week. That is a very convenient ploy for the Labor Party not to confront and confirm the issue. I have no doubt that that was a reassurance given to the ACTU and that of course allows the trade union movement to continue to put the pressure on Mr Beazley. He is well known for giving way to pressure of that sort, as has been revealed in the Blewett diaries this week.

It would be an absolute outrage if Mr Beazley backed off on the position which he has publicly endorsed. He went so far as to say that the amendments that were passed in the House of Representatives were his own amendments. I don’t think there is much doubt that he is looking to see if he can find a way out of it. That might be by putting up other

amendments.

Telephone: (02) 6277 7320 Fax: (02) 6273 4115 1

We believe that he may have had some discussions with some members of the Democrats to get them to put up amendments which would be unacceptable. The fact is that he agreed to the package last week. Every last dot, every “t” crossed, every “i” dotted and any further amendments, you know, parliamentary tricks, tactics between the Labor Party using the

Democrats opposition to junior rates would all be completely unacceptable and would be just another back down by Mr Beazley on an absolutely critical issue.

It was absolutely critical that we agreed that the matter be behind us because we wanted certainty for employers in their decisions to give young people a job. Now the issue ought to be dealt with in the Parliament this week. The Labor Party find it convenient not to have it go through the Senate this week, but it was part of the agreement that would put the whole matter behind us. So, Mr Beazley in announcing his new approach about no deals, which I find hard to believe given the fact that he done a deal with us the week before and now seems to be lining up some arrangement with the Democrats to suit his purposes in giving the ACTU something back on junior rates.

JOURNALIST:

It sounds like you don’t trust the Opposition, why did you do the deal in the first place?

REITH:

Well, it was a fair deal and it is a good deal for young people in terms of securing their jobs or providing the prospects for jobs in the future. It was a sensible thing to do. It was the Government’s policy, that’s the reason we were prepared to let the legislation go through. It was our policy and when we can get the numbers to put our policy through of course we would support it. And of course I was happy to say that we wouldn’t be taking any further

legislative initiatives, why would we? That was our proposal and we got our proposal through.

Now we have reports that he is just going to do another back flip and this will be again evidence that for all what he says, the fact is that on these issues he’s under a hell of a lot of pressure by the ACTU. I mean it is unbelievable, extraordinary, bizarre for the ACTU yesterday when asked on the issue to say “no comment”. Well, they’ve got a hell of a lot of comments to make, but there all at Mr Beazley and the signs are that he’s starting to give way. Now that would be a disaster for jobs in this country. Australia is doing so well in creating jobs, but to now put a cloud over the future of young people is grossly irresponsible and shows you what a weak leader he is.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Reith on workers entitlements your extending the coal industry fund to other miners, is that it or could it be extended even further?

Telephone: (02) 6277 7320 Fax: (02) 6273 4115

REITH:

It’s extension is only to those people who have contributed to the long service leave coal industry fund, so the Merrywood people are in exactly the same position as Oakdale. For other people the fact is that there are no other funds in other industries and that is why it is important that we look at having a national scheme.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible) workers at a meeting at ten o’clock this morning at Parliament House to say their missing 1.8 million dollars, have they got any chance of joining the Oakdale in there?

REITH:

Well, the don’t have access to a fund. We are getting some further advice on that, I mean my advice is that all wages have been paid, that all annual leave entitlements can be covered, all long service leave can be covered, so, we need to get some further information about that. I mean where we can chase matters up then obviously we’re happy to do so in the way that we did with Cobar. But it simply reinforces the point that Australia needs to look at having a national scheme and that is why the Government is pushing on with the issue. It is of course H r y ■ V V : r·" something that the Labor Party was never prepared to do and we are now looking at it.

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Telephone: (02) 6277 7320 Fax: (02) 6273 4115 3