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Transcript of doorstop: Australian Nursing Federation, Melbourne: 14 July 2005: IR reforms; Palmer Report; threat of suicide bombers in Australia; troop deployment to Afghanistan; ASIO powers.

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Subjects: IR reforms; Palmer Report; Threat of suicide bombers in Australia; Troop deployment to Afghanistan; ASIO Powers

BEAZLEY: We’re here with the nurses because they are in the frontline in the struggle against John Howard’s extreme Industrial Relations legislation. John Howard and his Government are extremists. What they are doing is taking away the rights which underpin family life in this country. In the case of the nurses, who have extremely difficult jobs to do, the focus here is on the leave entitlements which they absolutely need if they are not to burn out in our service

and if they are not to have their families crippled by the demands that are upon then. In the case of long service leave, John Howard’s legislation would at least halve what the entitlements are now of nurses in this country. In the cases of sick leave John Howard’s legislation would at least halve that. In the case of

annual leave it would take it down by at least a third, probably more, probably take it down by two-thirds.

Now, we’re just dealing here with the leave issues because the leave issues are the things which stop burn-out. Which ensure that sick nurses don’t walk into hospitals and infect people, and which ensure that, on an annual basis, they have some time with their families. We could also, if we wanted to, in this gathering talk about shift allowances which are nurses’ equivalent often of overtime payments and the overtime payments, the penalties are also what John Howard intends in his extreme laws to rip out of the system. Now, this is a fight which is going to go through to the next election. This is not going to go away, it will flow into and out of public attention, but this is now so basic to what it means to be an Australian, the life of the ordinary Australian, that it will continue down to election day.

Also, here in this room is a woman who was unfairly dismissed but reinstated because the union could bargain for her. Many people who are unfairly dismissed don’t have unions bargaining for them. But what her concern was was not that she was demanding an extra $100.00 or she was demanding time off or she was demanding this or that. She was sacked because she went to her employer and said “unqualified people should not be distributing medicine”. And for that, she was dismissed. The union had her reinstated. It is John Howard’s intention in his extreme legislation to cower the workforce and a consequence of

cowering the workforce is a protection for all Australians gets removed. In the case of nurses, the hospitals behave in a correct way with their patients. In the case of licensed aircraft maintenance engineers, that a hundred hour checks are done properly and so on. So, it is when we are struggling here for the basic rights of Australian workers we’re struggling about more than just simply an extra ten bucks a week or whatever. What we’re struggling for here is the quality of Australian society. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: What guarantee were you able to offer them (inaudible) at the next election?

BEAZLEY: We will absolutely guarantee this: the awards that they have must reflect the character of the work that they do. So we would put in all the things that John Howard is cutting out in relation to the ability to get the leave I’ve

been talking about. The shift allowances I’ve been talking about. The unfair dismissal regime I’ve been talking about. All these things. We absolutely guarantee that we will put in place, via our legislation or via what we permit the Industrial Relations Commission. To do and we would have a powerful Industrial Relations Commission. One that was capable of enforcing good faith bargaining on both parties, both employers and employees. We guarantee that.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, on another issue Peter Beattie has called for national ID cards in the lead-up to the Cornelia Rau case being solved so that doesn’t happen again, what’s your take on that?

BEAZLEY: My take is we need a Royal Commission on Rau. We need a Royal Commission on Alvarez Solon; we need a Royal Commission on the hundred similar cases. We’ve got a mess on our hands in the Department, and the starting point of getting things right in immigration, getting things right in border protection is getting the right department and we will not get the right department until we get a Royal Commission in place and until an effective Minister is put in place. They found a sort of Pacific solution, if you like, for the head of the department but they haven’t found one Vanstone.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Palmer Report can address the problems and the issues appropriately?

BEAZLEY: It’s not enough. What John Howard runs away from all the time is he has a dysfunctional department. You cannot protect your borders with a mess. You cannot protect your borders with a dysfunctional department. And

what John Howard has to do is to give himself a chance. And the only way he can give himself a chance is a decent Royal Commission to do a ground-up review. A fine job may well have been done by Mr Palmer on the Rau case but think of how much more might have come out on that if he had been given Royal Commission examination powers, we’d have had a lot more knowledge of the mess. It’s got to be changed. It’s got to be changed now.

JOURALIST: On another issue, Mr Howard has said we can’t rule out suicide bombers here in Australia. Do you agree with him?

BEAZLEY: I think Mr Howard, having said something as dramatic as that, needs to be a bit more explanatory. I think to this point in the way in which the Federal Government has presented themselves, they’ve given an impression, and certainly to us, in our briefings, an impression they’re on top of things and that they have some knowledge where potential threats lie to Australian society. So, John Howard thinks there’s a serious possibility of suicide bombers here he really does need to tell us all about that.

JOURNALIST: Is he stirring up unnecessary fear by talking like that?

BEAZLEY: I don’t know. If he has reason to believe that that’s a serious possibility then it’s the right to say to the public that it is a serious possibility but merely alluding to it is not sufficient.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there is a possibility that we have them here?

BEAZLEY: On all the briefings that we have had to this point the suggestion has been quite strongly made that things are not so advanced in this society in terms of threats to us that this would be a possibility. Even if that has changed, if there is a different position now, then the Australian public certainly needs to know it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Ruddock is throwing a lot of funds at protecting things such as our water supplies: (a) do you agree with that and think it’s necessary and do we need to extend that to something like oil refineries?

BEAZLEY: We have to be very serious about our defences here. We have to be serious about our defences and we also have to be serious about our offence. In regard to our defences, it is quite clear that there is a need now for a ground-up review, if you like, of all the protective mechanisms we have put in place since September 11th there needs to be an audit. We need to see, whether or not, in the light of the British experience, which has come as a complete surprise, we actually have everything in place that we need. That’s the first thing we need. That’s on the defensive side.

The second thing is the offensive side. The reason why the Labor Party has been so strong on Afghanistan is we have understood from day one that we’re dealing with terrorism central in Afghanistan and that the right thing needed to be done there. We have been very strong on doing the right thing in Afghanistan, and we’re glad now that the Government is taking seriously, points that we’ve been making for the best part of two years, if the truth be told in relation to

Afghanistan. Now, we would like to see the Government also take seriously the things we’re saying about South-East Asia. We have a growing, burgeoning piracy problem in South-East Asia which is switching into a political terrorism direction, and we need to be doing much more in inserting Australia into the debate in this region on the best way of containing this. So at home, in the region, in Afghanistan, we’ve got to focus on the right things not the quagmire that has become Iraq.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) troops in Afghanistan, is it too expensive, I mean, could the money be better spent on helping Afghanistan help itself?

BEAZLEY: You’ve got to look at the character of the troops. It is absolutely evident that the removal of Special Forces from Afghanistan was not a product of a decision based on the actual situation on the ground in Afghanistan but a desire to prepare them for entry into Iraq and as a result of that Taliban and al-Qaeda have come back. And in the final analysis Afghanistan will stand or fall on the success of their Government in delivering outcomes for their people, that’s true. But in the interim they need some ability to deliver that by getting off their backs the impact on their society of Taliban. And we need, because of their significance in the global combat with fundamentalist terror, a capacity to get at al-Qaeda. Now, the troops that have been put in there, as I said last week before John Howard made this decision, are the right sort of troops for that purpose.

JOURNALIST: The London bombings and the fact that the four involved in them were citizens of the UK they weren’t necessarily people who might have been watched by security forces, does that justify the ASIO powers the federal Government are reviewing at the moment?

BEAZLEY: We supported the Government’s ASIO legislation. We supported them with a sunset clause to make certain that the Parliament would have a constant capacity to review the effectiveness of those laws whether they

delivered the outcomes that we want to stop terrorism or prevent the possibility of terrorism in this country and to ensure that they are confident with the way in which we Australians regard a fair and tolerant society to operate. So, we have approached these laws always with a view to ensuring their effectiveness and ensuring their compatibility with the sort of society that we are. And we will approach any changes the Government puts forward in the terrorism area and ASIO laws in the same way.