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ACTU Congress, Wollongong Entertainment Centre: transcript of doorstop interview: Genome Mapping, Industrial Relations, Jennie George, Childers Backpackers fire.

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Kim Beazley - Doorstop Interview Subjects: Genome Mapping, Industrial Relations, Jennie George, Childers Backpackers Fire

Transcript - ACTU Congress, Wollongong Entertainment Centre - 27 June 2000

E & OE - Proof Only

BEAZLEY: I just want to congratulate those Australians who have been involved with the Genome program, the mapping of humanity. There are a number of Australians involved in that project and much of it grew out of a research centre that was funded by Labor but cut by this Government. Now, this is what Australians are good at. We are great basic scientific researchers. But we need more investment. That stands at the heart of the knowledge nation. But this is a happy day for those Australians who are, like myself, strong believers in what this country can do for the world and what we can do for ourselves.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, you spoke about how families are coming under increasing pressure from their jobs. One of the policies before congress this week is a potential cap on unpaid overtime. What would Labor's position be on this?

BEAZLEY: There are going to be a range of things which make life easier for families. That's one. Access to proper childcare is another. Decent hours of work and convivial hours of work in terms of timing, that's another. But you will never, ever, ever find any of these things emerging from something like AWAs. They only come out of collective bargaining. And if you want family friendly industrial policies it is collective bargaining that will produce them. And the only way you will get it effectively negotiated is through a trade union. They are the only outfits that can effectively bargain on behalf of ordinary Australians. So, that's an interesting issue. That's a good initiative, it ought to help folk. But there are so many other things that go to a family friendly workplace, and these are the things that have been lost as collective agreements are undermined.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, one man walked out of the congress hall when you just received your standing ovation and that was Mr Doug Cameron from the Manufacturing Workers' Union. And, of course, the Manufacturing Workers' Union has a conflict with the Labor Party and you're poles apart. What do you have to say on the issue of trade?

BEAZLEY: Well, you heard what I had to say on the issue of trade. I don't believe that we can go backwards on that. Having said that, I also happen to think it's quite legitimate for there to be considered in international trade forums issues related to labour standards - quite legitimate. But in considering them we shouldn't walk away from what has created, literally thousands of jobs in this country. With a population the size of Australia, the domestic economy will never generate enough prosperity for all Australians. You can't do it. Options for countries like the United States, with 260 million people are not options for Australia with 19 million. We live in the world. And the free trade issue these days is not so much about what Australia does, I mean, we are down to, I think, an overall average in tariffs of about 5 per cent, which, by and large, is just a revenue tariff. It is about cracking open other people's markets. The discrimination against us in the region around us, with high tariff walls erected against Australian industrial product. Australian industries have made the change. And the evidence of that is the share of

our trade performance of manufacturing and value added production now. Manufacturing industries, value added production and value added services. These are the growth areas of Australian exports. And you don't get growth if you're not internationally competitive - 1.7 million Australians now employed in the export sector. And I've got to say, in the manufacturing industries, the areas that Doug's union covers, there is not a huge rate of growth in export performance, be it in the export of car parts, be it in the export of completed manufactured product. And access to world markets is critical,and cutting ourselves off from world markets is disaster.

JOURNALIST: There's been a suggestion of a social tariff for countries that aren't performing as well as Australia is on labour markets. What do you think of that?

BEAZLEY: I don't think you can organise that. And, look, in all honesty if you tried to impose it on the countries to whom it would be directed you'd be imposing it on countries, the only countries, with which we have a massive trade balance in our favour. We don't have a trade balance in our favour with the United States and Europe. We do have a trade balance in our favour with Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, and South East Asia generally. The trade balance is in our favour. But it is a reasonable thing to be worried about labour standards in those countries. It is a humane thing to be worried about labour standards in those countries. It is an essential thing to be worried about labour standards in those countries. And the ICFTU recently put down a very good position on getting the issues of labour standards in these sorts of countries drawn into world trade negotiations. And we support that. We think that that is a reasonable thing to do. But that is not walking backwards from free trade. That is taking a step forwards in human decency around the globe.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, where do you stand on the issue of secondary boycotts? There's confusion now whether Labor is supporting that or not.

BEAZLEY: Labor supports what Labor has always supported. And what we implemented when we were in office. Our position has not changed. Our position is that there is no place in the Trade Practices Act for secondary boycott clauses. When we were in power, those parts of that particular act and the associated penalties, not just in that area, but in other areas of industrial action, when we were in office, that was properly located in the Industrial Relations Act and handled by the bodies which traditionally deal with industrial relations. That was the view that we had when we were in office. That was the view that we took to the last election, that is the view that we'll be putting to the labour conference and that is the view that I support.

JOURNALIST: So, do you reject any use of the corporations power for any kind of industrial legislation?

BEAZLEY: We think that the issues of secondary boycotts should be located in the Industrial Relations Act, not the Trade Practices Act. That's our view. We think that that powers to legislate for conciliation and arbitration are there for the Commonwealth under those heads of powers and that they are sufficient.

JOURNALIST: So, you wouldn't support any kind of national system based on the corporations power?

BEAZLEY: We are very suspicious of where Reith wants to take this. Understand this: nothing Reith does is ever any good for the Australian worker. No direction he wants to take us is ever any good for the Australian worker. He blew any reputation he was entitled to for fairness in this community when he entered into the processes he did to destroy ordinary workers' right to choose during the MUA dispute. That's all out there in public now. That's all out there. You can go and pick up that book when it finally

comes back on the shelves and you will see the record of this man in industrial relations. We trust nothing that Reith does - nothing at all. And when he puts up legislation to Parliament we know exactly where he's coming from. How to destroy the rights of the ordinary Australian worker to protect themselves. Therefore, we view everything he does with suspicion. There is enough power under the head of arbitration and conciliation for the Commonwealth to legislate and that's where industrial relations should reside.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, the direction that the Workplace Relations Act has taken the workplace is certainly more grassroots. Employers have certainly had to skill themselves up and a lot more industrial relations issues are being settled at the workplace. How is your policy going to change this?

BEAZLEY: Actually, that came from enterprise bargaining, to tell you the truth. That's what produced that situation, not Reith's changes. Enterprise bargaining and the enormous amount of productivity that has been generated by Australian workers in agreement with management, and I really do think the ACTU has reason to be aggrieved at the way in which they have been treated in the aftermath of a great change to Australia's productivity performance orchestrated by agreements that the unions and the ACTU entered into and the enterprise bargaining arrangements that were put in place, and that has been dishonoured and continues to be dishonoured by Reith. We think that collective agreements, be they at the enterprise level, be it established in a range of agreements across enterprises, that is the way to go. Collective bargaining in that area is the way to go. We also believe people are entitled to award protection and the IRC is going to be given powers by us to be able to put in place awards that consider more than 20 allowable matters. But that's, in many ways, a substantial part of a safety net. The workers who are arriving at agreements with employers that really advance workers' interests are doing them on a collective basis, often on an enterprise basis, or enterprise to enterprise basis. And this is the right way for industrial relations to go in the future.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, just on that issue again of sympathy strikes, would you be moving, I know you explained it, but those changes, effectively mean it would be easier for unions to take part in sympathy strikes?

BEAZLEY: Well, they weren't happening when we were in office. That scarcely ever happened when we were in office. The laws that were in place then were adequate to deal with the situation. They would continue to be adequate to deal with the situation as it was for 13 years under us.

JOURNALIST: On another issue, Professor Fels has said he has no problem with the analysis from the petroleum industry on the GST increases. What's your response?

BEAZLEY: Well, if he has no problems with their analysis, the Australian people have a big problem with John Howard because it means that John Howard has lied to them again when he said to them that there would be no impact of the GST on raising oil prices. He promised them that in the last election campaign. It's not just what the oil companies say, in many ways you could say, well, they would say that. It's what the Business Council has said, the NFF has said, the Motor Trades Association has said, and they, in all cases have, if you like, contrary interests to the petrol companies when it comes to issues of petrol pricing. They have all pointed out that the Government has miscalculated on that. And the evidence that the Government has miscalculated is their utter unwillingness to release their modelling. If Howard wants to be believed, release the modelling which says that what he says is right. Until he is prepared to do that and prove his case, you've got to take the view that he is deliberately misleading the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, one of the Bills that Mr Reith is putting in this week deals with cost issues during unfair dismissal proceedings for employers which seems to have some sympathy with the Democrats. Do you think that's an issue there to be addressed by Labor?

BEAZLEY: I've never thought that the way to get people to work and the way to make people secure is to make them easy to sack. I've never thought that that is the road that you go. It seems to me a problem in logic there. Now, remember this: the Bill that is in place at the moment, that Act that is in place at the moment on unfair dismissals is not Labor's Act. It is Reith's Act. And Reith, when he put in place the unfair dismissal proposals that now govern the workplace in Australia said this: 'there's no need for a second wave, not even a second ripple. We have achieved perfection as far as unfair dismissal is concerned'. Reith now likes to pretend that the unfair dismissal part of his Act was Labor's creation, it was not. It was his. And he said it was sufficient. It was one of the rare occasions when we might take Reith at his word.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, just on the Childers backpackers fire, what words do you have for the victims and their families?

BEAZLEY: I've had an opportunity to speak on this matter in Parliament and to express on behalf of the Opposition our great sorrow with the people, the parents of those who have lost their lives in that terrible tragedy. And to commend the way in which the community responded and the 70 survivors that responded to the circumstances in which they found themselves. They displayed that great Australian heart - open heartedness to people who have suffered. It was a commentary on what a decent society we are. I'm encouraged by the fact that Premier Beattie has said that he is, and his investigative authorities are going to do all in their power to get to the bottom of all aspects of this tragedy and I wish them well in that regard.

JOURNALIST: Finally, Jennie George for Throsby without a preselection?

BEAZLEY: Look, Jennie George is one of the great battlers of the Australian labour movement - she is. And anyone who has got the Labor interest at heart would be proud to be represented by Jennie George. Now, I know that that's created a deal of heartburn in this region, the processes by which that has been put in place, and the processes are not yet complete. But, can I say, this: if the end product of those processes is that Jennie George is the Labor candidate and then ultimately the Labor member for Throsby, nobody will have cause to regret it.

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with the National Executive not getting involved?

BEAZLEY: Well, I was a member of the National Executive that made that determination. They acknowledged that there was more water to flow under the bridge as far as this issue is concerned. You need to understand that what emerged from the NSW Conference was not a final decision, but a reference of an attitude to the administrative committee of the Labor Party. Not a direction, a reference of an attitude. So, there is still more to be done as far as that is concerned. All I can say is that if that process at the end of the day produces Jennie George as a member of Parliament, no-one will regret it.


Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.