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Parliament House, Canberra, 29 April 1998: transcript of doorstop interview [Industrial Relations Commission; wage decision; ACTU; MUA; Mr Coombs; Mr Corrigan]



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THE HON PETER REITH MP

MINISTER FOR WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND SMALL BUSINESS

LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

 

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

CANBERRA ACT 2600

 

 

29 April, 1998

 

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON PETER REITH MP

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW - PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

 

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REITH:

 

I welcome the decision of the Industrial Relations Commission to target increases to the low paid. This is the Government’s policy in action. We said that the system needed to be redirected to principally looking after the interests of the l ow paid. The Commission has in its decision today, taken that policy position as annunciated in the Workplace Relations Act into account. And the decision will therefore be well received by low paid workers. This Government was committed to having a system which focused on the role of the Commission looking after the interests of the low paid. This is a very significant ongoing role for the Industrial Relations Commission and it has bought down its decision.

 

It was good that it rejected the ACTU’s proposals which would have had a very severe impact in our view on economic management. The Commission has taken into account all of the matters put before it. It’s always been our policy that it was appropriate to have an independent body canvas and to weigh up the arguments. The Government of course has been concerned about the impact on the unemployed, of wage increases at the bottom end of the spectrum. But the Commission, in granting this decision or making this decision, has taken all those factors into account. This is a further endorsement of the policy directions established in the Workplace Relations Act. It is welcomed therefore.

 

The Commission’s decision is also positive on general economic management issues and we welcome that as a statement of the good economic management and policies put in place by this Government in the last two years. The fact that we’ve been running the Australian economy more prudently, more sensibly has given the Commission the opportunity to provide this $14 a week increase for those most disadvantaged in the labour market. So it’s a sensible decision by the umpire which of course, we do accept. We welcome the fact that, under the Workplace Relations Act, we have an independent umpire to arbitrate on these questions of the safety net for the interests of those who are disadvantaged.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

The Government argued for $8 a week. Did they get too much?

 

REITH:

 

Look we argued for $8 this year. We argued for $8 last year. We welcomed the response from the Commission last year. We welcome the fact that the Commission has an independent role to weigh up the arguments on both sides. They rejected the extreme position put by the ACTU. We thought the submission obviously that we put was sensible. It was a significant aspect of our submission to the Commission that they focus on the low paid and in the decision that they brought down, they've come to an independent view about how that should be done. And I think that is a sensible move in the right direction.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Can we have a report from your meeting with Mr Corrigan this afternoon?

 

REITH:

 

The Government has met with Mr Corrigan today. The Prime Minister and I met with him. The topic of conversation was the waterfront. The Government and the company have reaffirmed the positions that they've put before the High Court.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Do you believe that Mr Coombs and Mr Corrigan got together yesterday to try and resolve this dispute are you?

 

REITH:

 

Well as I understand it, there have been discussions with the administrator. The administrator has tasks set for him by the orders of Mr Justice North.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Did you request the meeting?

 

REITH:

 

Yes it was at our request.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Are you happy about the fact they’re getting together to resolve it?

 

REITH:

 

Well I’ve read the reports in the paper this morning and that is a matter for the administrator.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

With the wages case, could there still be a adverse outcome on inflation?

 

REITH:

 

Well obviously we, you know, are very focused on the impact on inflation, on employment levels because we would not want a situation to develop where wage increases jeopardise people’s jobs. And we put that point of view fairly and squarely to the Commission but under our Act, we have given the task of adjudicating on these difficult issues to an independent Commission. And they’ve done that and we obviously are pleased to accept it. And I think, you know for the battlers, they’ll be saying this must be a pretty good policy that the Government has given this independent discretion to the Industrial Relations Commission and they’ve come down with a decision which is good for the battlers. Now...

 

JOURNALIST:

 

It won’t affect jobs?

 

REITH:

 

Well we’ve obviously been concerned about that but we did put that to the Commission and obviously job creation is a major priority for this Government. But it’s also the fact that part of our policy was that th ere was an ongoing and important role for the Commission and it was sensible to have an independent body making these fine judgements about you know the impact on jobs and the like. Now obviously the employers won’t be happy with the result but we’re happy to have an independent Commission that sensibly takes all these factors into account. Now I think it was sensible that they should discard the extreme proposals put again by the ACTU.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

The decision was much closer to the ACTU’s position than yours because you argued for a cut off at a very low level and they ignored that completely and given a range of pay increases.

 

REITH:

 

I don’t think you could say they ignored it entirely Sid. They ignored it last year too I should say. So this is the second time but the Commission obviously however has taken into account the basic proposition which would put which was that you ought to target. Now you can target in different ways. What they’ve got in a sense is their own set of cut offs but there are three cut offs and they’ve got different amounts depending on where you are on the scale. So I’m not really sure that you can say it was dismissed out of hand. In fact I think what they’ve come up with is there own way of thinking on the issue and they’re perfectly entitled to do so. In fact under our Act, they’re an independent body.

 

I mean there’s been a lot of talk about the role of the Commission in the last week or so but this does demonstrate the importance of the role that the Commission has under the Workplace Relations Act. And it’s a role which is in the interests of the low paid which we said it should be.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

The Commission also knocked you back on the issues of paid rates awards. As I understand the decision, the Government wanted the principle established and as I understand it the Commission has basically reserved its discretion not to simplify paid rates awards. Are you concerned about that?

 

REITH:

 

Well the briefing I have had is slightly different on the question of paid rates. As I understand, they are now addressing themselves again to the issue.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

They haven’t reviewed but ...

 

REITH:

 

With respect on the briefing that I’ve had, in fact that was a fair acceptance of the points that were being made to the Commission. Now I can’t debate more with you but we actually thought that was quite an important aspect of the Commission’s decision in acknowledging the points we’ve made about paid rates awards and the future of paid rates awards. We do have a view about paid rates awards that they are really out of keeping with a system which is developed on having a safety net and the Commission therefore needs to look at them. So I’m pleased that they are going to.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

How are you and Mr Corrigan feeling ahead of the Court’s decision tomorrow? Are you optimistic that the High Court will point in favour of Patricks?

 

REITH:

 

Well I think it’s better to just await the decision of the High Court. They don’t need a running commentary from me on how I think people feel about it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Did he give you any indication…

 

REITH:

 

I was in the High Court once before as a politician. It was the 1998 Referendum campaign.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Would you like to see Mr Corrigan hand over $1 6M now to get those companies?

 

REITH:

 

I don’t have any further comment on that matter.

 

Thank you very much.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

(inaudible)

 

REITH:

 

I don’t have any further comment on that matter thank you very much.

 

One more last question.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Reith, do you have any plans to meet with Mr Coo mbs in the interests of balance?

 

REITH:

 

I’ve met Mr Coombs on many occasions and I’m always happy to talk to John Coombs. I’ve met members of the MUA. I had members of the MUA asking me questions this morning from the floor of a Rotary meeting of all places. And I’ve met the State Secretary of the MUA in Brisbane the other day. So we of course, are always happy to talk to people about the circumstances of the waterfront or otherwise.

 

The Government has a very strong resolve to reform the waterfront. I’ve certainly said publicly and I’m happy to repeat it, that in any discussions with the MUA as I’ve already said to some. Obviously there needs to be acceptance that people have to abide by the rules, namely, court injunctions, directions or otherwise. Secondly there needs to be an understanding that there’s a problem on the waterfront and the Productivity Commission report this week only highlights again and reinforces the absolute importance for this country in fixing up the waterfront.

 

And also in talking with the MUA, as I’ve said to Mr Coombs on many, many occasions, the idea that he can veto anybody’s employment on the Australian waterfront is an idea that belongs in another century. And certainly doesn’t belong in the next century.

 

One last one.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Reith, did Mr Corrigan give any indication that a compromise...

 

REITH:

 

Thank you very much. Any other last questions?

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Reith, is that right?

 

REITH:

 

I don’t think anybody much has really asked me about Dubai but if you want to ask me about it I’m happy to repeat my many statements on the issue.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Is there love in the air again?

 

REITH:

 

Is love in the air again today. It’s a beautiful day in Ca nberra.

 

Thank you very much.

 

 

 

ENDS

 

 

 

For more information on the Government’s maritime industry reforms, see http://www.dwrsb.gov.au