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Transcript of doorstop interview of Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure\nand Industrial Relations: Western Australia Parliament House, Perth: 25 February 2005: Industrial relations reform.



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Stephen Smith MP Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations Member for Perth

E&OE T13/05

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP - WESTERN AUSTRALIA PARLIAMENT HOUSE, PERTH, FRIDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2005

SUBJECT: INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS REFORM

SMITH: Today we saw Kevin Andrews so-called landmark speech. There are a couple of hallmarks about the speech. Firstly, not much detail in it, confirming that the Government is proposing to rely upon the Corporations powers to introduce a unitary system. But there are some other features of the speech. Firstly where he says more detail will emerge over the coming months, more details so far as the award system is concerned, more detail so far as the Industrial Relations Commission is concerned, and

he also outlines some principles that we can rely upon so far as those details are concerned.

The principles that they will rely upon are the same principles that they have relied upon since 1996. The last time I looked those principles were Peter Reith, balaclavas and Alsatians. So what ever they have in terms of detail, we can be assured it will be unfair, divisive and extreme. And that’s a great concern here for Australian employees and their families.

The second point of the speech is that he’s essentially relying on whipping workers to find further productivity improvements in the Australian economy. He hasn’t been listening to the Governor of the Reserve Bank, nor the IMF, nor the OECD, which has been saying for some time as has Labor, that the key difficulty so far as productivity and competitiveness is concerned are skills shortages, infrastructure blockages. And the real economic issues are record current account deficit, record foreign debt and the record trade deficit. As the Governor of the RBA told the Parliamentary Committee last week we have to look forward to nothing other than higher interest rates, lower economic growth and a higher current account.

The detail that he has provided is to confirm as he did on Tuesday that the Government is looking to a unitary system and relying upon the Corporations power. I’ve made it clear that you can of course contemplate a unitary system as a public policy mechanism. But if you’re going to do that, you’re best off doing that in cooperation with the States. It’s clear they’re not interested in that. They are proposing to rely upon the Corporations

power and on their own admission that will see coverage from anywhere from 75% to 85%. So there will be gaps and there will complexities. If they were serious about pursuing a unitary system in a fair way then the simple way to proceed would be to do that in conjunction with the States and to work through to a fair and cooperative system.

The other hallmark of his speech is that he adopts the Business Council of Australia’s view that in this area fairness is not a public policy priority. And that’s why in this area Australian employees and their families have got nothing to look forward to except further measures that are unfair, extreme and divisive. It will see their wages reduced, it will see their entitlements stripped and we will see safety nets removed.

JOURNALIST: What should workers make of that speech today?

SMITH: I think they should be very worried. Very worried because whilst there’s no detail other than the unitary system, the key area that the Minister draws attention to where further detail and further work will emerge in the course of the next couple of months are in respect of the award system - the safety net of the award system: are in respect of the Industrial Relations Commission - the independent umpire; and are in respect of the minimum wage case. In all of these areas Australian employees and their families have replied upon these safety nets, the independent umpire, the minimum wage case, to ensure that they have decent safety nets for their wages and conditions. And Australian employees and their families have got nothing to look forward to except seeing their wages reduced, their entitlement stripped and those safety nets removed.

JOURNALIST: He did say they would keep the minimum wage though?

SMITH: He didn’t provide any detail. He said that so far as further detail was concerned, one of the things they had on their list was the minimum wage case. One of the things they had on their list was the industrial relations commission. So I think the great fear and the great danger in this area is that when the full detail does emerge we will

see that that detail is unfair, it is extreme, it is divisive, and the only consequence is disharmony in the workplace and employees and their families having wages reduced, entitlements stripped and safety nets removed.

JOURNALIST: Bob Carr has said that if these changes occur minimum wages will go down to $3 an hour as in the US. Is that scaremongering?

SMITH: We don’t know until the detail emerges. But one of the points that Bob’s making is the same point that I’m making in general terms. They clearly have on their list some of the safety nets which have traditionally protected Australian employees and

their families. One of those safety nets is the minimum wage case. They clearly have the minimum wage case and the role of the Industrial Relations Commission in their sights. And if you remove those minimum standards, those safety nets, then workers, Australian employees, and their families will be at risk of having their safety nets stripped. Whatever the level it goes to, there will only be one outcome - wages reduced, entitlements shredded, and safety nets removed.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that wages could go down to $3 an hour?

SMITH: If you remove those safety nets they can go wherever the market takes them to and that’s the difference between our approach and the Government’s approach. We have seen since 1996 one of the bedrock principles the Government works off. The

bedrock principles the Government works off are Peter Reith, balaclavas and Alsatians. Being extreme, being unfair, pursuing and promoting disharmony.

Not proceeding on the basis that the best way to get productivity and competition out of a workplace is to have a fair system in place where employees and their employers operate in a cooperative way. That’s the best way to ensuring productivity. That’s also the best way of ensuring a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. The best way of ensuring sensible minimum standards, decent wages and decent conditions.

JOURNALIST: The Minister talked a lot in his speech about how the current system is outdated, it’s last century, and it’s time for a change because it’s holding back the economy. What do you say to that?

SMITH: One of the points which I’ve said is that there a number of principles you can find in the speech. Firstly there is a principle which says, articulated by the Minister, that fairness is not a public policy priority in this area. Another principle which is articulated is the one which you’ve identified, that the only way you can find more productivity in the Australian economy, in the Australian workplace, is by essentially whipping workers. Well, there’s a nice alibi and distraction here. That’s essentially a distraction from the fact that the Government has been sprung for its economic management and complacency. There’s a massive skilled shortage which the Government has been complacent about. There are infrastructure bottlenecks and capacity constraints which the Government has been complacent about. They haven’t been investing the time, the effort and the energy into the skills and capacity of the Australian workforce. They are using that as an alibi and distraction from the fact that everyone from the Governor of the Reserve Bank to the IMF has said they been complacent about key economic characteristics in the Australian economy.

JOURNALIST: There is not a great deal that Labor can do is in this regard is there, given the changes in the Senate?

SMITH: This is one of the difficulties about moving to a unitary system. Having got the Senate out of the way, it now wants sot get the States out of the way. When they get the States out of the way, they’ll then want to get the Awards out of the way. When they get Awards out of the way, they will then want to get the Industrial Relations Commission out of the way. When they’ve got the Commission out of the way, they’ll want to get the minimum wage case out of the way. All Labor can do is to articulate our case and our argument. And our argument here is the Government is intent upon pursuing an extreme, an unfair and a divisive approach to this area. The only outcome will Australian employees and their families will see their wages reduced, their entitlements stripped and their safety nets removed.

Ends

Contact: Courtney Hoogen on (02) 6277 4108 or 0414 364 651