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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations: Western Australia State Parliament House, Perth: Industrial relations changes and annual leave.



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

E&OE T69/05

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP - WESTERN AUSTRALIA STATE PARLIAMENT HOUSE, PERTH, WEDNESDAY, 6 JULY 2005

SUBJECT: INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS CHANGES AND ANNUAL LEAVE

SMITH: Just a couple of issues on industrial relations. There is a lot of talk, and a lot of commentary from Kevin Andrews and the Government.

They can solve all these issues by just making a couple of simple comments. All Kevin Andrews has to do is just give a guarantee that no individual Australian employee will be worse off as a result of the changes that the Government is proposing to make. I have given him and the Prime Minister ample opportunity in the Parliament and in the community, to give that guarantee and they won’t give it. The reason they won’t give the guarantee is because they know under their proposals salaries will be reduced, conditions and entitlements will be removed or reduced.

The second guarantee that Mr Andrews can give, he’s out there complaining about the ACTUs adverts: all he has to do is give a guarantee that no individual Australian employee is going to end up in the manner depicted by the ACTU adverts. We gave him the opportunity in the Parliament to give that guarantee. He won’t give that guarantee either. That’s because he knows under the proposals that they’re pursuing individual Australian employees will be able to be forced onto individual contracts with the Government’s unfair dismissal proposals hovering over their head.

The third point I make today is that a lot of what Kevin Andrews is saying so far as the annual leave issue is concerned is been taken out the Court-Kierath textbook. Very many of the things that he said yesterday and today that are straight out of that textbook. All he has to do, all the Prime Minister has to do, is just give a very simple guarantee, just guarantee that no individual Australian employee will be worse off as a result of the changes they’re proposing.

JOURNALIST: The Government is using Labor here in WA on a national scale to make their point….

SMITH: I’m not sure that that’s right. Let’s just carefully go through the four week annual leave issues.

We know that four weeks is the current community standard and that’s protected under the allowable matters regime. What did Kevin Andrews say yesterday? Kevin Andrews said yesterday that he had proposed to the ACTU and to employers that people going on to individual contracts could be able to trade off two weeks of their annual leave.

What was the point that Kim Beazley, Sharan Burrow, Greg Combet and I made about that yesterday? That left open the prospect that individual Australians would be forced onto two weeks annual leave rather than four because under their proposals you can stand

over someone and simply say here is your individual workplace agreement, if you don’t sign it one of two things will occur: you will either be sacked, and sacked unfairly without any remedy, or we’ll go onto the next customer. That was the point we were making yesterday.

I think there are a few central points to make about this. Firstly, as a community standard we want four weeks annual leave. That makes sense. That’s the first point.

Anything that you do to undermine that runs the risk that you end up down the track with two weeks becoming the norm, with the American style two weeks annual leave becoming the norm. So you don’t want to do anything to undermine that. That’s clearly

in the back of the mind of the Government so far as I am concerned.

Secondly, there is a work and family issue here. The Prime Minister went to the last election making a commitment to the Family First Senator, Senator Fielding, that all of his proposals would be subject to a work and family test, to work and family scrutiny. I

saw the Treasurer the other day trying to walk away from that. But I’d love to see the work and family assessment of a proposal which would see the four week norm go to two weeks.

So far as the Western Australian position is concerned: Why I say Mr Andrews is so redolent of Court and Kierath is this. When the Gallop Government came to office it was possible under the workplace agreement system in place for all of a persons annual leave to be traded away.

Now the Gallop Government has effectively abolished individual workplace agreements in Western Australia. As a consequence, that mischief has gone.

At the same time the Gallop Government moved to improve the minimum conditions which applied to a small number of employees who aren’t covered by awards. I’m happy to be corrected on the number but I think it’s something like 150,000. And they increased effectively the minimum conditions to two weeks annual leave. It was probably the case that they should have gone to four weeks leave and I’m sure that the State Government will now consider that.

But don’t let Kevin Andrews get off the hook by drawing attention to that point. The great mischief in Western Australia was that under the Court-Kierath regime people could be forced onto individual contracts and trade away all of their annual leave. The Gallop Government has effectively put a stop to that with the effective abolition of State based individual workplace agreements.

JOURNALIST: …ACTU ads ……scaremongering

SMITH: I just make the same point that I make to Mr Andrews in the Parliament: just give a guarantee that no one is going to end up in the manner depicted by the ACTU advertisements. He wouldn’t give that guarantee. He stood up in the Parliament and went through a range of reasons why in his view the ACTU ads were misleading.

I notice a number of points. Firstly, the ACTU has responded in detail to that and there’s been no rebuttal from Mr Andrews. Secondly, if the Government was so concerned, and so convinced and so persuaded that these adverts were misleading, why haven’t they gone to the relevant authorities? Why haven’t they gone to the Advertising Standards Council, why haven’t they gone to the Australian Broadcasting Authority? They haven’t.

The third point, as soon as Kevin Andrews made those points in the Parliament, I got up and said just give a guarantee that no individual Australian employee will end up as depicted by these adverts. And he wouldn’t and couldn’t give that guarantee. Just as,

neither he nor the Prime Minister, will give the simple general guarantee, the simple guarantee that no individual Australian employee will be worse off as a result of these changes.

They won’t give that guarantee because they know the minimum wage will be driven down in real terms, entitlements and conditions will be removed or reduced, and particularly in the context of annual leave, the no disadvantage test against which individual and collective agreements will be judged, is massively undermined.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the Government’s advertising campaign….

SMITH: Kevin Andrews has confirmed that there will be a propaganda campaign at tax payers expense. He has refused to deny that it will be in the order of $20 million. I’m just assuming that it will be a massive propaganda effort by the Government using tax payers’ money. I bet you won’t find in those adverts the two guarantees that I’ve asked for. I bet you won’t find in those adverts a guarantee that no individual Australian employee will be worse off as a result of the changes. And I bet you won’t find the guarantee that no individual Australian employee will end up in the manner depicted by the ACTU advertisements.

JOURNALIST: Will you be testing the truth of the ads…

SMITH: I’m just assuming they will be propaganda. I’m assuming they will be glib, but I’m also assuming they won’t give the guarantee the Australian community is looking for and needs.

JOURNALIST: Going to leave entitlements, the Gallop Government might be looking at four weeks. What do you think they should actually do?

SMITH: I think they should go to the community standard of four weeks. I understand the historic rationale for what they did, and I’m not being critical in anyway. I think that Kevin Andrews has grabbed onto a strand here and tried to make a mountain

out of a molehill.

When the Gallop Government came to office the primary mischief was individual employees being forced onto individual Western Australian based workplace agreements, removing and reducing their entitlements.

The Gallop Government has effectively in all but name, abolished those individual agreements. So the great mischief was cured, was solved. They then came to look at the minimum conditions of employment which cover people who aren’t covered by awards.

There were a range of things that they did. They improved arrangements so far as calculation of the minimum wage was concerned, they improved arrangements so far as casual hours was concerned, and they improved arrangements so far as annual leave was concerned. With hindsight they should have gone to four weeks rather than to two. I think their argument, or the State Government’s historic rationale, will be that in the context what they were doing, they have solved the main mischief. Which is why I say everything that Kevin Andrews now says about this issue is so redolent of Court and Kierath. It’s actually taken out of Court and Kierath’s handbook, and Western Australians know better than the rest of the Commonwealth, how harsh and oppressive that was so far as individual employees are concerned.

JOURNALIST: Has the oversight by the State Labor government hurt….

SMITH: I don’ think so. I comfortable putting that historical rationale. I’m sure that Geoff when he returns from leave will happily make public comments about it. I heard John Kobelke on radio this morning making the point that what we do in the end have to do is make sure that people are treated fairly, which is the State Government’s view here and it is my very strong view that if we go down the road that the Howard Government is going down, people will be treated unfairly.

Their salaries will be reduced, their conditions and entitlements will be stripped, their minimum standards will be reduced or removed, their safety nets will be reduced or removed, and their access to the individual umpire will be reduced or removed. All of these things together with the unfair dismissal approach essentially means people will be stood over and they will be told sign or you’ll be sacked, and sacked unfairly without any remedy. In the Court-Kierath days it was sign or resign. Under the Howard proposals it will be sign or be sacked and sacked unfairly without any remedy for unfair dismissal.

JOURNALIST: …John Howard says he expects to ride it out and that the people will come around….

SMITH: John Howard will very quickly retreat an argument along these lines: that his proposals are in the national interest. The last time John Howard argued that his industrial relations proposals were in the national interest was when he had Peter Reith, Alsatians and balaclavas.

JOURNALIST: If the Gallop Government does change, does that concede it’s unfair here now?

SMITH: No. No, because as I say the primary mischief, the primary public policy evil was removed when the Gallop Government effectively abolished individual workplace agreements at the State level. And those minimum conditions apply to a small number of employees who are not covered by awards.

JOURNALIST: ….Steve Vizard…

SMITH: I’m sorry, I’m not on top of the Steve Vizard issue.

JOURNALIST: Labor headquarters in Canberra have been sold….

SMITH: I read that in The Australian newspaper today and I’m sure you’ll be able to ask Tim Gartrell that very same question.

Ends

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