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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 47

Senator SANTORO (12:30 PM) —In speaking to the Workplace Relations Amendment (Agreement Validation) Bill 2004 I note two constants in the Labor Party's contribution to the debate on workplace relations, not just in this place but also in the other place: obstruction and deceit. What we noticed, again, from the contributions of the two members representing the Labor Party opposite were obstruction and deceit—the sort that has been occurring over three parliaments and is occurring again in the fourth parliament of the Howard-Costello government. Forty-one times, legislation which is pro business, particularly small business, and which would further incentivate, if I can use that word, small business to put on even more employees has been rejected by the Senate after being passed by the lower house. Again, the ALP comes into this place today to obstruct and to deceive.

To illustrate what I mean by `deceit'—and I want to examine in further detail what really motivates the Labor Party—there are headlines such as this in the Sydney Morning Herald which say, `New look Labor's pitch to business'. That is the screaming headline. Another headline says, `Latham delivers wins to business'.

Senator Ferris —Where is the evidence?

Senator SANTORO —We have certainly not heard any evidence in this place today—particularly in this place—that the Labor Party is fair dinkum. We had Stephen Smith clearly state in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald or one of the other Sydney papers that this bill needs to be passed before the end of the year because business is looking forward to the certainty that this bill represents. Despite all the talk from the two Labor senators who have spoken in this place today, their amendment totally negates the certainty for small businesses that this bill introduces back into the Workplace Relations Act.

That is what the Labor Party are all about. They want to deceive the Australian public into believing that somehow they have accepted that their Jurassic Park version of workplace relations, which was rejected by the people on 9 October, is not going to be part of the Labor Party's platform. They want to convince the Australian public, and particularly small business, that the lesson of Jurassic Park style workplace relations has sunk in. So they go out and say that they are going to deliver for business. They are reported as saying that because it is such a radical change to their rhetoric that it has to be reported in this manner. Yet they come in here and do precisely the opposite.

Why? It is all about the agenda of hatred. It is hatred of small business. The Labor Party in this place and elsewhere understand and appreciate that small businesses generally do not support the centralist, collectivist philosophical and policy underpinnings of the Labor Party's workplace relations agenda. They just do not accept those underpinnings. Small business people by nature are free spirits and free agents, and they want to make their own decisions. They do not want to be interrupted. They do not want their workplaces, the flow of production or the proper flow of sovereign decision making in small business to be interrupted by a union official coming in uninvited and without good reason. The Workplace Relations Act, as I am sure you, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin, and others are aware, does contain provisions where legitimate intervention can occur by all sorts of parties, including unions. The point that I am making here is that the Labor Party just do not like small business. It is hatred of small business.

Also specifically contained within the argument put forward by members opposite is hatred of AWAs. AWAs are one of the great success stories of the Workplace Relations Act of this government. The statistics speak for themselves. Because we want to get this bill through the Senate before the parliament rises for the Christmas break, if not today, I have decided to curtail my remarks. There are some statistics on AWAs, and that is what we are talking about today—agreements. It is worth while putting on the record how good AWAs have been for Australian workers, those people who have benefited the most as a result of the good representation that they get from this side of the house. It is important to reflect on how good the implementation of coalition workplace relations policy and our looking after their interests have been for them.

This is a good moment to remind the Labor Party that last month nearly 25,000 extra AWAs were filed with the Office of the Employment Advocate—an office that Labor would abolish if they had the chance to do so. That was a record figure—up more than 7,000 on the previous month. It is a fact that AWAs are proving to be an absolute hit in Australian workplaces because individual contracts between employees and employers tailor terms and conditions of employment to suit the needs of both parties. It is not an approach that is collectivist based; it is an approach where the two parties, of their own free will, come together and negotiate something that suits both of them. More than half a million AWAs—569,364 to be precise—had been filed since 1997 when the calculation was last made this month. It is instructive to put on the record that employees on AWAs earn on average 29 per cent more than those on certified agreements. Women on AWAs earn 32 per cent more than women who are working under certified agreements.

No wonder that Labor's own preferred pollster, Rod Cameron, writing in the Age this month, condemned the ALP's workplace policy as `backward-looking and totally out of step with community and work force trends'. I would respectfully suggest to honourable senators opposite who belong to the Labor Party that they start paying heed not just to Rod Cameron—their preferred pollster, who provides them with a lot of good advice based on reasonable polling within the community—but also to the decision that was made by the Australian public in terms of the future of the government on October 9.

This particular bill seeks to provide the certainty that Senator Marshall said it did not. The bill seeks to validate agreements that were made in good faith under the legislation as passed by the parliament. It does not seek to change the agreements, as I believe Senator Marshall kept telling this place. It is not a bill that seeks to introduce new material; it simply amends legislation to cope with the effect of the High Court decision which has been referred to abundantly in this place.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the Labor Party take on proper motives when considering debates such as this. They have to abandon their hatred for small business; they have to abandon their hatred for legislation which, as I have just demonstrated, works very well for the people whom they have stopped representing in the sorts of policies they have been putting forward. They have to somehow detach themselves from the fear of headlines such as the one that says, `Union fury over Labor moves', in that case relating to tariff cuts. Nobody on this side is anti-union; but we are anti the irresponsible influence that union leaders particularly apply to Labor senators opposite. I would strongly recommend that, if those opposite want to be successful at a future federal election, they abandon those hatreds and those misplaced loyalties, particularly when those loyalties compromise the wellbeing of the very people they claim they seek to represent better than anybody else in this place—that is, employees working within Australian businesses, particularly small businesses.