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Transcript of doorstop: Avillion Hotel, Sydney: 30 August 2005: Howard Government's industrial relations changes; Federal Liberal party leadership tensions; Government's industrial relations advertising campaign.

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Stephen Smith MP Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations Member for Perth E&OE T85/05



SMITH: Today I have made a speech to the Industrial Reform 2005 Conference and the central theme of the speech is that the changes that the Government is proposing are extreme changes, and that the Government has made no compelling social or economic case to justify or defend these changes.

Indeed these changes are nothing more than an attack upon the living standards of middle Australia, an attack upon the living standards of working Australian families and an attack upon many of the virtues that Australian society has held dear for a long period of time.

I will illustrate that with one point. John Howard has been out there today saying that the distributional analysis by ACCIRT of the real wage increase over the Government’s term in office is nonsense because his Government has presided over a 12% increase in real terms in the Minimum Wage. Well, that’s occurred not because of John Howard but despite him.

We know that on the Minimum Wage John Howard has opposed every single National Minimum Wage increase since he came to office in 1996. Indeed if John Howard’s submissions to the Industrial Relations Commission on the Minimum Wage had been agreed to, the Minimum Wage would currently be $50 a week or $2600 a year less.

So John Howard is out there saying that the ultimate argument he will give for the changes is that there has been a 12% increase in the Minimum Wage since he came to office. The problem for John Howard is that he has opposed that 12% increase, as he has opposed every Minimum Wage increase decided by the Commission since he came to office.

His public policy response is to take an axe to the Industrial Relations Commission and take an axe to the Minimum Wage, to try and get through the back door what he hasn’t been able to get through the front door in the long nine years that he has been in office.

JOURNALIST: ….the distractions seem to be continuing with Mr Treasurer and Mr Howard…

SMITH: Neither Mr Costello or Mr Howard are interested in how the country is being managed. They are much more interested in how their leadership campaigns are being managed.

You’ve got Peter Costello out there waxing lyrical about the great things that he would do if he was Prime Minister. Meanwhile back at the ranch, he’s been entirely complacent about aspects of our economy - record foreign debt, record current account, and record trade deficit.

You can mount a respectable argument that if it wasn’t for historic terms of trade and historically favourable commodity prices that the international community would be looking very strictly at the basis of the Australian economy.

So Mr Costello is out there preening himself but not worried about the national interest, he’s simply worried about his own political interest.

In the industrial relations area, the tension between Mr Howard and Mr Costello has been reflected by the Government deciding out of the blue that unfair dismissal rights should be removed for nearly 4 million Australian employees.

It’s no well known that Mr Andrews went to the Cabinet room arguing for the standard Government position of an exemption from unfair dismissal laws for businesses of up to 20 employees. Mr Costello argued that the unfair dismissal rights should be knocked off

for all 10 million Australian employees. And because of the leadership tensions, Mr Howard affected a compromise which is unfair dismissal rights be knocked off arbitrarily for up to 4 million Australian employees.

So Mr Howard and Mr Costello are much more interested in the Liberal Party political interests, they are much more interested in their own leadership interests, than they are in national interest or the public interest.

JOURNALIST: Why should we be interested in a private conversation between Mr Costello and Mr Howard when we already know they have previously had the same private conversation?

SMITH: Because Mr Costello has clearly tipped it out, because Mr Costello is clearly trying to make the private conversation a public conversation.

It is quite clear that in the course of this Parliament, from the so-called Athens Declaration by Mr Howard and from Mr Costello preening himself in the last couple of days, that the only thing that Mr Costello is interested in is not the national interest, not the public interest, he is only interested in his own political interests.

It is quite clear that Mr Howard is now more concerned about the potential challenge he’s going to face from Mr Costello that he is about the Australian national interest, community interest and public interest.

JOURNALIST: ..inaudible…

SMITH: I have always had the view that Mr Costello doesn’t have the bottle to challenge Mr Howard. Mr Costello arrogantly thinks, complacently thinks that somehow the Prime Ministership is going to drop into his lap. In fact I’ve always thought Mr

Howard has been playing him off a break.

I’ve always thought that when it came to Mr Howard’s retirement he would make Bob Hawke look like a bloke who volunteered to go overnight.

Mr Costello doesn’t have the bottle to challenge him. He wants Mr Howard to give it to him. He wants Mr Howard to drop it into his lap. Somehow I don’t think that Mr Howard is going to drop it into Mr Costello’s lap, and I don’t think that Mr Costello has got the bottle to challenge him.

JOURNALIST: …High Court hearing on IR advertising?

SMITH: Nicola Roxon will obviously give detail comments on proceedings today but our position is quite clear and straight forward. This is a Liberal Party campaign and it should be paid for by the Liberal Party, not by an outrageous abuse of taxpayers’ money. Some of the questions of the Judges from the bench have been along those lines. But I’m quite happy to wait for the ultimate outcome of the Court’s deliberations. However it is quite clear that this is a Liberal Party campaign, and it should be paid for by the Liberal Party and not by the taxpayer.


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