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Speech to NSW Industrial Relations Society AGM, Sydney.

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Thank you for that introduction.

I’d like to briefly talk to you today about Federal Labor’s view on the current

industrial relations debate and how industrial relations fits into broader

debates about national prosperity, work/family balance and the role of


First let me say that Labor does not see industrial relations as a choice

between prosperity and fairness as the Howard Government does.

Nor do we see industrial relations as a constant struggle between employers

and employees as some would have you believe.

Labor believes in the importance of cooperation, not confrontation in the


I think it is safe to say that the New South Wales Industrial Relations Society

has a similar view - to bring together those from different perspectives to

foster discussion and education on industrial relations issues.

As the Society approaches its 50 year anniversary it may be that yours was

the first organisation in Australia to adopt this view and this approach to

industrial relations.


The Membership of your Executive Committee and the Society more broadly

also reflects the aspirations of the Society to continue this approach.

This is also Federal Labor’s industrial relations message.

Historically, Labor’s central goal has always been the creation of a fairer

society. Of course how we go about creating it has changed enormously over

the decades.

For much of our nation’s history, lifting living standards for the many involved

an adversarial relationship between unions and employers to redistribute


This wasn’t always good. But over many years it contributed towards the

reduction of harsh inequalities and made Australia one of the most socially

equal societies on Earth.

But of course the economy that once made this approach a logical one for

increasing the living standards of working people, has changed dramatically.

Economic restructuring has reduced union membership, and boosted small

business. More people are self-employed. There is greater social mobility.

And as a result, people are more likely to think of themselves as individuals

than as members of a class.

Today we understand that raising people’s living standards involves a lot

more than just securing wage rises.

It involves raising overall national prosperity so we have more to share. And it

involves increasing social mobility by giving everyone the assistance they

need to make the most of their talents.


In today’s economy, these two things are one and the same. They come

together in the agenda of investing in people.

In 1907 the best and agreed way to create a fairer society was securing wage

rises through union and employer cooperation in conciliation and arbitration.

In 2007, the best way to create a fairer society is to give people the education,

skills and social support they need to become part of the dynamic sectors of

our economy.

This means the role of reforming social-democratic governments today is to

help people advance themselves, not to step in to favour one side or the

other. In other words, it’s the role of government to promote social and

economic inclusion for the whole community.

This is why my second portfolio - as shadow minister for social inclusion - is

such an important complement to my duties as shadow minister for industrial


The more we invest in people, especially the poorest people, the greater the

return to them and to the nation - and the lower likelihood of industrial


So there is a symbiotic relationship between individual fairness and national

prosperity that carries Labor’s dual concern for equality and growth forward

into the 21st Century.

Today Labor seeks a fairer and more prosperous society in many different

ways, not just or even primarily through the industrial relations system.

As Paul Keating likes to remind me - often… and at length… on the Lateline

program… - many of these historic changes were instituted by the Hawke

and Keating Governments.


I disagree with Paul on a few things, but he’s right when he says that it was

Labor’s reforms in the early 1990s - which replaced centralised wage fixing

with enterprise bargaining - that helped kick-start a new era of rising

productivity, profitability and employment. Immediately after Labor’s industrial

relations reforms, days lost from industrial disputes were halved. John

Howard just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

But the enormous changes that have taken place in the economy since the

mid-1990s, as well as the emergence of new issues - like work-life balance -

mean Labor’s agenda must be qualitatively different from the past.

I think it’s true to say, that while the Hawke and Keating Governments were

progressive for their time, and their reforms are still relevant and still driving

economic growth, the next Labor Government will be the first of a new type of

new Labor government with new reforming priorities.

Should we win later this year, a Rudd Labor Government will be the first Labor

Government of the truly post-class era.

Labor’s opponents assert - with growing hysteria - that our policies will set

the clock back to before the enterprise bargaining reforms of the early 1990s

and unleash militant union power.

This spin has zero substance.

I think we all know that the era when nationwide union action could hold the

nation to ransom is long gone. It disappeared with the massive industrial

restructuring of the 1980s and the prosperity of the last 16 years of Labor-initiated economic growth. It has gone the way of the electric typewriter and

the vinyl long-playing record. It’s not coming back no matter who is in

government - certainly not a Labor government.


Labor’s modern IR alternative

So what are Labor’s plans?

Federal Labor’s goal is to provide a simple, transparent and market-friendly

alternative to the complexity, opacity and bureaucratic dishonesty of Work


Despite the Government’s rhetoric, the existing IR laws are a triumph of

complexity and rigidity over simplicity and flexibility.

Nothing could better symbolize the disaster they’ve become than the fact that

they will require thousands of bureaucrats to enforce - bureaucrats able to

delve into the confidential affairs of businesses in ways a Labor government

would never contemplate.

It’s already happening. Departmental expenses and staffing levels from IR

functions alone have increased by 208 per cent and 132 percent respectively

from 2004-05 to 2007-08.

How ironic - from a party which supposedly prides itself as being the Party of

‘small government’.

Australians are hard workers. They aren’t asking anyone for a free ride. They

know that for this nation to make it’s way in a competitive, cut-throat world,

they need to work hard, work fast, work smart - and then get up the next day

and do it all again.

They know that it is the fortunes of business that determine the nation’s

prosperity, give people jobs and reduced poverty. They believe business

people deserve our hard work and are prepared to supply that hard work.

And what they deserve in return is fair treatment - a fair day’s pay for a fair

day’s work.


That’s the balance in Labor’s policy; to ensure fairness in workplaces are

balanced by others that will help companies increase their competitiveness

and productivity.

And that’s the balance that’s missing from the Howard Government’s Work

Choices system.

Australians do not have to choose between economic prosperity and fair

treatment at work. They can have both.

And Federal Labor is willing to change to achieve these goals.

Our Forward with Fairness policy contains measures that have never before

been a part of Labor policy:

Measures such as:

• A uniform national system for the private sector - achieved by working co-operatively with State Governments for a referral of powers for private

sector industrial relations or other forms of cooperation and harmonisation.

• Protected industrial action only in circumstances of genuine bargaining for

a collective agreement and where approved by a secret ballot. It includes

tough rules on unprotected industrial action.

• Penalties on employers for the payment of strike pay.

• Genuine non-union collective agreements.

• Limits on the content and prescriptive detail of awards.


• A focus on family friendly arrangements - in our legislated National

Employment Standards and in our modern awards.

• An unprecedented and genuinely independent system of appointments to

Fair Work Australia will ensure that appointments are balanced and based

solely on merit. It represents a truly historic move towards transparency

and bipartisanship in appointments, with rules which will require

independent assessment of the merits of appointments and consultation

with the Opposition.

Labor’s industrial relations policy is not a policy which universally adopts the

demands of employer groups or the trade union movement.

Nor was it a policy developed as a last minute backflip in the lead up to the

election or an excuse for taxpayer funded political advertising.

It is a balanced policy and a policy in the interests of employers, employees

and the nation.

Thank you