Browsing articles in "Grayndler Hansard"
Oct 11, 2011

Clean Energy Bill 2011 and Related Bills Second Reading Speech

After decades of debate, the time for talking is over.

The science is in.

It’s now time to get this critical reform in place.

Other nations are already acting.

They know that in a competitive, globalised 21st century world, successful economies will be those that adapt early to a carbon constrained future.

Labor is not prepared to ignore the threat, ignore the science and ignore the economists.

We cannot say it is someone else’s problem.

We all share the one planet.

We are all citizens of the world.

It would simply not be fair to leave it to our children and grandchildren to deal with the consequences of our inaction.

Because if we do nothing, dangerous climate change will impact on this and future generations.



As Minister for Transport, I feel a particular responsibility.

Here in Australia, transport accounts for around 15 per cent of total greenhouse emissions – a little lower than the global average of about 18 per cent.

The vast bulk of this is from road transport and light vehicles, responsible for around 87 per cent of emissions.

That is why the Government is taking action to reduce greenhouse emissions from our vehicles.

But we are doing this in a measured and fair way.


Light Vehicles

Under the Government’s climate change plan businesses which use vehicles of less than 4.5 tonnes such as cars, utes and light commercial vehicles will be permanently excluded from paying the carbon price when they fill up at the bowser.

This means that the carbon price will have no direct impact on the fuel bills of many small and larger businesses – the couriers, taxi drivers, tradesmen, hire car companies and minibus operators.

The Government is also excluding the family car and ute.

Families in the regions don’t have a bus or a train station down the road like families in capital cities do.

Similarly, tradies can’t replace the work ute easily.

So, light vehicles will be permanently excluded from the carbon price.


Rail and Maritime 

Looking at rail and maritime sectors, the carbon price will have only a modest impact.

To offset the effect of any rises, nine out of ten households will receive assistance.

This means more than four million households will receive assistance via tax cuts for any increased prices they may pay.


Heavy Vehicles 

In the case of heavy vehicles, operators will have a two year transitional period to reconfigure their fleets and re-negotiate contracts with customers.

From 1 July 2014, a carbon price will apply to the fuel used by trucks over 4.5 tonnes.

The Government has already stated that the agriculture, forestry and fishery industries will be permanently excluded.

Trucks powered by CNG, LNG, LPG or biofuels will be permanently excluded. Once in place in 2014, the carbon price will have only a marginal impact on fuel bills.

In fact it will tiny, compared with the fluctuations we regularly see at the bowser from variations in world oil prices.

The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has calculated that the extra cost of driving a B-Double from Sydney to Melbourne under the carbon price, at today’s diesel prices, will be about $35 – or 7 cents a litre.



Let’s look now at how a carbon price will affect air travel.

From day one – that is, 1 July next year – an effective carbon price will apply to the fuel used by domestic airlines.

To maintain the competitiveness of Australian carriers, it won’t apply to the fuel they use when flying internationally, at least until there’s a global carbon price.

We are also allowing large liquid fuel users, such as airlines, to voluntarily opt in, in 2013.

This is because a carbon market already operates in the EU and our international carriers may want the ability to trade across markets.

It is worth repeating: a market for the price on carbon already exists and Australian companies competing internationally want the ability to trade across markets.

The carbon price will have only a small impact on domestic airfares – less than many of the extra fees airlines already charge.

For example, it’s expected to add about $2 to the cost of a seat on a flight between Sydney and Melbourne – and around $1 on a flight between Sydney and Armidale.

Qantas and Virgin have put the average fare rise across their entire domestic networks at $3.50 and $3 respectively.

Any increase would occur against a backdrop where flying is today FIVE TIMES more affordable than it was two decades ago as a result of earlier Labor reforms such as the deregulation of domestic aviation market.


Public Transport  

Once fully implemented in 2014, the Carbon Price will have little impact on the cost of the daily commute.

The expected rise is only half of one percent, significantly under the eight percent that was added by John Howard’s GST.


Complementary Measures

But we are doing much more.

We are also working to reduce the sector’s footprint through smart regulations and by empowering consumers.

Already we are:

  • Introducing the first ever mandatory CO2 emissions standards for all new cars and light commercial vehicles sold in Australia. We are working with local manufacturers to set the emission levels – and these will apply from 2015. This will be a big saving for motorists through better fuel efficiency.
  • We are also requiring all new cars sold in Australia to display fuel consumption labels, spelling out their emissions and fuel consumption in both city and highway conditions. Coupled with our Green Vehicle Guide, consumers will be able to make more informed choices about the environmental performance of the car they buy.
  • We are investing in new technologies to better manage the flow of traffic along some of our busiest roads. By using this so-called Smart Motorways technology we can substantially reduce congestion and carbon emissions, while making our roads safer and smoother for motorists.
  • And we are restoring national leadership when it comes to the growth of our major cities. After all, that is where three in four Australians live. Our recently published national urban policy – Our Cities, Our Future – supports locating new jobs and future employment precincts closer to where people live, thereby minimising the daily commute.



Labor has long recognised the risk of climate change to future generations and to the nation’s economic wellbeing.

Indeed, the first official act of the Rudd Labor Government was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Personally, this was a proud moment.

I had campaigned long and hard for Australia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

When I was the Shadow Minister for the Environment and Heritage, I introduced a Private Members Bill in an effort to get the then Prime Minister John Howard to take action.

In 2006, I worked with Kim Beazley on Federal Labor’s policy paper -entitled Protecting Australia from the Threat of Climate Change.

This was Labor’s blueprint for tackling climate change.

It is worth remembering some of the practical measures in that blueprint:

  • a commitment to 60 per cent cuts to Australia’s year 2000 level of greenhouse emissions by 2050;
  • a commitment to ratify the Kyoto Protocol;
  • ensuring Australia realised the economic benefits of sustainable industry, by supporting carbon-friendly technologies and emissions trading;
  • a commitment to sustainability by increasing and extending the Renewable Energy Target to 20 per cent by 2020;
  • the development of commercial solar, wind and geothermal energy technologies by Australian research, including a commitment to “rebuild the CSIRO”, and
  • the establishment of a National Sustainability Council to monitor the performance of the entire country against agreed sustainability targets.

The similarity of the Beazley Blueprint, and what is now contained in the Bills currently before the House, is striking.

Unlike those opposite, Labor has always been committed to practical, real and fair action on climate change.

The Liberal Party once was too.

On 14 February 2005, while introducing my Private Members Bill that would ratify the Kyoto Protocol, I stated:

“We must start working actively on climate change because it is an issue affecting Australia’s future prosperity.”

Six years ago I stood in this Place and argued that we needed a planned approach to shift Australia towards a modern, clean-energy economy.

That the potential for innovation and therefore business investment and growth, would be immense.

In six years nothing has changed, except the urgency of the need to act.

Australian companies and our economy will be disadvantaged if we exclude ourselves from carbon markets and the growing market in renewable energy technology.

Just as science and technology have given us the tools to measure and understand environmental problems, they also help us solve them.

The potential for innovation, scientific discovery and hence business investment growth is immense.

With the right policy framework, the very act of addressing our challenges can unleash new commercial forces and unimagined opportunities.

New jobs, new technologies, new markets.

Think of the potential economic benefits – and jobs – for this nation.

The global trading market for carbon will be worth billions of dollars.

If we don’t act, our businesses and the national economy will be simply left behind.

It is not just a question of economics.

The Opposition puts at risk more than just our future economic prosperity.

By pretending the world is not taking action, by pretending that climate change is not real, by ignoring the science, the Opposition risks the health and indeed future of Australia.

There is only one planet.

Let’s treat it, and all of us that depend on its health, with respect.

We must not be condemned by history as the generation that knew but did nothing.

The time for words is over.

Now is the time for action and delivery.

That is what the Gillard Government is doing with these Bills.

I commend the Bills to the House.


Aug 24, 2011

Constituency statements – Same-Sex Relationships

Mr ANTHONY ALBANESE (12:02): The Australian Labor Party, of which I am a very proud member, has a long and proud tradition of advancing the cause of equality and social justice in our society. We recognise that all men and women are born equal regardless of their sexuality. In my very first speech in this parliament in 1996 I talked about the need to remove discrimination where it existed, whether it be on the grounds of race, gender, class or sexuality. In my first term in June 1998 I introduced a private member’s bill to give same-sex couples equal rights aimed at removing discrimination with regard to superannuation in terms of the parliament. I introduced this same bill a further three times without success. I could not even get it debated on the floor of the House of Representatives. Indeed, when I first raised it in the ALP caucus there was some shifting of people on the seats; people were uncomfortable with even a discussion about the issue of sexuality and discrimination.

The world moves on very quickly, and indeed I am very proud that in our first term of office the Labor government amended some 84 Commonwealth laws to eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples and their children in a range of areas—reforms that meant people were treated equally in line with that great Australian tradition of a fair go for all, reforms that it took a Labor government to deliver. At the last ALP national conference the party platform was changed and further progress made. In addressing the conference I acknowledged that history was moving forward on this issue. I said this to the conference:

I have a view that my relationship, because I happen to be heterosexual, is not undermined by someone else’s relationship because it is homosexual.

I remain very much of that view. The Australian Labor Party will be debating the issue of marriage equality at our upcoming national conference later this year. There are widely held views within the Labor Party, as a broad based political party, as there are in society. Each and every person is entitled to their opinion and entitled to have their opinion respected. I have long been an advocate of change, but I have also been an advocate who has stressed the need to bring the community with us. This is about inclusion and the debate must be conducted in an inclusive way, one that respects different opinions that are deeply held. I also want to make it clear that I do not support the state imposing its will on particular religious communities in relation to these issues. I think that particular groups of people, if they have that view, have a right not to have the state impose their views on them.

I certainly did not need a motion from the parliament to discuss these issues. I have been engaged with the community, whether they be people from the gay and lesbian community or people from the heterosexual community, who have views on these issues for a very long time. I did not need the motion; I have been doing this for 15 years across a range of issues and I am very proud of the fact that I think people see me as being open and accessible.

In recent times, of course, the number of people wanting to make representations to me has increased. I have met with people, whether they be advocates of marriage equality or opponents, and I respect their views. I have made my views clear at ALP conferences as is appropriate under our rules and I will continue to do so. People know the position that I will take at the ALP national conference. But I think change is difficult for people, and that has to be respected. As the debate goes on, I look back at same-sex superannuation and say, ‘Who today says that was a bad reform?’ There is now consensus on something that was radical when I introduced that bill in 1998. I think that society is moving forward in terms of giving people equal rights and I look forward to further debate in this parliament.

(Time expired)


Aug 22, 2011

Personal Explanation

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (15:33): I wish to make a personal explanation.

The SPEAKER: Does the member claim to have been misrepresented?


The SPEAKER: Please proceed.

Mr ALBANESE: by Senator Lee Rhiannon at the Politics in the Pub meeting held at the Gaelic Club in Sydney on 22 July 2011. I have received a copy of a transcript of that event where Senator Rhiannon outlined in great detail a misleading critique of my position with regard to my opposition to the BDS campaign of Marrickville Council supporting a boycott of Israel. Nowhere in her comments, where she was critical of my engagement in the issue, did she state the fact that the resolution carried by Marrickville Council was that Marrickville Council write to the local, state and federal ministers informing them of the council’s position and seeking their support at the state and federal levels for the global BDS movement; nor did she outline that on 12 January the general manager had a letter which was held back that stated: ‘In accordance with the provisions of part 3 of the resolution I wish to formally advise you of the council’s decision in this matter and seek your personal support for council’s initiative by raising the issue in the state parliament, the federal parliament and urging your parliamentary colleagues to contemplate support for similar action.’

Senator Rhiannon went on to state to the meeting: ‘Then what happens is that on 14 January 2011 in the Australian there is an opinion piece by Anthony Albanese. This is an opinion piece that really lays out the form in which the whole BDS debate will go in the coming months.’ What she did not state was that on the day before, 13 January, the mayor, Fiona Byrne, put a position on, on The Drum website. Through the position she went on to say that I opposed broader involvement by local government in broad issues. I did not and my article in the Australian made it clear that I did not. I opposed the specific campaign by the Greens on Marrickville Council.

Jun 2, 2011

Statements on indulgence – Italian National Day

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (16:09): Very briefly, Mr Speaker, I also wish on indulgence to acknowledge that today is Italian National Day; indeed, this year is the 150thanniversary of the unification of Italy. I will be attending a function later today in Leichardt. I know you support the Farm Vigano project, which, of course, is in your electorate, Mr Speaker, I note that the Italian community plays an important role here in Australia.

Feb 22, 2011

Condolences – Australian natural disasters

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (6.25 pm)—I rise this day to speak on the motion and add my voice to those in this House of Representatives who have acknowledged the tragedy and loss experienced by so many Australians this summer. I speak primarily not as the Leader of the House, nor as the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and nor as the member for Grayndler. I speak today from the heart as a fellow Australian who simply cannot imagine what it is like to endure what so many Australians have been forced to endure over this terrible summer of tragedy.

The floods in southern Queensland included the devastating wave of water that took so many lives in the Lockyer Valley. The devastation then moved through the towns and farmlands of Victoria. Cyclone Yasi then blasted Far North Queensland, wrecking towns, destroying homes and ruining livelihoods. Then there were the bushfires of the West. The summer of 2011 will be recalled as the season where nature did not relent, when the nation watched and suffered and asked when it would all end. And, of course, for those who lost a child, a husband, a parent or a friend, the summer of 2011 will really never go away.

The statistics never reveal the human pain, so I am going to tell just one story. One of the enduring images of the floods was of a mum, a dad and a young boy sitting on the roof of a four-wheel-drive as it was carried down by the roaring waters that coursed through the Lockyer Valley, near Toowoomba. Their plight was caught by the news team in the helicopters overhead and was pictured on the front page of the Australian and broadcast around the world. That family was James and Jenny Perry and their son, eight-year-old Teddy. The family had just moved to Queensland so that James could take up the position of senior steward at the Toowoomba and regional racetrack after a number of years in Korea, where he had established a very successful career in the racing industry.

Remarkably, Jenny was saved by passing rescuers, who waded 50 metres through the wild current to reach her. Downstream, another rescuer plucked Teddy from the waters. He had been clinging to a hay feeder. Tragically, his dad, James Perry, has never been seen again. A memorial service was held for him recently in Sydney, where his family have returned to start rebuilding their lives. The country has lost a fine Australian. A man, from all reports, of great integrity, decency and honour.

I tell this story because my good friend and Labor Party colleague, the former Premier of New South Wales, Nathan Rees, had just spent Christmas with the Perrys at their home and then returned when the floods hit. Nathan Rees is now helping to administer the James Perry Trust to raise funds to help his family find their feet again.

The story of the Perry family is one of so many tragedies this summer. You ask yourself, ‘Has anything good come from all this loss?’ Of course, it has. Each day our television showed us the best of humanity—the teams of volunteers with their buckets and mops, the selfless rescuers whose bravery saved so many families from certain death and the personal initiative of Australians in the suburbs and towns who have passed around the hat, have held fundraisers or have packed up a bundle of clothes and sheets and toys to send to those who have been left with nothing.

In my electorate of Grayndler we held our own fundraiser on 31 January in Steel Park in Marrickville. It was a barbecue at which around 200 locals turned up. We raised close to $2½ thousand. I give special thanks to the Sydney Turkish Islamic Culture and Mosque Association in my electorate, which passed over a cheque for $1,500 for the relief appeal. My thanks also go to Marrickville resident Hellen McGlade. Hellen was so affected by the human tragedy of the floods that she felt compelled to do something. So throughout the recent Sydney heatwave she, her mum and 40 neighbours doorknocked the local neighbourhood collecting fresh linen, toys, clothes and household goods. She said they had set aside a couple of hours but was so overwhelmed by the response that she is still receiving donated goods from the neighbourhood—from people so grateful for a way to help their fellow Australians. Hellen works for Hewlett Packard, which is covering the cost of delivering the many packing boxes filled with goods, and I thank that company for its effort.

As transport minister I have had a busy summer watching our precious roads and rail lines face nature’s force. We have had to slow the progress of some of our large road and rail projects to help fund the national rebuilding program. But I am delighted at the speed at which the damaged roads have been repaired. I personally thank the 2,000 workers who have worked around the clock to get Queensland moving again. Around 70 per cent of Queensland’s roads were badly affected. Some 150 major roads were cut. We have put together a $5.6 billion package to help with the recovery. This includes a $2 billion up-front payment to Queensland to help with the rebuilding effort. In Victoria we are still assessing the damage.

These disasters have tested us, but out of the human misery we have united as a nation and shown how powerful we can be as a force of good to help people we have never met but who our hearts go out to, knowing that they would do the same for us. So while we continue to mourn those who have gone, we look ahead to what we can do. Let us heed Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s call and book our Queensland holidays and help the mums, dads and many, many small business operators whose livelihoods depend on tourism. Let us heed the Prime Minister’s call on the weekend for people of all ages to get behind the rebuilding effort. We need an army of skilled workers and an army of apprentices to join the front line to rebuild the homes, the roads, the bridges and many other building structures ruined by the floodwaters. Of course, the Gillard government has a series of incentive programs in place to encourage new apprentices. Let us help the people of Queensland to repair their lives and look forward to the future with hope. And let us all go forward knowing with confidence that when the nation is hit by disaster the rest of Australia does not sit idle; we pitch in. That is us; that is who Australians are. In these worst of times we have seen the best of Australian humanity. I commend the condolence motion to the House.

Aug 13, 2007

Second Reading – Judges’ Pensions Amendment Bill 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (8.11 p.m.)—I rise to speak in favour of the amendment moved by my colleague the member for Gellibrand to the Judges’ Pensions Amendment Bill 2007. It is important to refute the arguments put by the member for O’Connor in what can only be described as an extraordinarily narrow speech in each and every way. Labor does support equality between same-sex de facto couples and heterosexual de facto couples.

We support removing discrimination in a range of areas, including immigration, social security, health care and, indeed, economic issues such as superannuation. The member for O’Connor made an extraordinarily homophobic contribution to the debate suggesting that somehow this is a secret Labor position. In fact, I moved a private member’s bill as far back as 1998 and had to reintroduce it three times when it lapsed because the government refused to allow it to be debated. It was called the Superannuation (Entitlements of same sex couples) Bill. That bill sought to give the same recognition for and entitlements to superannuation for same-sex couples as are currently enjoyed by heterosexual couples. This amendment seeks to give effect to that principle. It states:

… whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading the Opposition believes that the bill fails to give equal treatment to all judges by not treating judges in same-sex de facto relationships in the same way as heterosexual judges and their spouses or de facto spouses, and calls on the Government to amend the bill in order to give judges in same-sex relationships equal treatment.

It is a very simple principle, one which should not be contentious in this parliament in the year 2007.

We had no justification from the member for O’Connor as to why that would not be permitted. Pandering to prejudice was essentially the only argument that was put forward. Yes, there are people who disagree with this proposition, but it is the role of parliamentarians to appeal to people’s better nature, to drive forward social change in a way which improves the social relationships between individuals and groups in our society. I am afraid that that is something which the Howard government has not been prepared to do. The Howard government at each and every opportunity has been prepared to divide people according to race, class, gender or sexuality.

I read in today’s paper that the member for Wentworth suggested that he is going to champion this cause. Well, let him come into this House and vote for this amendment; let him come into this House and support this very basic, fundamental amendment, which goes to the human rights of individuals, and the right to respect that every individual deserves.

We all know of course that being part of a minority, not just on the basis of sexual preference but on the basis of race or religion, can be extremely difficult. We know that Justice Michael Kirby paid a great price for being open about his sexuality and about the fact that he is in a long-term stable relationship with a partner of the same sex. For that, he suffered vilification in the Senate from the Prime Minister’s hatchet man, Senator Bill Heffernan. It is quite clear, I think, that this amendment should not worry anyone. For someone, like the minister opposite, who wears an Amnesty International badge, which would indicate a concern for human rights, it certainly should not concern him.

Mr Ruddock interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—The minister says he does not have it on his tux and dinner suit, and that is right—perhaps you should consider not putting it back on again, Minister, until you are prepared to actually show that you do support human rights in any direction. The fact is that you cannot call yourself a liberal and not support human dignity and equal treatment on the basis of relationships, whether they be same-sex relationships or heterosexual relationships. That is all this amendment does.

Indeed, prior to the last election the Howard government gave a commitment that they were going to deal with the issue of superannuation—a small element. Indeed, the Prime Minister has made comments that he supports equal treatment across a range of areas for people in same-sex relationships. Yet, not only have we seen no movement in social security, health, migration and other areas from this government; on the minuscule area of superannuation we have seen a very inadequate reform, which has left discrimination in place for Public Service employees. I commend the amendment to the House and urge all those opposed to discrimination to vote for it.



Jun 12, 2007

Statement – Hui Fraud

Mr Albanese (Grayndler) (4.18pm) – I rise today to warn of an issue that has arisen in my electorate of Grayndler, particularly involving the Vietnamese community. A ‘Hui’ is a type of informal club in which the members of the club, usually from Vietnamese families, contribute money to the club on a regular basis. The money is lent to other members of the club to assist them when those other members have been unable to obtain financial help from banks or official lending institutions. Hui is an unregulated practice and is not monitored by the government. While most Hui take place between small groups of families, they can grow to enormous sizes involving tens of millions of dollars. Families and individuals deposit money with an administrator or chairman, who then lends money with interest to the other members upon request. The potential for abuse and fraud, particularly by the chairman or administrator, is enormous. The chairman is responsible for large amounts of money, and that chairman is the only person aware of the amounts involved and often has sole control of the money.

Because of the distrust that groups in the community have of traditional banks and government agencies, members are reluctant to come forward when they suspect something is amiss with the administrator’s handling of the money. Potential taxation issues also may be a contributing factor to members’ silence on these issues. No member of a Hui wants to be the one to bring it down. At the moment there is an allegation against an administrator of a Hui centred in Marrickville and comprised of Vietnamese families, mainly in my electorate but also extending right through to Cabramatta. The administrator has allegedly defrauded the club of possibly tens of millions of dollars, funnelling the club’s money offshore and into personal assets. There is also an allegation that the administrator was obtaining fees from members which, in itself, is an illegal act. I understand that in this matter the police have become involved.

While I make no comment on the allegations in particular, I do speak today to warn of the inherent dangers of investing money in high­risk, unregulated and probably illegal financial schemes. When investing money, care should be taken to ensure the bona fides of the scheme. I include in this both regulated and unregulated investment opportunities. I am particularly concerned that it is vulnerable members of the Vietnamese community in my electorate who stand to lose, in many cases, their life savings. They have made representations to me and have asked that I make these issues public in order to warn other members of the community of the dangers which can take place. In this particular case there are ongoing investigations and I certainly encourage the police to pursue them. But I also encourage members of the community to be very wary of schemes such as this which are open to abuse.


May 30, 2007

Second Reading – Workplace Relations Amendment (A Stronger Safety Net) Bill 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (1.15 p.m.)—Australians are not afraid of hard work. They are not afraid to put in the hard yards to get ahead. Generally speaking, Australians will do what it takes. They are amongst the hardest working individuals in the world. By their nature, Aussies are also a flexible lot, ready to roll up their sleeves and get on with it. But they also have a good sense of what is fair. Built into the Australian psyche is the notion of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. When women and men choose to work longer hours on weekdays and decide to give up their weekends, they deserve to receive overtime and penalty rates to help pay a bit extra off the mortgage, pay for the kids to be involved in sport and simply have a bit more peace of mind. It is because Australians know what is fair that they can instantly recognise a political quick fix when they see it, especially when it comes from the Howard government wrapped in television and newspaper ads, and badged with the words ‘fairness test’. They know that this is the same government that rode roughshod over their working rights and conditions earlier in the election cycle that is now proposing this so-called test—just months after they were out there proclaiming that these conditions would be guaranteed by law, and now we have a political quick fix just months before an election.

I listened to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, this morning on radio talking about how in the past Australians who signed on to AWAs were worse off—they gave up their conditions without getting proper recompense for them—but now it would be different. The problem with that is that the government, when it passed its Work Choices legislation, said that this would not occur, and it has. Make no mistake: no amount of rebadging, no amount of advertising and no amount of amending the legislation formerly known as Work Choices will restore the balance in our workplaces. This Workplace Relations Amendment (A Stronger Safety Net) Bill 2007 is all about the job of the Prime Minister rather than the jobs of working Australians.

The Labor Party remain totally opposed to the Prime Minister’s unfair Work Choices laws because we are a party created by working people and built on their determination and steadfast belief in the fair go. We remain opposed to laws that were born when the ideology of a single man started to dictate the shape of the nation, when a Senate majority of one provided a temptation so great that the Prime Minister abused the trust Australians placed in him when they returning his government in 2004, when unfettered control of both houses of parliament became an attack on the values of Australian society. It is a government so driven by ideology that it did not hesitate to make draconian changes to the Australian industrial relations system despite never having sought a mandate from the Australian people to do so. For the same reasons, Australians were forced to endure draconian changes to the welfare system, the gagging of important debates like that on the antiterrorism bills, inquiries on important legislative items done and dusted in a matter of days and sometimes hours, the ideological abolition of voluntary student unionism and, indeed, the gagging of this very debate before the parliament today.

How can anyone forget the comments of a government so drunk on power that the chairman of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, Senator Brandis, in August 2005 was reported telling his coalition colleagues that the idea of an inquiry into the Work Choices legislation was ‘stupid’ and that:

There’s nothing in this for us … Senate inquiries are a free kick for the Labor Party, the media never run anything except things that are embarrassing for the Government and it won’t have any public purpose because the detail will be in the legislation for all to see anyway.

For his efforts, for trashing democracy, the Prime Minister saw it fit to reward Senator Brandis with a promotion to the ministry.

These unfair industrial relations laws are driven by a man who has lost touch with the Australian people and what they value: the right to a fair go regardless of what you do for a living, where you live and how much you earn. The changes inflicted on Australian workplaces have turned worker against worker and undermined the security of family life. Salaries have been cut, conditions scrapped, entitlements slashed and minimum standards attacked. The Howard government have gone too far. Rather than governing for all of us, they govern for some of their friends. The Prime Minister said he would keep interest rates low, but we know rates have gone up eight times. He said he would get the economy right, but now he is squandering the opportunities offered by the unprecedented resources boom. He said he would protect us from terror, but instead he has taken Australian troops to war in Iraq and made all Australians feel less safe. He said the Senate majority would not go to his head, but, of course, we know he has gone too far. But there are some things he never said anything about: nothing about his plans to slash wages and smash awards; nothing about scrapping penalty rates, overtime and redundancy pay; nothing about trashing public holidays like Anzac Day; and nothing about giving bosses the right to sack workers whenever they like.

Australians know what is fair when they see it and they know that these amendments to Work Choices will not stop the unfair industrial relations laws continuing to hurt working families. This is because these changes are not motivated by the national interest. These changes are purely motivated by the political interests of the Howard government. The Prime Minister admitted that his hasty Work Choices amendments have been made because of perception and said:

There is this perception in the community that there might be situations where people are vulnerable to having their penalty rates and overtime loadings traded away or taken away without adequate compensation.

Now I don’t want that to happen …

It is too late; it has already happened.

The Work Choices legislation is no perception. Just ask the workers at Spotlight or the long-serving Tristar workers in my electorate who have been cheated out of their entitlements because of the Howard government’s extreme industrial relations laws. These Australians have worked hard to contribute to community life and the economy. They have been thrown on the scrapheap. What they have to do is turn up to work each and every day and clock on when there is no work to do. Why is that occurring? So that when they are laid off they will reduce their redundancy payments. These Tristar workers came to this parliament last year. I asked questions in the parliament last year. They were prepared to meet the government, the Prime Minister, the then Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, or anyone else from the government. The government ignored their plight. The government sat on their hands. That is not perception; that is the reality. For the government, the employees’ plight became an issue only when Alan Jones and others in the media took an interest. This spurred the government to call the actions of the company immoral and criminal, but it did not drive them to action and to make changes to the Work Choices laws. They sat on their hands for months while Tristar workers were being treated so unfairly day after day.

It is clear the Howard government is not interested in the plight of Australian workers; it is just interested in being re-elected. It has already spent, in a week, $4.1 million of taxpayers’ money on industrial relations advertising in an attempt to achieve that goal. That was, of course, advertising before the legislation was actually introduced into this chamber—contempt for this parliament and for proper legislative processes. That was on top of the $55 million advertising campaign in 2005 to tell hardworking Australians that their award conditions would be protected by law. Of course, we know that that protection is not there. We know because the government itself says it is not there but proclaims that this legislation will fix the problem that it said was never there in the first place. So why should Australian workers trust the government? We could have done a fair bit in employing extra doctors and nurses or putting more money into education and housing with that $60 million, but it is a self-indulgent government that is prepared to spend an unlimited amount of taxpayer funds in order to secure its own political interests.

I would like to turn to the gaping holes in the Work Choices amendments before us. Firstly, there is the argument that there is fair compensation for loss of protected award conditions. The proposed amendment states that, if a workplace agreement modifies or excludes any of the listed protected award conditions, the agreement must provide fair compensation for the loss of the protected award. This raises a number of concerns. Firstly, there does not appear to be any compensation provided for loss of award conditions not subject to the so-called fairness test. These include conditions such as additional leave for certain industries, redundancy pay and rostering protections. Given that the Howard government’s own statistics on AWAs show that 100 per cent of all agreements took away at least one protected award condition, and recently leaked figures show that workers have lost all 11 so-called protected award conditions in 44 per cent of AWAs signed since Work Choices was introduced, it is likely that many employees will still be worse off under an AWA than under an award, despite the government’s proposed amendments.

Secondly, it is unclear what ‘fair compensation’ constitutes and how it might be calculated by the Workplace Authority. This is particularly concerning because the government has always argued there is no methodology that enables proper comparison of the circumstances before and after an AWA. In fact, on 26 March this year, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations stood at the dispatch box opposite. The Deputy Opposition Leader, Julia Gillard, had asked:

Will the minister give the Australian people one reason—just one reason—why his government will not direct the Office of the Employment Advocate to recommence the analysis of Australian workplace agreements and to publicly release it?

The minister, Joe Hockey, replied:

Because, with the introduction of AWAs and the changes made under our laws a year ago, no-one has shown me a formula that allows you to compare apples with apples.

So, what does ‘fair compensation’ exactly constitute? The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations outlined in his second reading speech that ‘a slice of pizza will not constitute non-monetary compensation’. We are grateful for that clarification, but what about an occasional fancy dinner, some frequent flyer points, a discount on grocery items for someone who works in a supermarket or a weekly tank of petrol? I am sure that further clarification would be appreciated not just by workers but also by employers across Australia.

The second argument is that these amendments to the Work Choices legislation are about the issue of consultation with employees. Let us presume for a moment that the Workplace Authority does find a way to calculate the value of lost award conditions. The proposed legislation remains unclear as to whether the Workplace Authority will even consult with the employee to ascertain whether he or she considers the compensation to be a genuine benefit. Also, the legislation appears to make no provision for the employee to appeal the decision if he or she considers it to be insufficient compensation. It seems to me that, despite the government’s rhetoric that the Workplace Authority will consider the ‘industry, location and economic circumstances of the business and the specific employment circumstances or opportunities of the employee’, the fairness test provides an escape route for employers who undercompensate rather than a protection mechanism for employees incurring the loss. It is not surprising really. The Howard government would never have introduced their extreme industrial relations laws if they had the needs of working Australians in mind.

Labor will move amendments in the consideration in detail debate later this afternoon. If the Howard government is genuinely concerned about compensating all workers for the loss of award conditions, it will support our amendments. But let us be clear: Labor remain totally opposed to the Prime Minister’s extreme Work Choices laws. There is nothing in the proposed amendments before us that will stop Labor abolishing Work Choices. They are not about introducing flexibility or fairness into the industrial relations system. They are all about clever politics. Australian employers and employees were expected to comply with changes to the Work Choices legislation from Monday, 7 May, even though the legislation had not been written, let alone released. To add insult to injury, taxpayers’ money was used to advertise the new laws that had not seen the light of day. This is clever and cunning politics before sound policy, and public relations before parliamentary process.

It is clear that the proposed changes to the Work Choices legislation will not fix the lack of balance in Australian workplaces. They will not change the fact that the Prime Minister has lost touch with the needs of working Australians and with the challenges they face when juggling work, family and sudden roster changes. Labor supports the amendment in the hope that it may benefit even one working Australian. But, in government, Australians can rest assured that we will do things differently. Labor supports a real safety net: legislated minimum conditions and modern, simplified awards. We support enterprise level bargaining to drive productivity. Labor introduced enterprise bargaining. Labor supports individual common-law agreements which cannot undercut the safety net. We will ensure that, when minimum wage cases are handed down, pay rates are published to assist employers.

Labor’s system will be overseen by a new, one-stop shop industrial umpire. We will be tough on unlawful industrial action. Above all, Labor’s policy will be fair, balanced and productive. The Prime Minister may be a clever politician, but hardworking Australian families can see that the only job the Prime Minister is worried about is his own.

It is quite extraordinary that the government, which says that this legislation is so important, which has spent so much of taxpayers’ funds on advertising this campaign, which is truncating debate in this House by moving a gag motion, can only find eight members of parliament who are prepared to speak on this legislation. There is not a single frontbencher, besides the minister, who is prepared to put their name on the speakers list to speak on this legislation. It is extraordinary that the government is too embarrassed to actually stand up and support this legislation which, it says, is critical. This is all about the Prime Minister’s past ideological obsessions. It has nothing to do with securing Australia’s future prosperity.



Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: [email protected]

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