Oct 13, 2005

Matters of Public Importance: Workplace Relations

Matters of Public Importance: Industrial Relations

13 October 2005

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.04 p.m.)—’This reform has been well thought through,’ said the member for Goldstein, but they cannot even produce the legislation. What has been well thought through is the need for them to have a propaganda campaign, paid for by the taxpayer, to drive down the wages and conditions of Australian workers, to transfer wages straight into profits. This has nothing to do with economic growth. It has nothing to do with productivity. Indeed, it could in fact be negative because when you drive down the wages of average workers who spend all of their wage every week—on their mortgage, on food, on child care, on clothing and on education for their kids—you dampen down economic growth. Those people do not have the savings and the opportunities that some of the spivs opposite have had and have taken for granted throughout their whole lives.

We heard that this was well thought through. The opposition leader exposed that farce today in the parliament with two documents. The reform has been so well thought through that they printed tens of thousands of copies of a document but then had to pulp them because their pollsters and spin doctors, who they are paying millions of dollars—Liberal Party friends—advised them: ‘It’s probably not a good idea just to say “A simpler national workplace relations system for Australia”. We need to add the word “fairer”.’ Why did they need to get advice to add the word ‘fairer’? Because the concept of fairness is anathema to those opposite. The concept of equality, the concept of a fair go, is something that they oppose and just do not get. They hate workers, when it comes down to it. They hate average Australians. They think that the people they are elected here to represent—those people of privilege—are the only people who deserve representation in this parliament.

We saw it perhaps best here from the member for Gippsland. The member for Gippsland has for three days in a row got dorothy dixers in which he has spoken about agricultural awards, shop assistants and the average decent, hardworking Australians who keep this country going, in pejorative terms. He has actually had the hide to criticise payments in awards for personal contributions at the workplace level for rural workers who provide a horse for the benefit of themselves and their employer. That is seen as something that is hilarious by the minister. That has got a run for three days in a row, as it is so strange and odd that this would be included in awards!

But the minister, of all people—given that he used to be a minister and then had to resign and pay back $9,000 of taxpayers’ money over travel allowance—

Mr Kelvin Thomson—Shame! Shame—and he’s now a minister.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—The member for Wills has been warned and should know the rules.

Mr ALBANESE—should be very conscious of the complex arrangements that come in our awards that we have to sign off on every month. Just as workers have in their awards transport entitlements, so do we, and ours are pretty generous. If the member for Gippsland drives his car from Sale in Victoria to Parliament House, he gets 522 times 63c—$328.86—each way. That is a total of $328.86 for five or six hours work, not bad money in the kick—something that the minister knows a lot about when it comes to public money. But, when he gets here, the minister has to sign off the registry to prove that he was here. He then has to reconcile it. There are documents the thickness of a telephone book that we have to comply with in what is essentially the equivalent of our award. But there is one difference between our conditions and the conditions of the average worker: this man, who has more wealth than probably every shop assistant in Australia combined, begrudges elements in awards such as $5. He begrudges $5 going to an average worker, which exposes, really, what the government are about.

The member for Goldstein talks about how well the economy is going under this government. They speak about the flexibility that is there. Of course it is there, because the Hawke and Keating Labor governments made sure through their industrial relations reform—which was all about enterprise bargaining and making sure that productivity was a key to wage increases—that the economy they inherited would go well. But this government have it confused. They have confused non-unionism with anti-unionism. It is true that unionism in this country has fallen to about one in four in the work force. They have thought this through and thought, ‘That means everyone hates unions.’ Not true. Decent, hardworking Australians know that they want a safety net. They want an Industrial Relations Commission. They might not even know who are members of their union. We have all had workers turn up to our electorate offices and say, ‘I need assistance. I’ve copped a raw deal off the boss.’ The first thing you say to them is, ‘Have you gone to your union?’ They say, ‘I’m not really a member—but I would like to join.’ And you know what they do? They do just that—join. Part of the culture in this country is knowing that trade unions exist and will be there for those who need them. Part of the culture of the great Australian Labor Party that we will not walk away from is our connection with the trade union movement, something that we are proud of.

The government in its documents has really exposed what it is about. This is a government that would construct an industrial relations system in which ‘fairer’ just does not figure, in which ‘fairer’ is an afterthought. This is also a government which has been exposed by these documents. What has it taken out of the documents? It has taken out ‘your existing award conditions protected by law’.

Can you imagine the setting? In the minister’s office, the document comes through—glossy, paid for as part of the $100-million spend. The minister or one of his advisers gets it and reads: your existing award conditions protected by law. ‘We can’t really say that because we’re not doing it. We’d better take that out.’ Then they have a look and read: preserving key award conditions. ‘Well, we’re not really going to do that either. We’d better take that out.’ Then they have a look and see: terms and conditions in existing agreements will be protected. ‘We’re not going to do that either, so we’d better take that out.’

What this document exposes—not a piece of propaganda from the ACTU or the ALP, but a document from the government, paid for by the Australian taxpayer—is what this government is really about: ripping the guts out of fairness in the Australian system. Fairness characterises us as a nation. We use it throughout our language: ‘fair dinkum’, ‘fair go’. We can lose the Ashes and think, ‘That’s all right, because it was about time the Poms won.’ We have as part of our culture fairness before the law. The rights of trade unions are a core part of that. The fact is the government has just got this wrong. It knows it has got it wrong because its $100 million propaganda campaign has been exposed as being illegal. The AEC wrote to the minister today saying just that. (Time expired)