Workplace Relations

It was a bit of a celebration for those of us on this side of the House, but I know it was a day of mourning on the other side of the chamber. It was not a debate; it was more like a wake. It was like burying a member of the family, and it is a member of the family that they want to dig up and bring to life whenever they can. The contribution from the member for Stirling just proves that it is still alive and well. It is like that zombie policy that wants to rear its head again and get out of the coffin and get back to life as soon as you get a chance.

If we are going to have a debate about industrial relations you have got to start where it all begins-that is, where you stand when it comes to Work Choices, that zombie policy. The member for Stirling knows this all too well because he is one of the Dr Frankensteins who helped build the monster that killed John Howard. They forget that at their peril. So they play a game around this chamber a bit like Weekend at Bernie’s. Do you remember that movie? They used to wander around pretending that Bernie was still alive, taking him to the movies-

You have not seen that one? It is worth watching. Go and grab it at the video store. In Weekend at Bernie’s they pretended that Bernie was still alive. Those opposite are going to try to pretend that Work Choices is dead. But I will tell you this: Peter Costello might be gone but it is still alive and well in the hearts and the minds of those opposite.

The shadow minister talked about award modernisation. Let me say this: the Australian Industrial Relations Commission is part way through a two-year award modernisation process. He knows this because he voted for the legislation that introduced it: the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Act, which was passed in March 2008 with the support of the Liberal opposition. It provides for an award modernisation process that commences for a transition period of up to five years. That is the legislation that was introduced last year and passed with the support of both sides of this House. Since then, 44 modern awards have been made and 50 draft awards have been published for consultation.

I should mention and place on the record of the House the view of the Master Plumbers and Mechanical Services Association of Australia, which welcomed the Australian Industrial Relations Commission decision on award modernisation on 23 January 2009 that recognised the wider plumbing, mechanical services and fire services as a separate industry through one modern award. Mr Ebejer stated:

… this historical decision will particularly assist small business contractors/employers in better managing their employment responsibilities by removing the confusion of the many existing separate awards, providing one focused national award for Plumbing, Mechanical Servicing and Fire Sprinkler Contracting businesses and employees.

There you have it; that is an example of this process at work. We started the last century-at the beginning of Federation-with different rail gauges and we understood the necessity of moving to a standard rail gauge. And in the 21st century I think most people in this chamber understand the importance of standardised national awards. Certainly, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry think that this is an important process. They said:

Workplace relations policy is too important for horse and buggy era approaches to persist.

… many businesses are subject to overlapping, multiple sets of regulation (both state and federal) within the one workplace.

When did they say that? They said it in 2005. But there was not a lot of award modernisation going on in 2005 because those opposite, who were then sitting on the Treasury bench, were too busy creating the monster.

The member for Mayo knows this because he is the original Dr Frankenstein-he is the architect-and he bears more responsibility than most in this chamber for what the monster did to his boss John Howard.

The opposition spokesman for workplace relations had this to say on ABC radio on 3 June:

… what the government is saying is that they’re just going to implement these new awards holus-bolus on January 1, 2010.

That is what you said. Is that your view?

I will continue to quote the member for Stirling, who is the shadow minister:

Now what that means if you’re in a state which has a lower award based than another state, you’re going to face a massive increase in your operating costs from the 1st of January.

This is the sort of scare campaign that we are starting to get used to over here. Actually, we have been used to it for a while, going back to Tampa, children overboard and the scare campaigns that were run at the last election. There is the dodgy scare campaign that you are running on debt. Obviously this is another dodgy scare campaign on award modernisation. He knows it is not true, because he voted for the legislation that allows for a five-year transition period.

The shadow minister also spoke about the Australian Building and Construction Commission and argued that its replacement would be a ‘toothless tiger’. He said that getting rid of the ABCC was going to create a toothless tiger. Let’s add a little bit of truth to the debate. The fact is that the Labor Party in opposition made a commitment to get rid of the ABCC and to replace it with a specialist division of Fair Work Australia starting in January of next year. That was our commitment and that is what we are doing. We are a party that adopts policy based on an evidence based approach. I take you to the report that Justice Wilcox did. Have a look at what Justice Wilcox said. He said:

I am satisfied there is still such a level of industrial unlawfulness in the building and construction industry, especially in Victoria and Western Australia, that it would be inadvisable not to empower the [Specialist Division] to undertake compulsory interrogation. The reality is that, without such a power, some types of contravention would be almost impossible to prove.

He continues to say:

I have reached the opinion that it would be unwise not to endow [Specialist Division] (at least for now) with a coercive interrogation power. Although conduct in the industry has improved in recent years, I believe the job is not yet done.

So what has this government done? It is implementing those recommendations, maintaining those coercive powers but doing something that those opposite failed to do, and that is provide proper oversight for those coercive powers, making sure that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has to approve the use of those coercive powers and also make sure that if those coercive powers are used then they are videotaped and they are reviewed on a regular basis by the ombudsman and reported to this parliament.

My question for the opposition is: what have you got against that? What do you think is wrong about that? Are you going to vote against that legislation because you think that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal should not have oversight or that the ombudsman should not have a role? This is ostensibly what the opposition are saying. This is what they call a toothless tiger. This is what they call watering down the powers that will be established in Fair Work Australia. It doesn’t really add up.

This debate is ostensibly one about jobs. The opposition talk about the destruction of jobs. If you want to talk about the destruction of jobs, have a look at what the opposition did in the Senate last night. What the opposition did in the Senate last night is put jobs of people that they say they are worried about in the construction industry at risk. They did that for political purposes. If you go back to 26 January this year and open up the newspaper-actually, you do not even have to open it up; have a look at the front page of the Australian on 26 January. When most Australians were thinking about what it means to be an Australian, we found out what it means to be a Liberal. On the front page of that newspaper Malcolm Turnbull said he was going to oppose the Australian Business Investment Partnership because he thinks, and continues to think, that the market should be allowed to take its course-that the proper process is to let the market take its course, and if that means jobs sacrificed on the altar of Liberal ideology, then so be it. That is the consequence of their actions. When you are in the middle of a storm, you do not cancel your flood insurance policy, but that is ostensibly what the Liberal Party are asking this parliament and asking the people of Australia to do by voting against this legislation in the Senate.

The other thing that is worthy of pointing out is having a look at the budget. If you go to Budget Paper No. 1 and you turn to page 1-7, it makes for some pretty interesting reading. It says this:

In the absence of Government action, the level of GDP would be 2¾ per cent lower in 2009-10 and 1½ per cent lower in 2010-11. Government action is expected to support up to 210,000 jobs and, without it, the forecast unemployment rate would reach 10 per cent.

So who are the real job destroyers here? Without government action, without stimulating the economy there would be 210,000 extra jobs sacrificed on the altar of Liberal ideology and unemployment would reach a rate of 10 per cent. Who are the real job destroyers here? There are 210,000 reasons in this budget why the government is taking action to protect jobs. There are 210,000 extra reasons why this government thinks it is responsible to borrow to protect their jobs. A job is important for these 210,000 people and it is also important for their families. But I tell you what: it is also important for the economy, because those 210,000 people have the skills, the experience and the energy that we need to build a more productive economy, a more competitive economy and a more efficient economy in the world that lies beyond the global recession. That is why what we are doing is the right and appropriate thing.

The irony of this, of course, is that, if you were to adopt the Liberal Party’s strategy, you would find that we would lose up to 210,000 extra jobs and that the economy would now be in a technical recession. That is what Treasury modelling showed when the national accounts came out. It showed that in the absence of a stimulus to the economy, the economy would now be negative 0.2 per cent for the March quarter and debt would be almost exactly the same. That is the great irony of the proposition that is being put here in an MPI about destroying jobs. Effectively, Liberal Party policy, as espoused by the Leader of the Opposition, is to ensure that 210,000 extra people lose their jobs, that the deficit is almost exactly the same-$275 billion-and that this economy would go into recession. That is the outcome of Liberal Party policy. I tell you what: those 210,000 people are important.

Malcolm Turnbull, the Leader of the Opposition, talks about jobs, jobs, jobs. He says that is the most important priority for the government, and I agree: it is. It is and it should be the priority of this government. That is why the government is building classrooms around the country; it is why it is building roads, why it is building rail, why it is building ports, why it is rolling out broadband. It is why 35,000 different projects are rolling out around the country over the next 12 months. I spoke to a bloke called Kev, who is the builder in my electorate-‘Kev the builder’. He builds halls-

He doesn’t have blond hair! But, I tell you what, he is building halls around the country just like Kevin Rudd is. This is a bloke who told me that building a hall on any given job site would employ 300 to 400 people over the course of the project and that, as a consequence of the government’s actions, he has been able to buy a bobcat with the small business tax breaks that we have provided and that two of his apprentices have been able to get their first home through the first home owner boost. That is a small example of the effect of what we are doing. But, of course, there is a multiplier effect because all the products to build the hall have to be bought and all the money that goes in the pockets of those workers and those apprentices means they are spending more money at the petrol station, buying a bunch of flowers for their wife or buying food for their family. But there is a bigger multiplier than that. What many members may not be aware of is that the construction industry actually spends more money on IT in a year than it does on steel and spends more money on legal, accounting and financial services than it does on steel.

By building an education revolution, we are building strength into this economy. By building an education revolution, we are effectively permeating the whole economy. We are making sure that we support families, whether they happen to be construction workers or whether they are working in all different sorts of jobs around the country. We are in for some tough times ahead. Unemployment is projected to get to 8½ per cent, and that means that we need to act together. We need to work constructively, and that needs the opposition’s support. I would hope that they would support the work that we are doing-support 200,000 jobs-but I do not think that we are going to see much of that.

Now that the member for Higgins has left, I would hope that the Leader of the Opposition would start to show some real leadership instead of adopting the policies of the member for Higgins-

Well, he is on his way out the door. Now that he is on his way out the door, we would hope that the Leader of the Opposition would show some real leadership and have some policies of his own. Instead of worrying about his own job, he could start worrying about the jobs of ordinary working Australians.