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Andrews v Beazley: first strikes in Parliamentary IR debate

By Margo Kingston
Created 04/11/2005 - 10:54

AWA [1]

Launch of WorkChoices

Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Kevin Andrews

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service

02 November, 2005

Second Reading Speech, Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005

Parliament House, Canberra

Today I am introducing the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill – a bill that moves Australia towards a flexible, simple and fair system of workplace laws.

Australians have come a long way by improving the way they work. Because of this, we now have one of the strongest economies in the world.  We have created over 1.7 million new jobs.  Australia’s unemployment rate has been markedly reduced, reaching a 30 year low and interest rates are at historically low levels.

But we must not make the mistake of assuming that our future prosperity is assured and inevitable.  Now is not the time for self-congratulation or back-slapping.  Now is the time to secure the future prosperity of Australian individuals and families.

That is what Work Choices is all about – securing the future prosperity of Australian individuals and families.

Work Choices does this by accommodating the greater demand for choice and flexibility in our workplaces.  It continues a process of evolution, begun over a decade ago, towards a system that trusts Australian men and women to make their own decisions in the workplace and to do so in a way that best suits them. 

This is economic reform the Australian way – evolutionary and in a manner that advances prosperity and fairness together.  As the Prime Minister has said, these are big reforms, but they are fair reforms.

They rest on the simple proposition that the best guarantee of good jobs, high wages and a decent society is a strong and productive economy.  No system of industrial regulation can protect jobs and support high wages if our economy is not strong and productive.

That is the central lesson of a hundred years of industrial relations history in Australia.  It was the bitter lesson of Labor’s recession in the early 1990s.  Yet it is a lesson that the Labor Party refuses to learn.

The key to advancing prosperity and fairness together is higher productivity.  Australia’s economic strength and the living standards of our people depend, ultimately, on the productivity of our workplaces. 

When productivity is higher the whole economic pie is bigger. Individuals and families benefit from more jobs, better jobs and higher living standards.  Society as a whole has more resources to devote to services like health and education, as well as to a strong social safety net.

A central objective of this Bill is to encourage the further spread of workplace agreements in order to lift productivity and hence the living standards of working Australians. It is no coincidence that those industries with the most workplace flexibility also enjoy the highest productivity growth and the highest wages.

We need more choice and flexibility for both employees and employers, so we can work smarter, reward effort, and find the right balance between work and family life.

At the same time, we need to ensure that a fair and robust safety net of working conditions is protected by law.  Work Choices does this.  It also provides extra help for employees and employers to understand their rights and obligations under the new system.

Work Choices is not simply about raising the living standards of those Australians in jobs.  It is also about getting more Australians into jobs.

A good society is one where those who have the capability to work can work.  With a job comes dignity, skills, a steady income and the chance of a better job.

In the end, this is not an economic argument.  It is a moral argument.  Australia can and should be a country where those who are able to work can find work. 

In the last decade, we have made good progress in reducing unemployment to a thirty year low.  But we can and should do better.

Today too many Australians are not participating in the labour force.  Too many Australians still struggle to find work.  And too many Australian children are growing up in households where no parent is working. 

These fellow citizens deserve a brighter future.  Work Choices will give them a brighter future.

A nation of 20 million people, on the edge of the world’s most dynamic region, cannot afford to sleepwalk through the 21st century with a workplace relations system mired in the thinking of the 19th century.

Australia has more than 130 different pieces of employment-related legislation, more than 4000 awards and six different systems of workplace regulation.

This tangle of regulation creates enormous cost and complexity for employers and employees alike.

When the Commonwealth first proposed our workplace reforms, we requested that State governments refer their powers, in the same way that they have accepted the logic of national systems for taxation law, for corporate law and for financial institutions law.

Because the States have not done so, the Commonwealth will use the corporations power in the Constitution to move towards a national system.

This is the Government that intends to fix the problem and reform the system, notwithstanding opportunistic resistance of those opposite which is contrary to the best interests of the nation.

A unified, national system of workplace relations laws is an idea whose time has come.  And the time to turn this idea into law is now.

Let me turn to the key elements of the Bill. 

Single national system

We live in an integrated national economy and it makes no sense whatsoever to adopt anything other than a national approach to workplace relations.  By using a combination of constitutional heads of power, Work Choices will cover up to 85 per cent of employees across Australia. 

While employers and employees covered by Work Choices will not be subject to regulation by state employment laws, state laws will continue to cover such matters as occupational health and safety, workers compensation, trading hours and public holidays.

Transitional arrangements

These are substantial changes and so to provide an orderly change over there will be comprehensive transitional arrangements.
Current state agreements applying to employers entering the new system from the state systems will continue to apply as transitional agreements.  State awards applying to employers entering the new system will be preserved as transitional agreements for three years. 

Employers currently in the federal system who, for constitutional reasons, cannot be covered by Work Choices in the longer term, will have a transitional period of five years during which current agreements and awards can continue to operate. 

Unlike other states, Victoria has referred powers with respect to workplace relations to the Commonwealth.  Because of this, employees in Victoria subject to the terms of the referral will continue to be covered under Work Choices.

Other less significant transitional arrangements will be established in regulation along with necessary consequential amendments to Commonwealth legislation.  Following its passage the Act will be consecutively numbered for the first time in decades.

Australian Fair Pay Commission

Work Choices will move away from the adversarial and legalistic nature of the current wages setting process.  It will establish a new independent wage setting body – the Australian Fair Pay Commission – charged with promoting the economic prosperity of the people of Australia. 

The Fair Pay Commission will set and adjust minimum and award classification wages, minimum wages for juniors, trainees, apprentices and employees with disabilities, minimum wages for piece workers, as well as casual loadings.

Minimum and award classification wages will be protected at the level set after the increase from the 2005 Safety Net Review by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).  Minimum and award classification wages will not fall below this level.

The Fair Pay Commission will take a wider-ranging, proactive and consultative approach to this issue which will help all those affected to have a say.

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission

The role of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission will change to keep pace with the needs of the modern economy. 

The AIRC will focus on its key responsibility – dispute resolution. In addition, the AIRC will have a role to further simplify and rationalise awards, as well as regulating industrial action, right of entry, unfair dismissal and registered organisations.

The AIRC will retain its powers to resolve disputes arising under agreements but only where those functions are expressly conferred on it by the parties.

Under the new system the AIRC will no longer exercise compulsory powers of conciliation and arbitration, but instead will provide voluntary dispute resolution services with limited exceptions (such as terminating a bargaining period where industrial action is threatening life or causing damage to the economy or under new essential services provisions).

It will also retain its role in providing an initial conciliation service for termination claims. 

The Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard

For the first time at a federal level the Government will enshrine in law minimum conditions of employment: annual leave, personal leave (including sick leave and carer’s leave), parental leave (including maternity leave) and maximum ordinary hours of work.

These conditions, together with the minimum and award classification wages set by the Fair Pay Commission, will make up the Fair Pay and Conditions Standard.

All new agreements will be required to meet the Fair Pay and Conditions Standard throughout the life of the agreement. 

Award provisions dealing with annual leave, personal/carer’s leave and parental leave which are more generous than the equivalent provisions in the Fair Pay and Conditions Standard will continue to apply for existing and new employees covered by those awards. 

Workplace Agreements

This Government believes in encouraging the further spread of workplace agreements.

With Work Choices, there will be provision for collective agreements negotiated directly between employers and their employees and between employers and unions that represent employees in a workplace.  There will also be provision for collective agreements in which persons other than unions can be employee representatives. 

Work Choices will provide agreement making options where an employer is establishing or proposing to establish a new business in areas such as the economically important resources and construction sectors.  As well as existing greenfields agreements between employers and unions, Work Choices will introduce greenfields agreements that do not require the involvement of a union. 

AWAs will be available to employers and employees at all times and will exclude both collective agreements and awards.

Instead of the complex, time consuming and legalistic certification and approval processes Work Choices will introduce a streamlined, lodgement-only system for all agreements with the Office of the Employment Advocate (OEA).  All collective agreements and Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) will take effect from the date of lodgement.

The process for varying or terminating agreements made under Work Choices will be simplified and will be similar to that for lodging new agreements.  Agreements can be extended (up to a maximum of five years), varied or terminated by agreement. 

There will be an improved compliance regime with financial penalties for employers who fail to meet the rules for negotiation, lodgement or content of agreements.

The Government is committing an additional $ 141 million over 4 years to ensure appropriate compliance by employers and assistance to employees.

Protection of key award conditions in bargaining

To help in the process for making agreements Work Choices will protect certain matters currently dealt with in awards when new workplace agreements are negotiated.  These conditions will be deemed to be part of an agreement unless it specifically modifies or excludes them. 

These matters are public holidays, rest breaks (including meal breaks), incentive-based payments and bonuses, annual leave loadings, allowances, penalty rates and shift/overtime loadings.

To change or remove these conditions in a workplace agreement under Work Choices, the agreement must address these matters.  The agreement will need to identify the particular award conditions that are being changed or removed.  In this way these conditions will be protected, unless employers and employees agree to vary them.

Content of Agreements

All new agreements will need to meet the Fair Pay and Conditions Standard, include a nominal expiry date (up to a maximum of five years) and a dispute settling procedure. 

Certain matters such as restricting the use of independent contractors will be prohibited from being included in new agreements. The inclusion of prohibited content may attract financial penalties but will not render the agreement invalid.

Awards
Under Work Choices federal awards will not be abolished.  Employees not covered by a workplace agreement will continue to work under their federal awards.  However, awards will be simplified to ensure that they provide minimum safety net entitlements.  The legislation will set out matters that will no longer be allowable award matters and a number of other matters will be removed from awards because they will be protected by the Fair Pay and Conditions Standard. 

A Taskforce has been established to recommend ways of reducing the duplication and complexity of current federal awards.  The Taskforce’s recommendations will need to be consistent with the Government’s commitment that award classification wages and benefits will not be cut.

Under Work Choices, long service leave, superannuation, jury service and notice of termination will not be included in new awards because they are provided for in other existing legislation.  However these provisions in current awards will continue to apply to existing and new employees covered by these awards.

Transmission of business

Part and parcel of a modern economy is that businesses are bought and sold.  When this happens it is important the entitlements of employees are protected.  Where this does occur, and employees accept employment in the new business, the awards, collective agreements and AWAs that covered the employees of the old business will transfer to the new employer for a maximum of twelve months. 

However, if no employee accepts employment with the new employer, then the awards or agreements from the old employer will not transfer.

Employees who do transfer must be provided with information in writing about their terms and conditions of employment.  The new employer and employees will be able to negotiate agreements to override the transferred agreements and awards.

Reforming dismissal laws

Whatever their intended purpose, unfair dismissal laws have acted as a brake on job creation.  They have fostered a culture of complaint and litigation that has developed to the point where some firms will go to any lengths to avoid hiring extra staff.
Work Choices will take the unfair dismissal monkey off the back of Australia’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Businesses that employ up to and including 100 employees will be exempt from unfair dismissal laws.  For businesses with more than 100 employees, an employee must have been employed for six months before they can pursue an unfair dismissal claim.

In addition, no claims can be brought where the employment has been terminated because the employer genuinely no longer requires the job to be done. 

Just like today, only employees of businesses that are constitutional corporations will have access to the unfair dismissal laws.  And just like today, employees will continue to enjoy a range of protections against unlawful termination.

It will remain unlawful to dismiss an employee on the grounds of race, colour, sex, age, union membership, pregnancy, family responsibilities, refusing to agree to an Australian Workplace Agreement and a range of other grounds. 

The Government will provide financial assistance to eligible employees who have made an unlawful termination application to apply for up to $4,000 towards independent legal advice on the merits of their claim.

Industrial Action

The Government recognises the need to carefully balance the legal immunity given to industrial action in bargaining for workplace agreements against the needs of the community.

The Government will protect the right to lawful industrial action when negotiating a new collective workplace agreement.  However, Work Choices will make a number of improvements to the remedies for unprotected industrial action. 

These include requiring the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to provide a remedy for unprotected industrial action within 48 hours and removing impediments to access to common law tort remedies for unprotected industrial action.
A secret ballot will be required before protected industrial action can be taken.  This will ensure that protected action is not taken unless the employees involved genuinely wish to take this serious step. Work Choices will also make it clear that industrial action is prohibited during the life of an agreement. 

New provisions will be introduced similar to those in state essential services legislation. These new provisions will allow a declaration to be issued by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations where protected industrial action threatens life, personal safety, health or welfare of the population or is likely to cause significant damage to the economy. 

Finally, under Work Choices third parties directly affected by protected action will be able to seek a suspension of the bargaining period. 

Freedom of association

Just as we have done since 1996 this Government will ensure all Australians have the right to join – or not to join – a trade union.

Freedom of association laws will be strengthened to ensure that employees and employers can choose whether or not to join a union or an employer association free from direct or indirect pressure.

Work Choices will cover the field so that right of entry can only be exercised under the new legislation and the circumstances under which it can be exercised will be clarified and the remedies for abuse strengthened.

The right of entry provisions will still allow a union permit holder entry for OHS purposes under state legislation where the union official has a federal right of entry permit and has complied with all requirements of the relevant state OHS legislation.

Registered organisations

Unions and employer organisations provide important services to their members.  There will continue to be a legitimate role for unions and employer organisations in the national system.

State registered organisations will be able to apply to the Industrial Registrar for transitional status as a registered federal organisation provided they meet certain minimum requirements.  They will then have three years to meet the full requirements of the Workplace Relations Act.  The ‘conveniently belong’ rule will not apply to the registration of state registered organisations that are transferred into the federal system.

Improved protection

Work Choices will put in place strong and practical measures to ensure all parties abide by the awards, collective agreements, AWAs as well as the Fair Pay and Conditions Standard, state awards and agreements that are to be brought into the new system 

The Office of Workplace Services (OWS) will have increased powers. This includes the power to enforce compliance with the WR Act, awards and agreements, the freedom of association provisions and the rules for agreement making.

The compliance regimes applying to unprotected industrial action, abuse of right of entry laws and contraventions of freedom of association provisions will also be strengthened.

When negotiating individual agreements, young people will be protected by the requirement that an appropriate adult sign the agreement.  As well, when setting wages for juniors, the Fair Pay Commission will be obliged by legislation to take into account the need to secure their competitiveness in the labour market.

Work Choices will also increase opportunities for school-based and part-time apprenticeships and traineeships by implementing the Government’s commitment to remove industrial relations barriers by filling current gaps in award coverage for part-time and school-based apprenticeships and traineeships.

Work and family issues

This Government has delivered a decade of rising living standards for Australian families.  With Work Choices we will build on this record.

This Bill provides both protection and flexibility to help Australians meet their work and family responsibilities.

Work Choices will protect Australian families by making it unlawful for a workplace agreement to have pay and conditions that are less generous than the Fair Pay and Conditions Standard of up to 52 weeks of unpaid parental leave at the time of the birth or adoption of a child.

The terms of the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard will be protected by law.

Award reliant employees will not lose current entitlements to family-friendly working arrangements and will continue to receive any penalty rates, loadings for overtime or shiftwork, allowances, incentive-based payments and bonuses that they are currently entitled to under their award. 

It will remain unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee’s employment on certain grounds, including marital status, family responsibilities or pregnancy, or because of absence of work during maternity or other parental leave, regardless of the size of the business they work for. 

Nothing is more important to family security than a strong Australian economy.
These are reforms which will strengthen our economy and will secure better opportunities for all Australians into the future. 

Conclusion

The reforms I have outlined are comprehensive and necessary.  They are big but fair changes. 

We should never take strong economic growth and prosperity for granted.  To secure our future prosperity into the new century, we must work smarter and seize this opportunity to create a new wave of productivity growth.

For a long time, Australia tried to make do with an industrial relations system born of the bitter disputes of the 1890s.  This was a system founded on conflict and an ‘us’ and ‘them’

mentality.  It was a system shot through with pessimism about the capacity of Australian men and women to shape their working lives.

The Liberal and National Parties believe in the capacity of Australians to exercise choice and to work together.  We believe that cooperation, not conflict, is the path to prosperity and fairness. 

That is why, with Work Choices we are moving to give more Australians the chance of a job.

We are moving to guarantee in law a fair and balanced safety net of conditions for Australian working men and women.

And we are moving to what any modern, competitive nation needs in the 21st century – a single set of workplace relations laws.

With Work Choices, Australia is on the move towards a better workplace relations system that allows Australia’s employers and employees the freedom and the choice to sit down and work out the arrangements that best suit them.

This Bill makes the necessary changes to move away from an outdated and inefficient system that no longer meets the needs of a modern Australian economy.

Work Choices moves to a system that gives employers and employees a tangible stake in what happens at their workplaces.  Because at the end of the day a fair society relies on a strong economy with productive workplaces. 

For it is a strong economy which enables employers to pay their workers more; it is a strong economy which reduces unemployment; and it is a strong economy that delivers, just as it has done over the last decade, more jobs and higher wages for all Australians.

Work Choices is founded on the principle that the best arrangements are those developed by employees and employers at the workplace.

This Government recognises that the time to turn this idea into law and move to a better system is now.


Beazleyk

Hon Kim Beazley MP

Leader of the Opposition

3rd November 2005

Second Reading Speech, Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005

Parliament House, Canberra

This Bill is evidence of a Government growing more extreme, more out of touch and more arrogant by the day.

It is the product of an extreme, outdated ideology. An ideology that has nothing to do with the challenges Australia faces in the first quarter of the 21st century - nothing to do with the nation's economic needs.

And everything to do with the prejudices that one politician formed in the last quarter of the last century.

It's the most savage attack on the values of Australian society and the security of working families that I've seen in 25 years in this Parliament.

Mr Speaker, the Australian public is getting to understand just how un-Australian this Bill is.

They know it threatens aspects of the Australian way of life that they've held sacred for generations - fair minimum wages for all workers… decent working hours so families can organise to spend time together… penalty rates and shift loading…

So much of this is now at risk. So many of these provisions will now be eroded by this Bill… this nest of termites that will now eat away at the foundations of living standards and security of working families.

Month by month, year by year - for workers who don't have strong bargaining power, this will erode their rights and entitlements.

Mr Speaker, Australians don't want this law.

They don't want to wind the clock back to a 19th century model of industrial relations, where the employers enjoyed unchallenged power over employees, enforced through individual contracts.

Every published opinion poll points in the same direction - two in three Australians oppose this proposal.

That's why the Prime Minister has been so desperate with this legislation.

It's why he's rushed this legislation into parliament, 1252 pages of legislation and legal explanation.

And only after we twisted his arm did we get even 24 hours to make our way through the complex maze of this Bill.

It's why he's had to pull Andrew Robb on to the job, because his minister has done such an unconvincing sales pitch.

It's why he's had to pull in Ted Horton and the Liberal Party advertising agency Dewey Horton who run their nasty election campaign ads.

It's why he's had to pull in eleven big city law firms to write the Bill for him.

It's why he's had to steal $55 million of taxpayers' money - more than the entire spending on the federal election campaign by both parties last year - to fund Liberal Party ads, to try to change people's minds about this disgusting law.

But the problem for the Prime Minister is this.

No matter how much he tries to ram his ads down the throats of Australian families, he's up against something that's bigger than anything he's tried to do in nine long years in office.

Because this isn't some technical argument about federalism and states' rights.

It's not an academic debate about labour market institutions and productivity growth.

It's not a textbook debate about backwards bending labour supply curves.

This is about basic values, and the lives of Australian families.

It's about the kind of Australia we want our kids to grow up in.

It's about how mums and dads manage the difficult balance between work and family life.

It's about whether we put families first.

Whether we say that what we value most in our society is family and relationships…

a fair go for everyone…

Whether we still believe that being Australian means respecting and valuing every person in the country - no matter if you're a kitchen hand, a nurse, a mechanic or a customer service representative.

Let's make this clear. John Howard picked this fight.

And he's not just fighting unions or the Labor Party.

He's fighting against a basic value that Australians don't want to lose - the right to a fair go. The belief that you deserve decent standards and decent protections, even if you can't afford a big city law firm to protect you in a court.

And the real danger for John Howard in this law isn't that Australians don't know enough about this legislation, and need to be told more.

The real danger for him is that Australians already know enough about what he's trying to do in this Bill - they know exactly what it is all about. And that's why they don't trust it.

And frankly, the more they find out about it, the more detail they get, the more the tide will move against him.

But the Prime Minister assumes if he just shouts louder and louder and longer and longer that he'll win the argument.

Like a child who doesn't want to face the truth, but who just blocks his ears and raises his voice to fever pitch.

And hasn't it been a fever pitch for the last month? There's barely a place you can turn on TV, on radio, on Australian web sites or in the papers, without being bombarded with John Howard's disgraceful and misleading advertising campaign.

The real character of what's in this Bill is shown up by the arrogance and deception that's characterised these changes from day one.

If you want to know what's behind these changes, just look at the tricks they've used to introduce it with this ad campaign.

Never in Australian history have we seen such a partisan abuse of public funds.

In other democratic nations, you couldn't get away with this abuse. In other nations, governments have fallen and leaders have been forced to resign for abuses of office smaller than this.

These ads don't provide information - they provide disinformation - as every independent commentator has been saying for months.

Because Australians will not accept what this Bill tries to do to their way of life.

You can imagine what it must have been like in the Liberal Party strategy room when they first got the polling results back in June, and decided to run this campaign.

Imagine the atmosphere, Mr Speaker.

Mark Textor plonks down the slab of polling results showing that 70 per cent of the Australian community believe these changes are bad news. He says to Mr Howard,

"You're in trouble. You just cannot sell this law to Australian workers. They're not going to buy it. They don't trust your motives.

"They don't want to lose their holidays. They don't want to lose the independent umpire. They don't want to lose their penalty pay."

"If you're going to win this debate," Ted Horton says, "We're going to have to turn the message inside out. Don't tell them what we're taking away - just tell them what we're letting them keep. And bombard them day and night til those poll numbers shift."

Well Mr Speaker, we can guess exactly what the Prime Minister said in response -

"Whatever it takes, whatever we have to spend, it's not Liberal Party money anyway - it comes from the taxpayers so we can take as much as we like. And to hell with it, they can't vote us out now."

And Mr Speaker, we can see exactly the strategy they came up with.

They won't tell us what the legislation really does.

They won't tell us that it takes fairness out of the national wage case.

They won't tell us that it takes rights against unfair dismissal away from almost 4 million Australians.

They won't tell us it allows employers to dismiss workers with no compensation simply by bringing in the lawyers and restructuring the business.

They won't tell us that it smashes the award system and destroys the 'no disadvantage test', the foundation of a fair system of enterprise agreements.

Instead of telling people what the legislation really does do…

The ads tell us what the legislation doesn't do.

It's like an arsonist who burns down your house but as it all goes up in flames just says, "oh well, you've still got the garden shed - protected by law!"

The whole aim of the ad campaign to sell this Bill has been to create the false impression that the laws give stronger legal protection than people have now.

That's exactly the message they convey.

This is not an information campaign.

It's a political advertising campaign, conducted for the partisan political purposes of the Liberal Party.

It's precisely what that great English writer George Orwell was writing of almost 60 years ago in his landmark essay on Politics and the English Language -

"political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness… designed to make lies sound truthful…"

Making lies sound truthful. Just take a couple of examples.

Under the Award system, Australians have twenty pay and conditions standards that are protected under law.

After this Bill is passed, they'll have just five.

But the Prime Minister hopes that by just talking about the five and how they're "protected by law" we won't notice what's happening to the other fifteen entitlements that can now be removed at the stroke of a pen - rights like holiday leave, redundancy pay and penalty rates.

Take another example - employees' rights to protection from unfair dismissal.

The ads tell us that employees' rights against unlawful dismissal are "protected by law" - hoping to confuse people about the difference between unlawful and unfair dismissal rights.

An honest information campaign would tell people about the difference between the two sets of rights, and tell them that for 99 per cent of workplaces, the Government wants to abolish unfair dismissal rights.

Instead, there's no mention of what's being taken away, just the misleading impression that nothing is changing.

Take another example - the examples the Government cites to show the benefits of enterprise agreements.

The ads suggest that to enjoy the flexibility of these agreements, we need to change the bargaining laws.

But the fact is, the flexibility to improve work practices and getting higher pay is already in the system. It's been there in part since 1991, and in full since 1994. It's what has underpinned the growth in real wages for 15 years.

The Bill doesn't make it any easier to increase pay. It just makes it easier to cut take-home pay, because employers don't need to compensate workers for taking away entitlements like penalty rates, holiday pay, and shift loading.

This is the breathtaking arrogance of this Prime Minister.

Taking millions upon millions of dollars out of the pockets of working Australians, to bombard them with a campaign:

It's typical of the mealy mouthed, tricky, lawyerly deceit that's characterised John Howard's prime ministership for nine long years.

It is deception from beginning to end.

Because they know that they cannot let Australians know the truth about this Billl.

But on this side of the House, we will fight to let them know.

As leader of the Labor Party, let me say how proud I am to be able to take the lead in this House in defending the rights of working families against the attacks in this Bill.

Let me say how much I look forward to the contributions of my colleagues as we dissect these 1252 pages and expose this Bill for what it really represents - the greatest backward step, the most systematic attack on the Australian way of life and Australian values, that we've seen in a century in the parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.

But Mr Speaker, let me go straight to the Government's deceitful rationale for this Bill.

The Minister says it's about higher productivity.

Of course this Government has never offered anything more than assertion - this Government has never demonstrated any understanding or interest in the serious international economic debate about what drives productivity in a country like Australia.

If it was interested in understanding productivity, it would quickly learn that its own policies - closing the doors of TAFE colleges to young Australians, squeezing the universities, giving no priority to research and development and innovation - are the clear explanation for the slump in productivity growth in recent years.

Let's not forget, Australia is the only country in the developed world in the past decade that has actually cut its public investment in education and training.

The reality is if we don't invest in the skills of our workforce, the only way we can compete is by cutting pay and fostering a competitive auction for low-skilled, low-wage, temporary jobs.

That's the road the Liberal Party wants to take us down - as if we could compete as a low wage country against nations like China and India.

They've already started - with the regulations gazetted by the Immigration Minister this week, that set up a system of foreign apprentices in Australia.

A system that gives employers the incentive to bring in apprentices from overseas, because they know they'll have absolute control over those workers. If they don't do what they told, they lose their apprenticeship, and they have to leave the country.

How do young Australians compete with the low wages and poor conditions of overseas apprentices?

But this is the bleak world that John Howard's industrial and migration laws are creating.

It is a profoundly pessimistic view of Australians and the future, but it's all you've got left if you don't believe in investing in our people.

Labor's view is different. We believe Australia's future prosperity will come from competing on the basis of our creativity and skills, not by cutting minimum wages.

That's why we need a genuine productivity agenda - which allows businesses and employees to share the gains in terms of both pay rises and profit rises.

Let's not forget, it was the Australian Labor Party that delivered the golden era of productivity growth in the 1990s.

But it's the Liberal Party whose narrow, anti-worker, anti-skills ideology has delivered the productivity slump of recent years.

What this country needs is not these 1252 pages of extreme changes to our industrial laws. What we need is a positive vision for raising productivity, not a negative vision for cutting pay.

First - above all else - our labour market policies need to focus on helping people to work smarter.

That means recognising Australian workers as the greatest asset in our nation.

It means investing in the know-how of Australian workers.

It means rejecting short-sighted policies of cutting back the national investment in skills and education.

It means giving every Australian school student the choice of a first-rate, specialist trades or technology high school.

It means training Australian workers, instead of relying so heavily on importing 180,000 skilled workers from overseas.

It means no longer turning Australians away from TAFE colleges, as the Howard Government has done to 270,000 Australians.

It also means fostering better management practices. Fostering innovation, like our competitors have been doing. It means national leadership to deal with our crumbling infrastructure.

There's a genuine agenda for productivity growth - Improved skills outcomes, better human resources management practices, a new approach to innovation, national leadership on infrastructure and competition policy.

But instead we get this attack on the living standards of Australians, from a government that has ideas to raise productivity, just tricky ideas to cut pay.

Mr Speaker, as our eyes glaze over with the mind-numbing complexity of these 1252 pages of new legislation, we might well ask why we're in this House debating it today.

If it's not about productivity, what's it for?

The Prime Minister let the cat out of the bag some months back at the Liberal Party Federal Council meeting as he fought off rising internal opposition to this plan.

As he said in his own words - industrial relations is just an article of faith for him.

It's not a matter of reason, it's a product of brittle, extreme ideology.

It's because John Howard has been obsessed with industrial relations laws for almost 30 years.

And now, with unchecked power in this parliament, John Howard can impose his ideological version of Australia on this nation.

And so Australian families now face the erosion of their work and pay conditions, all because of one man's ideological obsession with an outdated view of Australian workers.

Australian workplaces have changed since Treasurer John Howard messed up his economic policies and oversaw a wage breakout of 14 per cent back in 1982. But John Howard hasn't moved with the times.

What this Bill shows is a plan to take us backwards into a 19th century world - even with the same arguments and language of the 1890s, the "freedom to contract", the language used to justify employers having unrestrained power over their employees.

More than a hundred years ago Australia abandoned that approach. Indeed it was Alfred Deakin who as Attorney-General introduced the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill.

With that Bill, Deakin called forth a new era that recognised the rights of workers:

Social justice is a lofty aim. We have trusted for centuries to the various tribunals erected for the administration of civil justice, and I hope that we shall begin from this day forth to trust to these courts for industrial justice.

Well there's no interest in justice in the Liberal Party now.

Just a nasty right-wing hand-me-down ideology to Americanise our workplaces.

This Bill is like a nest of termites that in the months and years ahead will slowly eat away at the foundations of living standards of Australian families.

It undermines family life by proposing to give employers the power to change employees' work hours without reasonable notice.

It attacks living standards by removing the 'no disadvantage test' from collective and individual agreements.

It abolishes annual wage increases made by the Industrial Relations Commission for workers under Awards with the simple aim of reducing the Minimum Wage in real terms.

It delays the next National Wage Case by a period of six months, so that at least 1.7 million workers under Awards will not receive a wage increase for a period of 18 months or longer.

It destroys the legacy of the hard work of generations of Australian workers.

It undermines the principles of fairness that underpinned the Australian industrial relations system for the past hundred years.

It takes away the independent umpire who currently can ensure fair wages and conditions and resolve disputes.

It distorts the workplace bargaining relationship in favour of employers and against employees.

It denies Australian employees the choice to bargain collectively with their employer for decent wages and conditions.

It denies individuals the right to reject individual contracts which cut pay and conditions and undermine collective bargaining and union representation.

It allows individual contracts to undermine the rights of Australian workers under collective agreements and Awards, by eliminating penalty rates, shift loadings, overtime and holiday pay and other Award conditions.

It takes away any protection from unfair dismissal from almost 4 million workers.

It proposes to fine union representatives up to $33,000 if they negotiate to include health and safety, training and other clauses in agreements.

The dishonesty and deception is becoming clear.

First, they say they want to simplify workplace laws. But they've added twelve hundred and fifty two pages of complex law and legal explanation.

Kevin Andrews couldn't even get his own department to write the law. They had to hire not one, two, three or four, but eleven law firms to write it for them. At enormous cost to taxpayers.

Second, they say the law will provide for fair wage decisions by the new Fair Pay Commission.

But the Bill doesn't even allow the Fair Pay Commission to take fairness into account when it makes its pay decisions.

Right now, the Industrial Relations Commission makes wage decisions based on fairness - that's explicitly in section 88B of the current law.

But under the new law, the Fair Pay Commission is not even allowed to take fairness into account in making its wage decisions (s7J) They have explicitly cut fairness out of the wage decisions for struggling Australian families.

Third, they say the Bill aims to get rid of unions having a say in working conditions.

But the Bill gives the Liberal Party minister control over every wage agreement in Australia.

The Bill prohibits any workplace agreement from including what the minister decides is "prohibited content".

The minister can decide to prohibit anything he likes.

Already, they've decided that they'll slap a $33,000 fine on a union official who asks an employer to include a provision in an agreement that protects workers from unfair dismissal…

A $33,000 fine for asking for union involvement in dispute resolution.

A $33,000 fine for asking for a commitment to collective bargaining.

So what comes next? What else will the Liberal Party prohibit? What other bans will they slap on Australian workers in this extreme, micro-management of Australian workplaces.

And it's an offence to try to negotiate anything the minister prohibits. So with one stroke of a pen, a Liberal Party minister can interfere in every single enterprise agreement signed in Australia.

Fourth, it appears the Bill will allow an employer to require employees to sign an Australian Workplace Agreement - or lose their job.

Section 104 of the Bill says specifically that it's not "duress" for an employer to require an employee to sign an AWA.

That seems to say, despite what the explanatory memorandum says, and despite all the Government's claims, that an employer in fact can demand you sign the contract or you lose the job.

We need urgent clarification of this. Because we know that AWA can remove basic pay conditions that families rely on to survive from week to week - like overtime, penalty rates, and holidays.

Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister tells us he's the workers' best friend.

Well with friends like this Prime Minister ... who needs enemies?

And here in this House yesterday, as he slapped the Minister on the back, and congratulated him on his attack on working Australians, we saw his mask drop.

We saw the end of his pretence to friendship with working families.

This Prime Minister has exchanged hypocrisy for vice.

In the Government's extreme changes, that we debate today, we see Australian politics stripped bare.

Australian politics is reduced to its historic essentials in this debate.

This is how Australian politics began.

Two opposing political forces - with two opposing political ideas.

On one side, my Party - this fighting Labor Party - a parliamentary vanguard at the head of a mass movement of millions.

United to fight for mateship and the fair go at work.

And opposite us - this lousy coalition - this rotten Tory mob.

Determined to tear this country apart - to set family against family and friend against friend.

In 25 years in public life I have never seen a greater threat to Australian living standards than the Government's extreme plan.

Today one man's tired old dream becomes a living nightmare for all Australians.

This fight will go on until next election.

And my Party will go to that election on a platform to dismantle the system they put up, the injustices that are contained in it, and putting in place a balanced and fair Industrial Relations Act.

The Labor Party will fight to the end for the rights of working Australians. We will fight for fair go for every Australian. We will fight for the rights of working families. We will fight for decent work laws.

We will fight for:

Our Party was created by working people and has been built on their determination, their dreams and their unshakeable belief in a fair go for everyone. We will never walk away from the right of every Australian to a fair go.

Mr Speaker, this is a rotten law. It doesn't give Australia work choices - it gives us false choices.

It brings disgrace to this government. It will undermine the rights, freedoms, living standards and security of Australian workers in the months and years ahead.

But this betrayal of working families won't be forgotten by the men and women of this country. And they will have their chance to set them right on their belief that they can get away with anything and will never get voted out.

Because after nine long years, with this extreme legislation that we are debating today -

We see the beginning of the end of the Howard Government.


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