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Fair Work Bill 2008: Second Reading

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The following is taken from Hansard (2 December 08) with the complete debate available in an easy to read format courtesy of OpenAustralia. Click their image for the full transcript.

Photo of Sophie MirabellaSophie Mirabella (Indi, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare, Women and Youth) | Hansard source<!– | –> I rise to speak on the Fair Work Bill 2008. I speak as a representative of an electorate that has consistently recorded unemployment statistics below the national average. As such, I am very concerned at the practical implementation of this bill and the outcomes it will produce for the employment outlook in Australia and, more locally, in my electorate in north-east Victoria. No discussion of this magnitude should be undertaken without reference to what has come before. The former coalition government created a golden era of employment, an age of prosperity, that produced economic conditions that underpinned our socioeconomic growth and our foundation for thriving employment and economic prospects. More than 2.2 million jobs were created. The participation rate grew to levels unseen in Australia. Unemployment dropped to 4.3 per cent—a 33-year low. There was a 20.8 per cent increase in real wages under the period of the coalition government, as opposed to a 1.8 per cent decrease under Labor’s last period in government. Female participation in the workforce was up, as was that for youth, where Australia ranked second highest in the OECD in the 15- to 24-year ranks for employment. The number of working days lost to industrial disputation fell dramatically to the point where, in the March 2007 quarter, the lowest ever quarterly rate of days lost to strikes was recorded.

As we are all seeing, with the election of the Rudd government, prosperous Australia is unravelling. The impact of this bill on employment prospects and job creation is a matter of grave concern, particularly as we legislate at a time of serious economic decline. The sad thing is that in last year’s election campaign the coalition was portrayed as negative when it highlighted the union movement’s entrenched links with Labor and what this would mean for the future industrial relations system. The legislation we debate today is in fact the very payback for the union movement that they so dearly wished for. Joe MacDonald’s catchcry that the unions would be coming back has indeed become a reality. Unions have got what they wanted, including access to non-union member records, right of entry to a significantly wider number of Australian workplaces and an all-important seat at the bargaining table. This bill heralds an anachronistic return to the past of union domination and appeasement. It redefines the industrial relations landscape in this country and proclaims a return to a pre-Keating era world of compulsory arbitration and the closed shop.

But in its haste to confect outrage against Work Choices, despite keeping many of its provisions, the government has not even done a rigorous analysis of what its legislation means for employment prospects or for businesses employing people. For instance, a closer look at the bill’s explanatory memorandum at regulation 232 shows:

If employers perceive that there is a risk of an unfair dismissal claim being made, then this could increase the cost of employing workers and may reduce the incentive of businesses to employ workers.

This is a very clear statement that at least one of the provisions in the legislation will lead to increased unemployment. That did not come from the Liberal Party, it did not come from anyone in the coalition and it did not come from any employer organisation. This was from the official explanatory memorandum to the bill, which was produced by very fine impartial employees who serve this parliament extremely well. This is a very clear statement that at least one of the provisions is going to be detrimental. The title of this bill is the ‘Fair Work Bill’, but the question needs to be asked: where is the fairness in an industrial relations system that forecasts higher unemployment queues? I present this challenge to every member of the other side: go to your electorates and tell them that this legislation that you herald as some mythical utopian answer to all their problems will actually increase unemployment.

Photo of James Bidgood James Bidgood (Dawson, Australian Labor Party) | Hansard source<!– | –>It’s called justice.

Photo of Sophie Mirabella Sophie Mirabella (Indi, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare, Women and Youth) | Hansard source

If the members opposite think that increasing the unemployment queues is just, they should speak to those young Australians who, in the early 1990s, were the victims of the recession we had to have. They should speak to them about how their lives were altered and how their employment prospects and their ability to fulfil their potential were destroyed by the recession we had to have. The test of this bill is what it does for jobs. One can have all the protections in the world, but if you do not have an economic climate where businesses are willing to employ people then these protections count for nothing.

In the current climate of economic uncertainty, we remain concerned—and quite rightly so—at the prospects of rising unemployment in Labor’s environment of increased regulation for employers and heightened union control over workplaces. We should be rid of the days of a complex, outdated and completely arthritic industrial relations system. Flexibility is the key to modern workplaces. Just ask any working family out there what they really need, and they will tell you that flexibility is very high on the list.

The coalition understands that many in the electorate did not like the removal of the no disadvantage test that existed pre Work Choices, but the electorate certainly appreciated the wages growth, the employment opportunities and the flexibility that came with it. It is a giant leap of faith to suggest that those who may have objected to some aspects of Work Choices would necessarily wish for union domination in the workplace and a return to the economically reckless stances of the union movement in calling the shots in our workplaces. And herein lies the essential dilemma with this bill: it is really more about protecting the union movement from its inexorable decline than it is about the rights of workers and their right to a job and decent rates of pay. The government should not in any way be jeopardising the employment and welfare of Australian families and their incomes and livelihoods to repay the union movement with interest, but that is exactly what they are doing. We know the indebtedness of Labor to the unions, and this bill gives them what they want. If the unions cannot raise their membership levels beyond the current pathetic 14 per cent level of coverage in the private sector workforce, then nothing will. Labor may have talked tough on stamping out union thuggery and lawlessness, but this bill gives them what they want. They contributed more than $40 million to the Labor cause at the last election and now this bill is part of their reward.

Photo of James Bidgood James Bidgood (Dawson, Australian Labor Party) | Hansard source
And how much did business give you?

Photo of Sophie Mirabella Sophie Mirabella (Indi, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare, Women and Youth) | Hansard source

Not as much as they gave you. The passage of this bill will see the unions achieve seriously enhanced rights at the disputation and wage discussion levels. Previously, members on the other side of this House spoke about a new golden era, an end to the conflict between capital and labour, an end to the conflict between bosses and workers, but we still have those on the other side interjecting, crawling back to those older, dark days of conflict between workers and employers, to the old, dark days of the politics of envy. That is really at the heart of what the union movement is trying to re-establish with this bill. If you create that division, you create the politics of envy.

Through the passage of this bill we will see the unions achieve seriously enhanced rights at the disputation and wage discussion levels. There is not even a need for there to be one employee as a union member for the union to have carte blanche access to a workplace and its employment records. The imposition of good faith bargaining is a backwards step, and the rise of compulsory arbitration is something Labor explicitly said they would not bring back. The same can be said for pattern bargaining—again not promised by Labor last year but mysteriously appearing as a possibility in the legislation. This is not the thing to be introducing at the current time. It will certainly not offer any freedom or flexibility that will be required in an industrial relations regime that will need to adapt to a looming economic downturn. Does this bill stand the test of putting more people in jobs and creating the economic conditions to keep them gainfully employed? Does this bill stimulate economic growth and activity or will it dramatically weaken labour market conditions at a time of economic decline and great uncertainty? These are the things that should be asked of this serious rewriting of the industrial relations landscape in Australia.

Debating this bill with the government forecasting an economic downturn and increased unemployment allows us to look back at the crowning glory of the Howard years: more jobs and higher pay. These are the facts that cannot be denied by the opposition. We will never forget the double digit unemployment that Labor foisted on the community. There was the 10.9 per cent unemployment peak in December 1992, with a million Australians out of work. Teenage unemployment peaked at 34.5 per cent in July of that year. My generation had forlorn prospects in the labour market as they moved out of university and training—a depressing reminder of Labor’s inability to manage the economy and create opportunities for young people. I seriously hope that there will not be another generation of young Australians who have to suffer what those young Australians suffered in the early nineties.

There are some serious tests ahead for the government in managing the economy. Their response so far in policy decisions does not fill me with particular confidence. Harking back to a rigid and union-dominated workplace relations system would be the worst thing for Australia at the current time. We do need to resist throwbacks to the past. We need to look forward. We need to maintain some sort of positive economic momentum in order to safeguard jobs and employment prospects for the people of Australia. Without the creation of jobs, without a positive economic outlook and without growth there is no positive future for Australian families. We are all in this place to create a better future and a better Australian society. Without the possibility of jobs and jobs growth we cut the ground from underneath them. I am very concerned that this bill will do nothing to create jobs but, in such greatly uncertain economic times, will do everything to entrench the power of the union movement, whose representation in the workforce is illustrative of their inability to convince those in the workforce that they are acting in their interests and that they are worthy of being a representative organisation for workers. After this bill has been passed, I look forward not with great optimism but with great concern about the future prospects for jobs, particularly for young people and for this nation.


Written by Greg Naylor

3 December 2008 at 11:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

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