Workplace Relations

It will be a very great relief for the working people of my electorate of Blaxland, many of whom have suffered from these extreme and unfair workplace laws. I know this because everywhere I go, whether it is to a street stall, a railway station, a shopping centre or at the coalface in the workplaces of my electorate, I hear shocking stories from people who have lost their jobs or their working conditions. They have had their shift loadings, leave loadings, rest breaks and penalty rates all stripped away and unfair contracts shoved down their throats.

What was confirmed on 24 November last year is that Australians care about fairness. They expect fair workplace laws-and that is why they threw that lot out. In November 1907, Justice Henry Bournes Higgins handed down the Harvester decision, which enshrined the concept of fairness in our industrial relations laws. What happened in November 2007? The people of Australia threw out the party that had installed and instituted a lack of fairness into our industrial relations system and workplace laws-piece by piece and chunk by awful chunk. The Deputy Prime Minister has revealed in this place the horror stories of Work Choices and AWAs. Here is the smoking gun. Since the election, the Workplace Authority has confirmed, from a sample of AWAs from April to October 2006, the types of protected award conditions that were removed by AWAs. It found that 89 per cent of AWAs removed at least one protected award condition, 83 per cent excluded two or more, 78 per cent excluded three or more, 71 per cent excluded four or more, 61 per cent excluded five or more and 52 per cent excluded six or more. What were the most commonly removed protected award conditions? Seventy per cent removed shift work loadings, 68 per cent removed annual leave loadings and 65 per cent removed penalty rates.

This is what they did. This is what they wrought on the people of Australia. This is what they imposed on working families and this is why the people of Australia threw them out on their ear. What did they do as soon as they got control of the Senate? They implemented laws that they had been craving to implement for over a decade. As soon as they got their hands on the Senate they instituted these horrendous laws. They rammed Work Choices and AWAs down the throats of Australian workers. This is the former government, whose years in government the member for Warringah last week told us would be remembered as ‘the golden age of compassion'. I repeat: last week in a debate the member for Warringah had the gall to stand up and say that the Howard government years would be remembered as ‘the golden age of compassion'. Only today he said that Work Choices was ‘good for Australian workers'. The people of Australia did not think it was much good for them and they did not think it was very compassionate. That is why they threw the Howard government out.

Work Choices was an abject failure. It hurt people and it hurt them for no good end. It was bad for working families, it was bad for the economy and it was bad for business. The Howard government said that Work Choices would deliver low inflation. Where are interest rates? Interest rates are at record highs-the second highest in the developed world. They are at the highest level they have been in 16 years.

This matter of public importance is all about business confidence. I will tell you what destroys business confidence: it is inflation. I had a look at the Sensis business index on small and medium business enterprises from February this year and this really goes to the point of the opposition's argument. It stated:

... concerns about rising interest rates were the key reasons for SMEs lacking confidence-

in this quarter. It went on:

... the main reason businesses gave for feeling worried about their prospects related to concerns over increasing interest rates ...

Well, there you have it. That is what business is saying. Interest rates are sapping business confidence. And who is responsible for rising interest rates? Who is responsible for the highest interest rates in 16 years? Who is responsible for the second highest interest rates in the developed world? Who ignored 20 warnings from the Reserve Bank?

Oh, that is right; it is them! But it is not only business that is hurting. The failure of the former government to rein in inflation has a human face and it is a human face that people on this side of the House know only too well. Today 1.1 million Australians are suffering from housing stress. Last year 9,751 Australians lost their homes. Today in my electorate of Blaxland three families will be evicted from their homes. This is the human face of their failure. As I told the House earlier this week, no-one is suffering more than the people of my electorate. Last year 300 families lost their homes. The year before that, another 300 lost their homes. I speak with some trepidation here, but the data indicates it will only be worse this year. In the last six months the number of evictions has doubled. The Sheriff's Office at Bankstown Court House is now evicting 15 families a week. So don't come in here and lecture us on economics. The party of Work Choices is the party that has inflicted that on my electorate and on the people of Australia.

For those who could keep their heads above water, Work Choices made it all the harder. Keeping up with repayments meant living with the looming threat of Work Choices and the loss of job security. Those opposite also say that Work Choices would increase productivity. What happened to productivity? It has fallen to zero. They said that Work Choices would be good for business. What does the evidence tell us? The evidence says that Work Choices imposed compliance costs on business of more than $950 million. That is almost $1 billion. That does not sound ‘good for business' to me. At least John Howard had the guts to stand up in Washington DC the other week and say that he still believes in Work Choices, which is a lot more than opposition members are prepared to do today. At least he has the guts to say what he thinks. The opposition did not even have the guts to turn up to a division today to tell us what they think. They want us to assume they have seen the light. They want us to assume they have backflipped on Work Choices, like they backflipped on Kyoto and the stolen generation.

I have never met John Howard, but he must be a terrifying man. He must have been a very strong and tough leader because they want us to believe that they all disagreed with him-that John Howard wanted Work Choices, that John Howard wanted to oppose Kyoto, that John Howard said, ‘Don't apologise to the stolen generation,' but they disagreed with him. But no-one had the guts to tell him and no-one had the guts to tell him to go. That draws into question their capacity to lead. They are pretty good followers but they are not good leaders. That is now over because they want Australia to think there is furious agreement in this chamber-that we all believe that Work Choices should be thrown in the dustbin of history, that we all believe in signing Kyoto, that we all believe in apologising to the stolen generation. All the climate change sceptics have disappeared, all the Work Choices advocates have vanished and all the opponents of an apology have had a change of heart. I can only assume they are all republicans now as well. If only that were true.

Do not hold your breath, because they revealed their true selves today when they ran out of this chamber with their tail between their legs. They say Work Choices is dead, then they say it is alive again, then they say it is dead. They breathed life back into Work Choices again today when they told us it was good for Australian workers. Be under no illusion: this is the party of Work Choices. They cannot be trusted not to bring it back. It is the zombie policy that will rise again from the dead if the people of Australia re-elect them to run this country.'