Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.12 p.m.)-This is really a debate about the culture of Australian workplaces today and into the future. Do we want an Australian workplace to be a place of conflict, where it is employer versus employee? Do we want it to be a place of confrontation? Do we want it to be an adversarial place? Do we want it to be a place where both employers and employees dread going to work, know there will be conflict and know it is a hostile environment? Is that what we want? Do we want to resurrect the rhetoric of class warfare, a concept which has no relevance to modern Australia?
It is amusing that as the Labor Party tried to distance themselves from Mark Latham he somehow became their leader one day. None of them actually voted for him. None of them actually chose him. He just bobbed up as leader one day. As they try to distance themselves from Mark Latham, they are still embracing his politics-the politics of suspicion, the politics of distrust, the politics of scaremongering and the politics of class warfare rhetoric. While Labor might be seeking to distance themselves from Mark Latham, they are still singing very much the tune that he was as Labor leader.
I always find it amusing to hear Labor senators opposite purport to represent working Australians. The contemporary Labor Party swapped the cloth cap and the shop floor for the mortarboard and the ergonomic chair quite some time ago. If you look at senators opposite, you see that something like 65 per cent of them were professional trade union employees or professional political staff. There is nothing wrong with that.
Senator George Campbell-What were you?
Senator FIFIELD-I was a political staffer. But on our side of politics something like eight per cent of us worked in one of those capacities before. It has been a long while since those opposite were on the shop floor. What I find most offensive in this debate is the denigration of Australian employers. It may come as a surprise to senators opposite but Australian employers actually risk their own capital in many cases to earn a living for themselves and their families. That is right: the bosses, the employers, have families too. And the businesses that they establish-the businesses that they found by risking their own capital-actually employ Australians. Without employers you do not have employees. It is offensive that Australian employers are denigrated as bosses, as though it were a snide, insidious term-that is, that bosses, employers, people who actually provide jobs, are a negative group in our society.
Take the issue of unfair dismissal laws. If you listened to Labor senators, you would believe that employers wake up every single day and think: ‘Gee, how can I sack someone today? How can I throw someone on the street? How can I put someone out of a job today?’ If you listened to Labor senators opposite you would think that that is what every employer in Australia thinks every morning when they wake up. But the reality is that employers know that the secret to a good business is good staff. If you are a good employee you have absolutely nothing to fear. Employers want to keep good employees; they are not going to be terminating a good employee just as a random act of bastardry. Good employees are the secret to a good business.
What we are seeking to do with these changes is recognise the fact that every business and every workplace is different. Even two workplaces in the one industry, in the one state or in the one suburb can be different and have different needs from both an employer and employee point of view. What we are endeavouring to do is introduce greater flexibility so that employers and employees together can work out the arrangements that best suit them. No-one is going to be compelled and no employee is going to be compelled to sign any agreement against their will. That is illegal today; it will remain illegal under the new workplace agreement arrangements. We are not seeking to change that in any way, shape or form.
Just as it was good policy that laid the foundations of the economic prosperity we are enjoying today, it is good policy today that will ensure that we still have a strong economy in Australia and that we still have strong businesses-businesses that are able to employ Australians. These changes seek to introduce greater flexibility to give employees greater choice and to make sure that the workplace environment reflects the needs of employees and employers.