Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (4.35 p.m.)-Today’s matter of public importance is nothing if not predictable. A year ago the Labor tactics committee put in their parliamentary diary to up the rhetoric to mark the first anniversary of Work Choices. Labor knew it would be difficult to sustain their campaign and that they would need a renewed focus. That is why we are here today. Forget analysis. Forget evidence. That is not the Labor way. The Labor way is to engage in hysteria and ideology. Senator Wong’s motion refers to ‘these extreme and unfair laws’, as if anything other than total union dominance of workplaces is extreme and unfair. Let me give the Labor Party some advice: just because you say something is extreme and unfair does not make it so; it does not mean the public will believe you.
Let us look at the substance of the Labor Party’s claims. Labor’s first assertion is that Work Choices is causing the ‘erosion of take-home wages’. Here are the facts. Under the coalition real wages have grown 19.8 per cent since 1996. Since Work Choices was introduced real wages have increased by 1.5 per cent. What happened under Labor? Real wages actually fell by 1.8 per cent. And take-home wages-what has the coalition done? We have cut income tax-not once, not twice, not three times, but five times. It was cut in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. The coalition has grown real wages and cut income taxes, significantly boosting take-home pay. In contrast, the Labor Party failed to deliver on their own promises to cut tax in government, opposed most of our income tax cuts and presided over a decline in real wages.
Labor’s second assertion is that Work Choices is causing the erosion of conditions. Work Choices actually enshrined in law five minimum employment conditions for the first time. All new agreements are required to meet these conditions. In addition, employees are enjoying the enormous flexibility Work Choices allows, in contrast to the one-size-fits-all system the Labor Party and the unions want to impose. This is particularly important for women who are seeking to juggle work and family. Our reforms allow agreements to be struck so that women who might otherwise not be able to work are able to do so.
Labor’s third assertion is that Work Choices is resulting in workers having fewer rights in the workplace. Under the government’s reforms, workers have a right that Labor and the unions would deny them. It is the right to negotiate an individual agreement, and it is a right that well over one million Australians on AWAs have exercised. Despite the fact that these million-plus Australians are happy with their AWAs, Labor want to rip them up, throwing the arrangements of over a million Australian workers and thousands of employers into turmoil. Workers have a fundamental right to freedom of association in the workplace, and the coalition want to support that.
The Labor Party say that Work Choices is unfair. Let me remind Labor of what their colleague Tony Blair said on ascension to office:
Fairness in the workplace starts with the chance of a job.
Mr Rudd likes to portray himself as some sort of Australian incarnation of Tony Blair-moderate, pro-business, the great liberator of the ALP, freeing it from union domination, establishing a bold new Labor. There is a big difference between Tony Blair and Kevin Rudd. Tony Blair actually embraced the Thatcher industrial relations reforms, which went much further than our modest and fair reforms. Yet Kevin Rudd cannot even bring himself to embrace our modest reforms. He is no Tony Blair.
You cannot just look at Kevin Rudd’s mild persona. You cannot just look at what Labor say. You have to look at what Labor do. And what they do is put former ACTU presidents into parliament-Ferguson, George and Crean-and possibly an ACTU secretary on the way. Greg Combet is currently circling seats in Newcastle. John Roberts does not want him to enter parliament just yet. Poor Greg. He looks at Ferguson, George and Crean and he thinks, ‘It’s fair enough for the former presidents to get a gig in parliament; why not the secretaries?’ And you can understand Greg’s thinking-‘I ran the show, I’m the leader of the Labor movement, I’ve been running the opposition to Work Choices for a year, I’ve drafted the ALP legislation and they won’t even give me a seat in parliament!’ We should also spare a thought for the member for Charlton, who is facing an impending unfair dismissal.
The truth is that Australian workplaces are a lot fairer now than when Labor left office. Under this government, over two million new jobs have been created and unemployment is at 4.6 per cent, down from the peak of 10.9 per cent under Labor. It was still at 8.2 per cent when they left office. I note that, since the introduction of Work Choices, unemployment has dropped below five per cent.
But credit where it is due. At least Senator Wong’s MPI is not as hysterical as the MPIs of some of her colleagues. I had the fortune to watch Kevin Rudd’s MPI earlier today on TV and, watching some of his tortured analogies and attempts at humour, I could only imagine how his colleagues feel when he tries them out in the party room.
Let us briefly recap what the Nostradamuses of the Australian Labor Party and the union movement predicted about Work Choices. Kim Beazley said, ‘There will be more divorce.’ Bill Shorten said it would be a ‘green light for mass sackings’. Julia Gillard said the laws would be ‘bad for the economy’. Janet Giles from Unions SA said Work Choices ‘is a pact with the devil’. Tony Upton from the Transport Workers Union said that our reforms are ‘a direct threat to road safety in this country’. Sharan Burrow said, ‘Children won’t see their parents for Christmas.’ Bill Ludwig said, ‘Our children are going to school with bare feet because parents couldn’t afford shoes.’
If you believe the hellfire and brimstone preachers in the Labor Party, Work Choices has turned Australia into a nation of children of divorced and jobless parents who have been forced to deal with Satan. They have to dodge cars on unsafe roads on their way to school, without shoes, and they will not have Christmas presents in December. It hardly needs to be stated that these claims are not just wrong, they are plain bizarre. The Labor prophecy of doom and gloom is wrong. Under this government we have taken the tough decisions, decisions which have not always been popular, but we have always pursued the national interest. Australia cannot afford an Australian Council of Trade Unions government.