|Issue No 118||02 November 2001|
Kim Beazley's Heart to Heart
In a special message to Australian workers, the Opposition Leader outlined how he would rebuild security at work.
Well, it's great to be speaking to friends, even if I can't be with you in person. I've always thought that the labour movement comprises the believers of Australian political and industrial life. And so I'd like to thank Sharon Burrow, Greg Combet and the ACTU for affording me the opportunity to speak directly to some of those believers.
More than half a century ago, a great prime minister and proud trade unionist by the name of Ben Chifley said the following:
'I believe that the best incentive that can be given to workers is a sense of security - security of employment and security against sickness, unemployment, and the disability of old age.'
Fifty years on, Chifley's words are truer than ever. Working families are owed a sense of security. But they are a long way from getting it.
A lot of families feel insecure in Mr Howard's Australia - but then a lot of single people do, too. Young people are feeling the financial pressure as much as older people - and taxpayers as much as pensioners.
And make no mistake - a great deal of the blame for all this should be sheeted straight back to Mr Howard and his cronies.
They have introduced a new tax that increases the pressure on Australian families. They have flogged off half of Telstra, one of our great national assets - and the last week has shown, categorically, that if they have their way, the rest of it will go, too.
They have squeezed ordinary Australians in favour of their wealthy friends. They are putting decent health care out of reach of the majority. They have swept aside our safety net as if it was a spider's web. They have shifted education funds to the richest private schools. And, of course, they have ripped into Australian workers and their unions.
Because the issue of industrial relations is so vital to the national welfare, a government's IR policy is a sure test of its character. It is a test that the Howard Government has failed.
The Government's three musketeers - Mr Howard, Mr Reith and Mr Abbott - have gone a long way towards destroying the cooperation and harmony that used to obtain in Australia's industrial relations.
They have remade the system in their own image: confrontational, bullying and aggressive. They have created a system described by a Victorian judge as 'ritualised mayhem in which only the innocent are slaughtered.'
Under Mr Howard, it's every man for himself - and God help the women, who are increasingly relegated to part-time and casual employment.
You'll remember Mr Howard saying a few years ago that he wants Australians to feel 'relaxed and comfortable'. Well, it's hard to feel relaxed when you're working longer and longer hours. It's hard to feel relaxed when your company's going under and your entitlements are at risk. And it's hard to feel comfortable when you're facing attack dogs and men in balaclavas.
Labor is deeply concerned about the industrial relations path this country is on - and we are determined to change it. We are determined to create a sense of security in Australian workplaces - to make them fair, safe, and productive. On the first day of a Labor Government, the repair work to our IR system will begin.
We will quickly reintroduce the notion of fairness into Australia's industrial scene.
We've all heard what a great cricket fan John Howard is. So it's ironic that he's spent the last six years hopping into the industrial relations umpire, the IRC.
John Howard once said of the Industrial Relations Commission 'We will stab them in the stomach.' And they have. They have done everything within its power to incapacitate, undermine and nobble the Commission.
They have starved it of funds. They have berated its members. And they have transferred, or attempted to transfer, its jurisdiction to just about every other court in the country, including the Federal Court, the Federal Magistrate's Court, and the State and Territory Courts. They have scattered its jurisdiction far and wide in an attempt to stamp out any critical mass of IR expertise that may play against their prejudices and partisan politics.
This is the triumph of right-wing theology over sound public policy. It's the work of a government made up of bomb-throwers and partisans.
Well, Labor won't stand for it. A Beazley Government will give the Commission appropriate powers to deal with all industrial matters, to prevent and resolve disputes, and to ensure that the rights and entitlements of employees are protected. The Commission will get the authority and resources it needs - and the appropriate jurisdiction.
In other words, we'll get the umpire back on the ground.
We'll also act quickly on employee entitlements. This issue is bread and meat for Australian workers. It's critical for people's confidence that, regardless of the fate of their company, their legal entitlements - what they're owed for their labour - are safe. It's critical to national confidence, too.
But in the last two years we've seen people who have worked all their lives lose their entitlements when their company goes belly-up. We've witnessed a parade of disasters - STP, Woodlawn, Merrywood, Exicom, Grafton and Scone Meatworks, Parrish Meats, National Textiles, and now Ansett.
Mr Howard has been truly useless on this issue. In only one case did the Government put up the money to ensure that workers got all they were owed - National Textiles - and that was a family values decision on the part of the Prime Minister!
I guess Mr Howard thinks he needn't worry - his entitlements are fully protected even if he's fired by his employers, the Australian people. I'll tell you this: he'll need his super, because when he's voted out, he'll have no case for unfair dismissal!
Labor takes a different view from Mr Howard. We are determined to ensure that the legal entitlements owed to Australian workers are delivered. We'll introduce a national scheme, established by legislation and based on the principle that employees should receive 100% of their legal entitlements.
We'll protect the full range of workers' entitlements - unpaid wages, annual leave, long service leave, termination and redundancy payouts, and superannuation contributions. And we'll ask large employers to shoulder their fair share of the costs through a small increase in the Superannuation Guarantee Charge, rather than dumping the whole thing on taxpayers.
Labor will also provide for collective bargaining, promoted through fair and simple workplace, enterprise and multi-employer agreements, negotiated with unions collectively. We will legislate to ensure that the right of employees who wish to be represented by unions is protected and to prevent employees being discriminated against because of union membership or activity. Labor will abolish Australian Workplace Agreements.
Industrial relations is one area in which we'll set out to repair the damage done to Australia by the Coalition.
But there's a lot of work to be done in other areas, too - not least on the question of jobs. The current Prime Minister won't fight for Australian jobs. His view is that government should just sit back and watch the losses roll on.
Again, we take a different view. We believe that if we put our shoulder to the wheel, we can create jobs for Australian workers - but it will take a truly national effort.
For example, Labor is prepared to re-invest the proceeds from the corporatisation of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electricity Authority into a new generation of national infrastructure. This is a huge opportunity for the Australian construction industry - but also for the country as a whole. And it's a worthy cause in which to invest the fruits of Ben Chifley's vision.
In the area of health, Labor's Medicare Alliance with the States will provide the funds to save our public hospitals. We'll repair the education system by redirecting funding towards public schools in priority areas.
But we won't only be on repair duty - we'll also be building a better Australia. That's the difference between me and John Howard. I have a plan for the future, he has a plan for his retirement.
We'll build a Knowledge Nation here in Australia.
We'll improve Australians' access to communications infrastructure - but we won't sell even one more share of Telstra.
And we'll remove the GST from essential items such as gas and electricity bills, nappies, funerals, sanitary items and charities.
The Government has had a bit to say about our plan to reduce the burden of the GST. Mr Costello said it amounts to 'peanuts'.
Well, $100 off a family's annual electricity and gas bill is not peanuts to the people I speak to, Mr Costello.
It's not peanuts to the people that I represent.
In these and a hundred other ways, we'll repair the damage that the Conservatives have caused this country, and we'll set about building a better Australia.
We'll do it with the help of the union movement. Like Ben Chifley before us, we will work day and night for Australian workers - and we'll create a secure future for all Australians.
Interview: Flying High
ACTU Secretary Greg Combet on saving Ansett jobs, defeating Howard and wooing a new generation of unionists.
Corporate: Howard's List of Shame
ACTU President Shaharn Burrow runs through the litany of corporate collapses and down-sizes that have cut a swathe through the Australian community.
Campaign Diary: Week Four: The Battle Lines Drawn
It was a week that saw the leaders launch their campaigns, kiss lots of babies and battle for space with a Holy Jihad.
Industrial: Desperately Seeking Solutions
They might not call it 'industrial relations' in the spin of modern politics, but all the major parties have released plans that will affect the way we work over the next three years.
Economics: Manufacturing Prosperity
Neale Towart looks at the hidden debate of the election campaign - the degree of intervention government should take through Industry Policy.
History: War And Politics
The Conservatives are trying to wage war and win the election. The pundits say itís a tried and true recipe for electoral success. The 1940 federal poll suggests otherwise.
International: Globalising Labour
On the eve of the International Metalworkers Federation Congress general secretary Marcello Malentacchi argues all nations need to retain a manufacturing base.
Review: Security - Who Needs it?
What does it mean to be secure? Should we even need to ask? In his new book, Anthony Burke asks the tough questions.
Satire: Locksmith Promises "Greater Security" If Elected
A Melbourne locksmith has agreed to run for federal parliament, campaigning on the key issue of security.
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