|Issue No 51||28 April 2000|
Reith Loses Plot Over 'Bad Bargaining' Bible
Under pressure over revelations of his Department's manual teaching public sector bosses how to lie and cheat to staff, Peter Reith faced a fiery media conference this week.
While Reith's office routinely circulates transcripts of all press conferences to media outlets, none was forthcoming after this one. Here's why ....
Press Conference, 27 April 2000, Phillip Street offices, Sydney, following joint Commonwealth, State and Territories workplace relations ministers meeting.
Natalie Davidson, AAP The manual is promoting Public Service workers to be dishonest. Is that provided for in any ethical framework?
Reith: Well, it doesn't do that. Thank you for the opportunity to answer the claim. Um, this manual has been around for years.
Brad Norington, SMH: That's not true Mr Reith
Reith: Well, I'm told that it is true Brad, and....
BN: Where's your proof Mr Reith? Let's hear it.
Reith: Well, I have the secretary of my department here, and we'd be very happy to allow you the opportunity to discuss the matter with him, but if you are now claiming publicly that that is not true then you will stand on your reputation...
BN: I'd be happy to.
Reith: Well I would hope the newspaper will do the right thing now Brad and correct the record. Now the fact is this manual...
BN: What record, Mr Reith?
Reith: Well the fact of the matter is this manual's been around for some time.
BN: But you don't know that. You don't even know that.
Reith: Oh, well, acting on the advice of my advisers, Mr Norington, ah, I am told that this manual has been around since 19...
BN: But you haven't seen it though, have you?
Reith: Well, I've got a, I have a copy of the manual on my desk
BN: That's the 1999 manual.
Reith: Well, that is your side of the story.
BN: No, it's on the document. You have it.
Reith: No, well, I'm sorry, the fact of the matter is that there has been a manual around for many years. We have been criticised, in my view, very unfairly. Ah, that manual has been around for many years. Ah, any fair reading of it, ah, would lead any reasonable person to conclude, ah, that it simply provides information, it's a training manual as to negotiations. Now, ah, in that sense, in my view, it is a perfectly reasonable response for me to make to you that it has been around for years. The suggestion that we have, you know, that I, or the Government, have somehow, ah, encouraged unethical behaviour is quite unfair and quite unreasonable. I mean, just, just, I mean, it's already been on the public record although it's not made clear, um, in some newspapers. Ah, this was a document, the responsibility of which was within the department, it was never brought to my attention, I never knew anything about this document until February.
BN: So you're only the minister.
Reith: Ah. Well, I am the minister in charge of the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. The minister responsible for Public Service matters is David Kemp. Now that is not me walking away from responsibility for anything that happens in my department, but fair is fair, Brad. The fact is that it is a Public Service matter, I have had responsibility for Public Service matters, I do not today.
BN: Your department wrote the document.
Reith: Well, my, there, there's no question that the department was responsible for the document.
BN: They wrote it.
Reith: Well, I don't know who's actually written it, I'm sorry, but, you know...
Stephen Long, AFR: (Inaudible).
Reith: Well, I don't believe that that is what the document does. And I think it's...
SL: Well, I read it. And I read it as suggesting that these were the tactics you can use.
Reith: Well, I beg to differ. I don't think it is a fair, ah, or objective assessment to say, ah, but that's, but that's...
BN: But which tactics should you use and which tactics shouldn't you use?
Reith: Now, I don't think it's a fair assessment, now, you're entitled to your different view but I mean, it's certainly not my view.
SL: What is your personal view, minister, on what is an appropriate tactic invited in that document?
Reith: Well I think people ought to act ethically and that is what the document says.
BN: It doesn't say that Mr Reith - you know that.
Reith: Well... I've read...
BN: It doesn't say that.
Reith: Brad, I'm not, I've, this is a press conference to discuss, I'm happy to discuss any matters but the fact is that you have a personal view about this, and I have a different view, and I've...
BN: No, it's just factual, Mr Reith, purely factual.
Reith: Ha, well, well, what is purely factual is a matter of dispute, obviously, between us, but...
SL: It does suggest, ah, it does suggest using selective figures, and it does raise the notion of one discrediting by raising unsavoury associations.
Reith: Stephen, I can only say this to you. I pulled the manual out myself. I have read the document now. I mean, you know, I spent time reading it last night again. If you ask me, the issue was well and truly over when the matter was raised back in Feburary. Ah, but I've re-read the document again. In my view any reasonable, objective person would not find it the offensive and shocking, ah, you know, document which some people here obviously think it is.
Phillip McDonald, 7.30 Report: Minister, when was it first published?
Reith: Well on my advice it was first published in the early nineties. Ah, and it was certainly in use in seminars in 1994 and we have the dates of those seminars.
PMcD: Exactly the same manual?
Reith: Ah, well, the manual has, it is true, the manual has over the years been updated to reflect changes. So if you read the manual today it says the Workplace Relations Act 1996 says XYZ, so that is true. But I'm also advised by my secretary, and I rely on his advice, obviously, that the offending parts of this document have been a part of this document right from its inception. The document, I'm told was used, for example, ah, in conjunction or in collaboration with the ILO, for example, in the early 1990s, at a seminar in Vanuatu.
BN: The exact same document Mr Reith?
Reith: Well, I've just explained, ah, Brad, the context in which this document was being used. And it is true, there is no argument about it, it is obvious on the face of it, that it had been updated from time to time. But I'm also advised that those parts which you find offensive...
BN: I don't find them offensive.
Reith: Well, um, okay, those parts which are said to be offensive
BN: How do you find them?
Reith: Well, I didn't write the editorial, so I don't know..
SL: Do you find this information ... some people might say, this is just bargaining. This is what happens all the time in bargaining. This is a tactic. What's the problem?
Reith: Well, the document, I mean, a fair reading of the document is trying to impart information to people about what happens in a bargaining process, and how to deal with situations that arise in a bargaining process. Now, to that extent it is descriptive, it is not condoning a particular course of action, and in fact I say to the contrary because there are words which make it clear, in my view, that people should act ethically. In fact, I thought the whole purpose of this manual is to describe to people how they should act, correctly act, in the conduct of negotiations. So, um, it has, the mere fact that it has descriptions of certain behaviour, ah, in our view is not offensive. I mean, how else can you explain to people what may happen in a negotiating process. I mean, how many people have actually read this document? Oh, well, fair enough, you have Stephen, of course, you've done your homework. But, any fair reading of it, I'm happy, it's obviously available to people, I mean, it's, it does seem, ah, that some of the claims made about this document are unreasonable claims, in my view.
BN: Mr Reith, do you support making false demands in negotiations?
Reith: Brad, I'd be very happy to have a personal discussion with you about the matter.
BN: It's just a question. Yes or no?
Reith: With great respect, I'm happy to discuss the matter with you - I did try to ring you yesterday to say, to lodge my complaint with you about the story.
BN: And I rang you back.
Reith: Ah, well, um, I'm very happy to continue our personal discussion Brad, but are there any other questions?
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