|Issue No 60||30 June 2000|
The Group Hug
Opposition leader Kim Beazley came, saw and conga-ed. Here's what he said to the ACTU Congress.
I want to talk to you today about what sort of Government this nation needs to bring back fairness and equity to Australian families and the Australian workplace.
We are probably only half a year away from the next national election, certainly no more than 15 months away.
That election will be a contest between a party that cares about the needs of ordinary Australians, or a group that has demonstrated it governs for the few against the many.
In a few days time Australian families and wage-earners will start paying a Goods and Services Tax, and their employers will take on the burden of becoming unpaid tax collectors, all over this country.
As you know, Labor has opposed this unfair tax, which hurts the most vulnerable in our community. This huge change to our accounting and tax practices around the nation could hardly have been handled more clumsily. Complaint after complaint is rolling in from the public and from business about its botched implementation.
Governments exhibit a character that permeates everything that they do - they exhibit a pattern of behaviour that is particularly noticeable when dealing with their duty of care towards people. This Government's character can be seen in the way it sets up smokescreens around its actions, time after time.
When bringing in their industrial objectives to smash the power of the fair industrial umpire, and to erode workers' conditions, this Government called the legislation "More Jobs, Better Pay".
Just as when bringing in this regressive tax that will hurt ordinary Australians in so many ways the Government tried to pretend it was "unchaining their hearts" - as well, of course as unchaining their bowling balls, and shopping trolleys.
Only a dud product would need $430 million of taxpayers' funds to sell it!
Just as only a dud industrial relations policy would need the nobbling of the fair umpire to achieve it.
Now, it's worth remembering some of John Howard's words when he deceived the Australian people about his intentions on this Goods and Services tax.
He'll be remembered for telling Australians that their prices would only rise by 1.9 percent under the GST when even his own Budget admits there will be a 6.75 percent inflation increase in the three months following the introduction of this dud tax.
It's worth remembering some of the words John Howard used about this GST when he was telling Australians black was white in order to get himself elected. These are the memories Australians will have of this Prime Minister at the next election. They will remember his press release of 2 May 1995 that said this:
Suggestions in today's Australian that I have left open the possibility of a GST are completely wrong.
A GST or anything resembling it is no longer Coalition policy.
Nor will it be policy at any time in the future.
It is completely off the political agenda in Australia.
And then, on the same day, he was interviewed by the media:
Howard: No, there's no way that a GST will ever be part of our policy.
Journalist: Never ever?
Howard: Never ever. It's dead. It was killed by the voters in the last election...It's not part of our policy and it won't be part of our policy at any time in the future.
He just couldn't help himself. He was at it again on December 11, 1995, he was interviewed on the radio, and was asked again if he had a plan to introduce a GST, and he said this:
Howard: One of the worst things about politics in Australia at the moment is that the public doesn't believe what its political leaders say. Now I'm telling you ... it is not on the agenda, full stop.
Presenter: Would you like it to be?
Howard: No, it's not on the agenda, full stop. Just not there. Vamoose. Kaput.
He said it in English. He said it in Spanish. He said in German. But whatever language John Howard said it in -- it was a supreme and deliberate untruth.
If that wasn't enough, John Howard will go down in history for telling Australians their petrol prices would not go up under the GST. Now he is backing away from that promise with the speed of a Formula One driver.
Here's what he said on petrol on August 1988 in an address to the nation: "The GST will not increase the price of petrol for the ordinary motorist." On April 2 this year he said: "What I've guaranteed is that the price of petrol will not rise as a result of the GST."
John Howard knew he could not keep those promises. They were yet another attempt to turn black into white
Labor's policy, as you know, will be to roll back the GST, to make it fairer for all Australians.
You will all know our plans in detail before the next election. For the moment, I can assure you our priorities will be in the areas of providing fairness to the weakest and most vulnerable in society, including charities; lifting the burden on small business, especially the administrative complexity; lifting the burden on education and health; and lessening the impact on jobs
We all know that GST equals higher prices, which equals higher inflation and higher interest rates. It's already happening.
The value of the much-touted tax cuts has already evaporated for thousands of families, and we haven't even seen them yet. And interest rates keep going up too - because of the GST.
All Australians should remember John Howard's words - that we would all thank him for the GST.
Whatever his words as he desperately tries to wriggle off a hook of his own making as this tax comes in, and he jets off to London to visit the Queen, remember that this was his test: that people would thank him for giving them the GST.
This is the test: and not the one John Howard is now talking about. With the weekend nearly upon us, John Howard is now saying that - whatever else happens - the sky won't fall in on July 1, and everyone one should thank him for that.
So, in John Howard's terms, it does not matter if families are worse off; if small businesses close; and if there is chaos in administration because he has botched the implementation - as long as the sky stays up, we should all be thanking him.
Australians won't fall for this trick. They won't let John Howard wriggle off the hook. He introduced this tax system. It was his idea: indeed it has been just about his only idea for 20 years.
The fact is, John Howard is mired in the past on so many issues while the world is passing us by.
That's why it's time for the industrial and political wings of the labour movement to get together to defeat John Howard and his unfair GST, and his throwback workplace relations regime.
But of course it's not just on the GST that the Howard Government has proved to be the trickster's Government - the Government trying to turn black into white.
Perhaps its worst moments have come in the conduct of industrial relations in this country.
Many of you would have been astounded to hear that the Howard Government's chief head-kicker, Peter Reith, told a recent meeting of the NSW Industrial Relations Society how well off workers were because of his policies.
You know he calls himself "the worker's friend" - he stands up in Parliament day after day giving himself this title.
And this is what Peter Reith told the NSW I.R. Society about the experiences of Australian workers today: "...more cooperative workplaces with greater workforce participation in wage and condition setting"; "...more flexible conditions enabling work and family issues to be addressed"; rewards "more readily shared throughout the workforce".
Anyone recognise this workers' paradise delivered by this workers' friend?
Here's a more fitting description of the Reith regime - from a Victorian Supreme Court judge: who described the current state of workplace relations as "ritualised mayhem in which only the innocent are slaughtered".
From the moment they got the job, Peter Reith has been trying to make industrial relations in this country over in his own image - confrontational, bullying, aggressive.
Peter Reith was handed his confrontational brief by Prime Minister John Howard who told Parliament in 1992, as an Opposition frontbencher, when asked about the coalition's plans for the Commission, that: "We will stab them in the stomach".
He was quite upfront about it: he wouldn't come around and stab the Commission in the back, he would tackle them head-on and "stab them in the stomach".
And Howard found a soulmate in Peter Reith - a man whose first formal speech as Minister was spent attacking unions.
Nothing shows us more clearly how far he will go to attack trade unionists than his handling of the waterfront dispute - one of the most bitter and divisive conflicts in Australia's history.
For the first time in Australia a Government set out to create a massive dispute in order to get a mass sacking of workers.
Have no doubts that it was orchestrated at the highest levels of Government. Government documents from as far back as 1997 show a ruthless campaign to smash a union.
There is no doubt that the waterfront dispute - men in balaclavas with attack dogs chasing people out of their place of work -- came as a great shock to working people and their families everywhere.
The cynical way in which Mr Reith has carried out his brief -- and the way the Howard Government constantly uses industrial issues for political purposes -- is shown by what is happening in the Parliament this very week.
While Congress is meeting Mr Reith is introducing four separate industrial relations bills, mainly resurrecting proposals that failed to get through the last time he tried these tricks, in the so-called second wave legislation.
These bills deal with secret ballots, to streamline approval procedures for AWAs, to strip such matters as tallies and bonuses from awards, and to reduce the grounds on which workers can obtain unfair dismissal remedies.
Peter Reith is telling us these laws are all about "more flexible conditions"; "enabling work and family issues to be addressed" and helping to make workplace rewards "more readily shared". Turning black into white all over again.
But what he's really about is giving him and his colleagues a platform for their crusade against unions and their members on every day of this Congress. What they are really about is trying to keep the focus off the GST.
The constant misuse and abuse of industrial issues for short-term political convenience has been the hallmark of Peter Reith and the Howard Government from the day they entered office four years ago.
Peter Reith has spent every waking moment for four years using his office to indulge his obsession with getting unions and the fair umpire, the Industrial Relations Commission, out of any role in bargaining between workers and their employers.
And there is more to come. The High Court decision on the CFMEU (Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union) case two weeks ago means, in essence, that Peter Reith can legislate to take even more conditions away from workers and that the Commission can do very little - if anything-about it.
Already Mr Reith is using this as an excuse to resume his campaign to use the corporations power in the Constitution to underpin industrial relations instead of the arbitration power.
Back in March, Mr Reith announced he had set up a special project team in his Department to develop the idea. As the year has progressed, he has promised a series of discussion papers explaining it.
How would the most untrustworthy Minister for Industrial Relations in our history use the power to legislate directly for pay and conditions? We haven't seen his discussion papers yet. But we know enough of the Reith form to know the answer.
He would use the power to legislate a basic minimum level of conditions, over which workers would have to bargain as they could for rights such as pay increases and overtime, maternity leave, training and health and safety.
You know Peter Reith likes to get up in Parliament and belt me, along with the rest of the Labor Party, for having a close relationship with the trade unions.
He's just discovered that the Labor Party and the labour movement might have a few issue in common - like the protection of workers' basic living conditions, their health and safety, and the better balancing of their work and family responsibilities.
Peter Reith likes to say that when the political and industrial wings of Labor agree on something this means that the ALP is in your pockets.
We have our disagreements, and spirited they may sometimes be, but we will never be divided on the basic issue of protecting the fundamental rights of working men and women in this country.
And let's be quite clear about the people Peter Reith sees as his enemy - workers covered by trade unions.
More than two million ordinary, decent, working men and women.
These are people from all walks of life - nurses, train drivers, teachers, miners, shearers, childcare workers, builders and factory employees.
These are the people - from Whyalla to Wollongong, from Geraldton to Geelong, who have put their backbone into the economic development of this great nation.
There are many others who may not belong to unions but who are sympathetic to workers' rights to associate, their rights to better safety conditions, their rights to bargain for a fair deal and for some semblance of job security.
We all know that industrial action by employers has become more vicious. G&K O'Connor's Meatworks in country Victoria -- in an action labelled a "baseball bat lockout" by Justice Spender of the Federal Court -- locked out its employees for eight months because they refused to accept pay cuts ranging up to 17.5 percent.
ACI in Melbourne locked out its employees on Christmas Eve last year and kept them out for five months.
And we are all aware of the lock-out affecting the Joy Mining Machinery workers, that has been going on in the southern highlands, not too far from here. I believe some of the Joy workers are here today, and I want to wish them well in their struggle.
It is no surprise, in these circumstances, that survey after survey shows that workers feel more insecure and anxious than at any time in our peacetime history.
Peter Reith has overseen a system to which an incoming government will have to make significant changes if Australia is to have an industrial climate fit for the challenges posed by the new century.
There are huge issues -- certainly bigger issues that cynical politics -- before us in industrial relations.
The smooth operation of workplace relations is a vital part of national welfare. We all know this. Happiness in the workplace is fundamental to happiness in families. Family-friendly industrial relations are fundamental to a whole and peaceful society.
And that is more true today than ever before, as women increasingly enter the workforce, and where both parents so often work. And all this at a time when hours have become more onerous, as work takes up more and more of our lives.
Our workforce is now more atomised and casualised than at any time in our history. We have the second highest level of casual employment in the developed world.
Employment itself is being contained in ghettos of good fortune, whole areas of the nation being turned into no-work zones..
Some of the elements of what the Labor Party has in mind for an industrial system which meets all these challenges are already well known. Others are not so well known, or not well understood. Let me lay out what I consider to be three founding principles.
Labor's legislation, when in Government, will recognise that the right of workers to act, organise and protect themselves collectively is a fundamental element of justice in the workplace.
The law must provide that all parties negotiate in good faith, especially as bargaining assumes its place alongside arbitration. Labor will promote collective forms of bargaining. But, whatever bargaining options are preferred, we will insist on good faith bargaining.
The Industrial Relations Commission must have the power to restore and protect fairness and equity in the workplace, to act in the public interest and to keep the industrial peace.
This last point reiterates what Australians have accepted for close to 100 years as a cardinal factor in protecting the community interest in industrial relations.
It assumes ever greater significance, in view of the Reith campaign against this Commission obligation, and the changes coming thick and fast in the workplace of today.
That is why, in the Parliament yesterday, I presented a Private Member's Bill proposing a number of legislative changes which will enable the Commission to fulfil these obligations.
Among other things, my Bill proposes that, among the principal objects of the legislation which governs industrial relations, the Commission will have the power to conciliate when possible and, to arbitrate where necessary.
As part of that, we will remove restrictions that tie the Commission down to just 20 allowable matters.
We would give the Commission the power to ensure that parties negotiate in good faith. The Commission would be able, for example, to consider parties' conduct: whether or not they have behaved reasonably, failed to negotiate, or prevented others from reaching agreements.
It would give the Commission power to arbitrate decisions if it can see that disagreements have become intractable, and to make or vary awards in order to resolve disputes.
And I want to reiterate today that in Government, Labor will, of course, throw out the Howard/Reith unfair Australian Workplace Agreements which have never worked, are highly unpopular, expensive, bureaucratically complex, and totally unnecessary.
And we'll throw the Office of the Employment Advocate with them.
One reason it is so good to be here with you today in this place, is that Wollongong and the Illawarra are a microcosm of all the workplace issues confronting this country.
As with every other part of Australia, the traditional economic base of the Illawarra is undergoing big changes.
Some of these are very important for the future of Australian industry, and I want to pay tribute to the marvellous work of the University of Wollongong - currently enjoying the status of Australia's University of the Year.
It won this most prestigious award for its pioneering work in information technology and telecommunications research.
The University's diverse areas of expertise cover a wide range of industries of the future -- superconductors, intelligent polymers, steel processing and products, microwave technology, smart foods, biomedical research, and medical radiation physics.
For the most part, this region shows Australia at its best - where the old and the new economies work side by side and in partnership on so many issues.
Now, this is exactly the sort of enterprise Labor is thinking of when we talk about our policies for the Knowledge Nation.
I know many of you hear me on this subject, and wonder what it means to ordinary working people, conjuring as it does the image of professors in lab coats.
But, of course, building a Knowledge Nation is not just about better science, better technology, and better universities, although it certainly is about those things.
It is about assisting working people such as your members to take advantage of the opportunities that the new economy will bring to this country in future years, and is already bringing some of us.
It is about ensuring all Australian schoolchildren get a better education, and stay at school longer.
It is about making sure there are more post-school training, apprenticeship, and education places for them, once they leave school.
It is about making sure all of us have the flexibility, the adaptability, to be able to change throughout our lives with the changing work culture.
This is how we will get the highly skilled, highly paid workforce that all of us want for Australia.
In truth, job security in the future will be all about education and training.
We have recently commissioned some work from experts on what sort of workplace Australians will be facing at the end of the decade.
The Workforce 2010 report shows that if you do not have a post-secondary qualification by that date you will be at greatest risk of unemployment. In fact there is no growth in jobs at all for people with no post-school qualifications. The highest job growth is for those who will have a bachelor degree or higher degree.
What this really mean is that Governments should be thinking right now about bigger and better investment in education and training programs for all Australians.
And yet, what do we see from the Howard Government? Spending on education as a proportion of GDP is actually declining, and there is a woeful performance on teenagers remaining at school, and undertaking further studies.
You know, under John Howard the path to a good education has been defined as the Four Rs - Reading, W(Riting), 'Rithmetic, for the Rich.
There is a real role for Government in the development of the Knowledge Nation, and I will be talking to you on these subjects in much more detail in the lead up to the election.
One thing the Howard Government will never understand is that the economy exists to serve the people.
Strong economic growth is essential - and we are committed to strong and sensible economic management. But Labor believes it is essential that everyone participates in the benefits and opportunities.
These beliefs are fundamental to the way Labor differs from our opponents.
I understand why, under the Howard Government, some people and some regions feel the pace of change is too fast.
The Howard Government has left the people hurt by globalisation, increased competition, and more open markets, simply to fend for themselves.
It has ripped away from them the helping hand that Labor used to provide. It has cut back education and training schemes, labour market programs, and child care places.
No wonder many people are asking why they feel they are unfairly shouldering the burden of change, while they see other people and other regions reaping the rewards.
But that is not an argument against embracing open markets and the new economy. It was under Labor that the economy was opened domestically and internationally. This involved embracing free trade, the deregulation of financial markets, and ultimately the creation of many more jobs.
We find now that more than 1.7 million Australians owe their occupations to the fact we are a trading nation - more Australians than ever before are working in trade-related jobs.
In the manufacturing industries, jobs in exporting firms can pay up to 30 percent higher wages than other firms.
Australia has done many hard yards on trade liberalisation. But the principal issue in free trade today is less about Australia, and much more about access to others' markets. This is an area where a Labor Government will be obsessive about securing what others have promised -- bilaterally, through APEC and through the WTO.
One other matter you can be sure we will be active on, in international forums, is that we will campaign to ensure ordinary workers around the world are entitled to core labour standards.
This is why we should be working towards the election of a national Government that cares about equity and a fair go for all.
The opportunities are there as never before for a lively, free society like ours to embrace new ideas, to take part in the explosive advances in technology and science.
We want Australians to be in the vanguard of the worldwide knowledge revolution.
We know, as you do, that in the fast-changing new world economy, no-one gets to stay the same.
We know what we want for our sons and daughters, for the young Australians just entering, or soon to enter the workforce.
We want them in dynamic, interesting work, where their creativity can add to Australia's wealth and progress.
But what we also want, more than anything, is something only Labor can deliver - fairness and justice in economic management, as well as in the workplace.
We will work together to bring back fairness to this country.
To restore justice to the workplace.
To promote economic growth, but growth in which all Australians must share.
We will work together for this great goal -together as we have always been.
The Labor way
Interview: Turning Tides
ACTU President Sharan Burrow reflects on the disappearance of the middle class and what the union movement can do about it
Unions: Fear and Loathing in Wollongong
For four days this week, too much unionism was barely enough. We bring you the highs and lows from behind the scenes and inside the bars of this week’s ACTU Congress.
Politics: The Group Hug
Opposition leader Kim Beazley came, saw and conga-ed. Here's what he said to the ACTU Congress.
History: Unions and Family Trees
Trade union records may not be the first port of call for a beginning family historian, but down the track a little, these records could bring to life an ancestor who previously was just a name printed on the page.
International: Fiji Bans Lifted
Fiji employers are expected to start reinstating all their workers over the next week, now that Australian union bans have been lifted at the request of the local union leadership.
Review: Room to Manoeuvre
Full employment with a highly skilled well-paid workforce is a realistic goal for Australia, despite the supposed constraints of globalisation.
Satire: Satan Subpoenaed To Cricket Inquiry
The King Commission of Inquiry into cricket match-fixing yesterday heard evidence from Satan that he never influenced Hansie Cronje to accept bribes.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005