Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 12 Hansard (Tuesday, 18 October 2005) . . Page.. 3781 ..
number of Australians have enjoyed the opportunity for casual employment because it suited their lifestyles, particularly women who may have young children, students engaged in education and the like. As we move towards a more flexible workplace, we are going to see the working environment not only change but be more reflective of the needs of our community and the needs of industry.
Unions, unless they can adapt their ways and become more appreciative of the needs of competing forces, will find themselves increasingly less relevant. As I have said in this place on previous occasions, when you are down to 18 per cent support in a community, which is the case with the level of union membership in the ACT, in a city that the Chief Minister keeps telling us is a very strong Labor town and has great faith in his government, then I suggest that they have got some serious problems in terms of their relevance to the needs of people who are working in the city.
“Working people” is a bit of a cliché. I had a discussion with somebody the other night and they talked about working people. You get it particularly amongst academics, who characterise them as a particular, unique group of people and the rest of us in the community, the people who are not in industrial employment, as really not workers. In fact, everybody that I come across in the course of my life, except for retired folk or children, are workers, are part of the working community and do not embrace this fear, which is being promoted by our friends opposite and their supporters in the trade union movement, of the gloom and doom that is upon us.
The greater flexibility that we are starting to see and will see even more of in the industrial environment has helped Australia build one of the strongest economies in the Western world. We are exporting more; we have created over 920,000 new permanent full-time jobs. In fact, since 1996 over 1.7 million more Australians are in work. What happened then? That was the time when the people of Australia said goodbye to federal Labor and they have not wanted them back since. I do not think there is much prospect of that down the track.
Australia’s unemployment rate has been markedly reduced, reaching a 30-year low level of about 5 per cent and, of course, much lower here in Canberra. Interest rates are at historically low levels. There has been an increase in average real wages of over 14 per cent compared to only 1.2 per cent in 13 years of Labor between 1983 and 1996.
We have also had the lowest level of industrial disputes since records were first kept in 1913. Labor says that there is no more to do, no more reform required, because industrial relations are good enough. They say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But, of course, Labor totally misses the point that there is always a better way and that if you stand still you go backwards relative to other nations and communities around us that compete with us. They will continue to improve their productivity and living standards.
Although industrial relations and living standards are much better now than they were under Labor and would have been under Labor since 1996, all is still not well. Australia has over 130 different pieces of industrial relations legislation, over 4,000 different awards and six different workplace systems operating across the country. There are in fact too many rules and regulations, making it hard for many employees and employers to get together to work out smarter ways of doing things. There is too much red tape, too