Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 12 Hansard (Tuesday, 18 October 2005) . . Page.. 3782 ..
much complexity and too much confusion in some parts of the current system. It is bad for business; it costs jobs; it is holding Canberra back; and it is holding Australia back.
Those of us who have had the experience of working in the industrial relations system and working in industrial organisations—and I have had the opportunity to work for industrial organisations from as far back as the early 1980s, as I can certainly confirm—and those of us being franker here in this discussion would acknowledge the enormous complexity of the award system and the difficulty it presents for so many people, not just employers but employees, in understanding their fair entitlements.
Unfortunately, Labor has a vested interest in trying to hold onto the present system. It must resist this change because it is beholden to the trade union movement. Trade unions in this period since 1995-96 have donated over $47 million to the ALP. Despite the falling membership of the community, the unions now have very strong control over Labor. And nowhere is that more evident than within the ACT where there is a remarkable level of control over the ALP, as is reflected in their policies, particularly in the industrial relations area.
Despite all the rhetoric we have heard, the new arrangements will not cut minimum and award classification wages. What this is all about is improving our economic capacity. The view is that we cannot do much better. We can do much better. When I left school we had an unemployment rate that was less than half what it is today. I do not think we should give up the game at 5 per cent.
I know Mr Stefaniak is the same age as I am. He would have left school in the same era. We had choice then; there was such a low level of unemployment that you could leave school and have a range of opportunities presented to you. It was very much a case of a seller’s market. I do not see why that is a bad situation to head towards. The game is not over. We have to improve our lot; we have to understand that there are countries north of us, to our east and to our west that are competing with us, that are offering different terms and conditions of employment. If we cannot either improve our performance economically or provide services at a cost that is competitive, we will not survive in the global scheme of things.
What this legislation hopes to do is create more flexibility in the workplace. There is no sense in saying we are going to slash wages. People simply will not work; they will move on if you go to employees and say we are going to halve your wages. We are not talking about the 1929 depression era; we are talking about an era of strong economic circumstance. But we are operating under an industrial relations system that is anachronistic and is based on the old British system. Boy, didn’t we see them go through some terrible times while they lived with this outdated system!
It has taken Australia a while longer to catch up in terms of industrial relations reform but I believe that it will be done sensibly and that the legislation and the protections that are going to be put into law make a deal of sense. We know that we will see protected by law minimum and award classification wages. We will see protected by law annual leave. We will see personal carers leave, including sick leave, protected by law. Parental leave, which will be of great interest to the minister, I am sure, will be protected by law. Maximum ordinary hours of work will again be dealt with by legislation. Protection