Page 3439 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 21 September 2005

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In a global economy that increasingly values specialisation and flexibility, perseverance with workplace reform is essential if we are to narrow this productivity gap further and respond to challenges such as the rise of China and India as great economic powers.

As the PM himself later acknowledges in his address, Australian workers are by far more productive than Chinese workers. But then the federal government’s real desire is not for increased productivity but rather to drive down real incomes in this country. He says, “It is true that, on average, a worker in Chinese manufacturing cost only $730 annually between 1995 and 1999.” To further complement this belief that it is about wages, the industry minister, Ian Macfarlane, late last month told Sydney radio, “We’ve got to ensure that industrial relations reform continues so that we have the labour prices of New Zealand.”

There is evidence across the Pacific to suggest that these proposed changes will reduce real incomes. A New Zealand study found that, in the 17 years since the implementation of laws similar to those proposed by the federal government, New Zealand is experiencing higher unemployment and lower real wage incomes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, within 18 months of the reforms being introduced, many New Zealand workers lost penalty rates and had their take-home pay reduced. Faced with such dire possibilities, it is little wonder that the working people of Australia seek guarantees from the federal government. It is little wonder why the government refuses to give them.

If the Howard government were sincere in its determination to increase productivity and specialisation, the focus of their workplace reforms would be centred on reversing the drastic skills shortages faced not only by the ACT but also in all states around the country. In the ACT we face shortages in hospitality, in community services and in building and construction.

There is one positive to the federal government’s proposed IR laws; that is that the government has accidentally encouraged the formation of a social justice movement that extends beyond the unions. Churches of all denominations have come out against the proposed changes, primarily for fear that the rights of families will be forsaken in the name of flexibility. Not surprisingly, this line has been taken by new Senator for Victoria, Mr Steve Fielding, of the Family First Party. He used his maiden speech to attack the federal government’s proposed changes.

Through the national advertising campaign that is presented by the federal government and the ACT trade unions, unions like the Transport Workers Union are spreading the message that the federal government’s planned IR changes will see the disintegration of rights and entitlements to work. But what of the opposition members in the ACT? There is nothing but unbridled passion for stripping away the rights and entitlements of working families in the ACT.

In the chamber yesterday we heard Mr Mulcahy saying how outlandish it was for the ACTU to make a claim for an increase in the minimum wage. The best example of this is the opposition’s position on the industrial manslaughter legislation that was introduced in the Assembly last year. Not only did the ACT Liberals vote against this in the chamber but they also made an election promise to repeal the legislation if they were elected. As

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