Page 3451 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 21 September 2005

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the ACT than at any stage except a spike during the construction of the new Parliament House. This environment of nil industrial unrest, activation or dissention, with the lowest level of strikes or days away from the workplace imaginable, a period essentially of industrial peace unsurpassed, is, of course, being put at risk by these proposals.

What is the number one issue of concern? What is the issue that will potentially drive industrial unrest in Australia and lead to the very results that the people I had lunch with at the Master Builders Association do not want? They do not want confrontation, they do not want unrest, and they do not want and fear the consequences of this deliberate ideological assault on workers and families in Australia. And that is essentially the point that was made to me by the large employers. They do not want confrontation, they do not see the need for these reforms, and they do not really understand what it is about.

At the end of the day, they accept what we all accept—that this is pure ideology; that this is about punishing workers; that this is about eroding the power of unions; that this is about turning workplaces essentially into areas of competition, sporting arenas, where one worker is forced to compete against another worker for perhaps slightly more generous terms and conditions. But be under no misapprehension about this: this is about an ideological attack on unions. It is the last hurrah, the great hurrah, of a Prime Minister who for all of his political career has been bent on taking on the unions. I think he sees it as some great swan song on which he can sail out of the parliament and political life. But it will be his undoing.

One of the issues, of course, of continuing concern—just as it is in relation, for instance, to much of the legislation that is to be dropped on the table—is that there is no detail. The commonwealth, through both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Industrial Relations, has not been prepared to give any real indication of the content. We do not know that. In fact, I think we will be surprised if it is eventually dropped on the table in October. The Liberals have been stung by this and will continue to be stung by the reports which will come to pass of the legislating away of the right to holidays, the legislating away of provisions for sick leave, the legislating away of penalty rates, the legislating away of rights not to be forced to work on the weekend. These are the things that we will see and this is what has been expressed here today.

The other aspect of this, of course, is the impact that these changes will have, particularly on women, having regard to the casualisation of the work force and the particular vulnerability of women. I heard Mr Gentleman explain the treatment of paternity leave in the private sector through AWAs. One of the issues of great amusement to me is the beating of the breast by industry organisations and employer representatives in relation to the skills shortage and the lack of capacity to find people with appropriate skills. You only have to look at AWAs, particularly as they relate to issues like maternity leave.

I am sometimes staggered at the effrontery of industry representatives who would stand up and berate the skills shortage and the lack of people to fill positions, when you see the conditions they are offering. There is a rabid refusal to grant women, particularly in the private sector, anything approaching appropriately paid maternity leave. Seven per cent of all AWAs contain a provision for maternity leave equivalent to that offered by the public sector, and they whinge about a lack of skills, a lack of people to employ.

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