Page 4810 - Week 15 - Wednesday, 14 December 2005

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Mr Speaker, in the time I have remaining, I must say that the prediction of gloom and doom has little basis. It did not have any basis in 1995-96. It will not have any basis going forward. We will see some changes in Canberra. We will see young people who had previously struggled to get into the work force being given a chance, the same young people that the territory government refuses to hire. They are the people that I think will most benefit from the changes the Howard government has introduced.

MR HARGREAVES (Brindabella—Minister for Disability, Housing and Community Services, Minister for Urban Services and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (12.04): I rise to speak to this excellent motion from Mr Gentleman which identifies a number of problems with the WorkChoices legislation unfortunately passed by the federal government last week, rammed through the federal parliament in an arrogant last-minute frenzy.

In a year of welfare-to-work proposals, terrorism legislation and countless examples of the federal government misusing its majority in the Senate, this legislation sticks out as the one that could have the most negative long-term impact on the fabric of Australian society. Never before has a government attempted to so undermine the Australian notion of a fair go for all.

Mr Gentleman made brief mention of the response from church and community groups to the WorkChoices bill. I think it is important to elaborate on this point, particularly given that Mr Gentleman’s motion rightly points out that the changes are designed to reduce workers’ entitlements to family-friendly working conditions. An incredible number of church leaders from a cross-section of denominations have damned these reforms.

Peter Jensen, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, has raised concerns about the ability of workers to share time for children, families and relationships once the changes are adopted. Recently, Jim Mein, moderator for the Uniting Church in Australia, New South Wales synod, wrote to the Chief Minister, the Minister for Industrial Relations, and the Premier and Minister for Industrial Relations in New South Wales, regarding WorkChoices. In his letter, he confirmed that the New South Wales synod had rejected the general directions of the proposed changes; in particular, the increased use of individual contracts, the abolition of unfair dismissal provisions and the use of the Australian Fair Pay Commission.

Uniting Church president Dean Drayton suggested that the package is more about choice for business than protecting workers. He said of the changes:

… workers are not commodities in the service of greater profits—they are people trying to make a decent life for themselves and their families.

Perhaps one of the most surprising critics of these changes was Cardinal George Pell, a confidant of the Howard government, who expressed concerns that these changes will result in the decline of the minimum wage. The local Catholic bishop, Pat Power, joined Cardinal Pell in questioning the reforms. He rightly asked whether the new laws target the most vulnerable people.

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