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MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE: Howard Government: Workplace Relations

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (5.23 p.m.) —I do not think anybody in this House really endorses golden handshakes for poor performances. I do not think anybody wants to think that company executives should be rewarded for failure, disappointment and loss of investment.

But it is interesting today that the Australian Labor Party appears to have chosen to attack the golden handshake rather than to get behind the ACTU and back their redundancy claims, currently before the commission. It appears that the Australian Labor Party wants to support the ACTU in this process, but is not prepared to nominate increased redundancy payments as a new policy.

I would just like to remind the House that these well-intentioned policies, or coat-trailing by the Australian Labor Party, led to a situation where the very people that they claim to represent were, over a period of 13 years, ground down to poor and uncertain circumstances where unemployment rose to over one million people, despite record opportunities in the economy. Australian workers actually suffered a salary reduction—a wage loss—of five per cent in real terms over the period of 13 years of Australian Labor Party government. In contrast to that, we now have stable interest rates where the workers that the Australian Labor Party claim to represent can actually buy their own homes, where there are job opportunities and where we have record employment. Over a million jobs have been created—not lost—during the period of this government. Not only are interest rates low and employment opportunities high; we have had an increase in salaries and wages of 10 per cent over the period that this government has been in office.

Compare the two ways of doing things. Under the Labor government, workers, who the ALP claim to represent, were punished and screwed down with a loss of salary and an inability to purchase their own home and their jobs threatened, whereas the party the ALP claims does not represent the Australian worker has provided a 10 per cent real increase in salaries and wages, has provided a stable opportunity for people to buy their own home and has increased employment opportunities. It is unbelievable that the party that has so much lost its way is going back to the same policies that destroyed it previously—the same policies that will keep it in opposition. The Australian people remember what it did. Small business, which the honourable member opposite is familiar with, certainly remembers the impost of unfair dismissal and the attempts of this government to get rid of unfair dismissal provisions on small business.

It has been said that the proposals for changes to the redundancy provisions have the potential to destroy thousands of jobs. It is claimed by representatives of small business that Australian business at large could have its costs increased by 30 per cent by these redundancy claims by the ACTU but that they would increase the amount of small businesses' redundancy payments by 300 per cent. Not only are they refusing in the Australian Labor Party to acknowledge that the unfair dismissal impost needs to be removed from small business; they want to pile another impost on top of it by supporting the ACTU redundancy claims. Representatives of Australian business have said that you have to bear in mind that, if you are made redundant, you are facing at least 22 weeks of unemployment, yet in our federal system the maximum entitlement of redundancy is eight weeks. That is what the union representatives claim. It sounds good but, when it went into practice, with all the accords and all the things that were written down with the cooperation of the ACTU and the Australian Labor Party, it produced disaster.

This proposal, which sounds good, leads to the very opposite of what it is designed to do. You have only got to go through some of the statements made here in the House by my colleagues in the Australian Labor Party. I will just quote one, where it was said:

On the other side of the fence, the Labor opposition and our industrial partners in the trade union movement are remorseless in the protection of workers' rights in all aspects of industrial relations.

That was the very attitude—from Frank Mossfield, a good bloke, the member for Greenway—that produced the very things that went wrong with the previous Labor government: the record interest rates, the record unemployment. The alternatives are now in place.

The member goes on in speeches of this type to talk about the industrial relations laws in Australia being formulated on the master-servant relationship and the ultimate authority to hire and fire. He talks about the ultimate advantage of employers over employees and says this advantage is strengthened in the current period of soft employment opportunities when unemployment has been in second gear at between six and eight per cent for the last six years. He is absolutely wrong. At six per cent it is far below anything that the Australian Labor Party could achieve, and by anybody's standards—world standards, the OECD standards; any measurable standards—the Australian economy is not in second gear. The Australian Labor Party are kidding themselves with this line that they are trying to run today.

I am disappointed that they are so thin of ability and so short of ideas that they cannot do anything but pick up a union movement proposal and say, `We won't run the union line; what we'll do is we'll attack the high-flyers.' I would like to think that any union member would have the opportunity of becoming a high-flyer. If you are going to restrict the whole process and regulate it out of sight, you are going to hamper that opportunity for growth and for aspiration that we need to see and that drives the Australian workplace.

Mr Hardgrave —Stalinist.

Mr CADMAN —I agree with my colleague. It is fascinating stuff when Wayne Swan, member for Lilley, talks about the bills in the Senate making it easier to sack workers and put up the prices of essential medicines. Wayne Swan talks about how the government will not do anything about paid maternity leave and will not fix the debt trap in the family payment system, and he goes on with a litany of whinges about what the government will not do for workers. But the government has produced greater salaries, more employment, lower interest rates—

Mr Fitzgibbon —What about executive payouts?

Mr CADMAN —And I now come, as I am invited to do, to the golden handshake. I have said already in this speech that payment for bad performance is not on. Payments for poor performance allow executives to send a company down the mine and then claim a golden handshake. But it is a bit like Centenary House. It is a bit like the contract that the Australian Labor Party has with the Audit Office; it cannot be broken. Once a CEO has signed on with a company, he is there. That agreement, if badly thought through or badly entered into or designed to pay a person for bad performance, no matter what the circumstances, is like the jolly Centenary House down the road: you cannot break the contract but the money still has to be paid out. The analogy that I draw in this instance is that the money has to be paid out to the Australian Labor Party under a contract that is unbelievably bad.

I support the comments made by the Prime Minister and others on the golden handshake situation: poor performance should not be rewarded. Changes to CLERP 9 have been proposed by my colleague the member for North Sydney who has just entered the chamber. There are proposals for disclosure under CLERP 9. Today we are looking at the failure of the Australian Labor Party to really get behind the union movement. They have chosen instead to attack golden handshakes, something that this government, from the Prime Minister down, does not support. Golden handshakes are not supported by this government. It must be easier to have a shot at a CEO than it is to do anything constructive about more jobs, lower inflation and better opportunities for Australian workers—as this government has. The opposition have failed and they have indicated today in their comments that they will continue to fail.

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 27th May 2003
Release Date: 9 Jun 2003

 
 




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