Beazley: I won't be lagging on IR

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Beazley: I won't be lagging on IR

A Labor Government after the next Federal election would introduce ‘emergency’ industrial legislation in its first week in office, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley promised a meeting of union members in Melbourne last night.

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A Labor Government after the next Federal election would introduce ‘emergency’ industrial legislation in its first week in office, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley promised a meeting of union members in Melbourne last night.

Speaking at a function held to coincide with the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ executive meeting, Beazley said a bill dealing with ‘some of the inherent unfairnesses of the current IR system’ would be introduced as a priority.

While it would not deal with all industrial matters needing attention, it would look at what Beazley called ‘emergency matters’:

  • Restoring the powers of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to act as umpire;
  • Union right of entry;
  • Collective bargaining;
  • Good faith bargaining;
  • Abolition of Australian Workplace Agreements.

Beazley said his ‘emergency bill’ would not establish unions as the dominant force in workplaces, ‘and nor is it designed to. What it will do is restore balance. It will not make the system inflexible – it will make it fair.’

Beazley warned that ‘you should never assume that AWAs are individual agreements – they’re a collective agreement unilaterally imposed.’ To illustrate his point, he told of a male journalist who’d said to Beazley he had been asked to sign an AWA that included a maternity leave provision.

When the journalist pointed out to his employer that he was male, and therefore highly unlikely to ever need maternity leave, he was told that everyone else had signed and he should do the same and stop complaining.

‘His situation wasn’t dangerous,’ said Beazley. ‘He was a top-class, highly-paid journalist. But other situations are dangerous.’

Beazley also had a special word for Wayne Finch, the maritime worker the ALP has put up in former Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith’s seat of Flinders, south-east of Melbourne. ‘Wayne has done what the Rottweilers couldn’t,’ Beazley said, referring to scenes of violence on Australian waterfronts during the bitter 1998 Patrick docks dispute (see previous story, 138/2001).

Finally, he had a word to say about the Knowledge Nation blueprint he released on Tuesday. He told the function there was a deeper underpinning to Knowledge Nation than technology or innovation, and that underpinning was equality. While he said it was ‘disappointing. . . a tragedy’ that equality had been eroded under the current industrial relations regime, Beazley said Australia was ‘an egalitarian society in spirit – if not, those Rottweilers would have rolled over the MUA, make no mistake about it.’

The comments follow a speech

Beazley made on Tuesday night to the Business Council of Australia about the importance of productivity in light of the Knowledge Nation platform.

He said while Australia achieved 'excellent' productivity growth averaging just under 1% a quarter between March 1996 and March 1999 courtesy of productivity reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, the national accounts of this year's March quarter told a different story. Productivity growth in the latest quarter was one tenth of one percent.

He said both the Productivity Commission and Federal Treasury had concluded that productivity results came from reforms made several years earlier. 'With the productivity slowdown of recent quarters now confirmed by most observers, what do we identify as the cause?' Beazley asked.

He identified 'savage cuts to innovation incentives, education, training and labour market programs made in the Howard government's early budgets' as the reasons for the slump. Under a Beazley Government, industrial relations would be a key element of improving productivity, he said, outlining the same points as he said would be in his ‘emergency matters’ Bill.


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