Question Without Notice - Workplace Relations

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (14:38): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations. How has the Fair Work Act facilitated workplace bargaining since 2009? What are the challenges to, as well as other options for, improving bargaining for Australian businesses and employees?

Mr CREAN (Hotham—Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (14:39): I thank the member for Cunningham for her question. She, as did everyone on this side of the House, knew how important it was to fight Work Choices and replace it with Fair Work Australia. I am asked what the impact has been of this important change which we have made since coming to office and I can say this: it has been fantastic for jobs. Some 740,000 jobs have been created since we came to office—

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting—

The SPEAKER: The member for Mackellar is warned!

Mr CREAN: —with the prospect of another 500,000 jobs. There has been a significant lessening of industrial disputes, almost a halving of them, since we came to office. There has been important wages growth without inflationary impact. There are now the greatest number of people on enterprise bargaining in the history of this country—and that is important because it is focusing economic activity at the job level, the plant level—and there has been smarter bargaining as well. There have been some important breakthroughs in which superannuation has become an important part of the bargaining process. So not only has the impact been a much fairer system—because gone has been the threat to people's wages and conditions and the ability to sack them at the whim of the employer, replaced now by a requirement to bargain in good faith—but also a system that more than ever suits the economy and the circumstances it is going through now. It is an economy in transition and there is a requirement to understand those different transitory phases and to have a wages system and an industrial relations system that works

When we talked about introducing the system, we were told by those who now sit opposite that the sky would fall in—wages would be out of control, industrial disputes would be up and we would see all manner of job losses. Just as they are spreading fear today about pricing carbon, so too in those days did they spread fear about the changes we were going to make to Work Choices

I am also asked in this question: what are the challenges to us in continuing to implement this? The biggest challenge would be if there were a return of a Liberal government to power at the federal level because, for the Liberals, Work Choices is in their DNA. You only have to look at New South Wales and Victoria to see where the premiers there are heading. There is also a cacophony of members in this parliament pining for a return to the days of Work Choices—the member for Curtin, the member for Wentworth, the member for Goldstein, the member for Higgins, the member for Moncrieff and the member Mayo have all weighed in

But where has the Leader of the Opposition been in this debate? Try as they might, the media cannot get him to talk about it. He is muzzling his own frontbench, keeping them off television programs and avoiding those programs himself. But when he, himself, was asked what he is going to do, he said, 'Wait until the field evidence comes in.' The field evidence is in. This has been a return to a better system. What we know about the other side is that they are united on returning to Work Choices. They are united on the IR front; they are divided on the PR front—how they come clean with the Australian public. Labor will resist the return to Work Choices because a return would be bad for the Australian people and this economy.

(Time expired)