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Transcript 21977

Interview with John Laws Radio 2UE, Sydney

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 10/10/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21977

LAWS:

Prime Minister, are you there?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am indeed.

LAWS:

Good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning.

LAWS:

Did you hear the lady?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I don't think she supports me. But that is her right and I will listen to her point of view and try and answer it. Did she have a point of view on the industrial relations changes?

LAWS:

Yes, she thinks that it's going to be rough on the worker because the worker won't have the power to stand up to the boss.

PRIME MINISTER:

That's wrong. This is the best time for workers probably at any time since World War II because we have strong economic conditions, we have low unemployment. Most employers I talk to these days tell me they can't get enough good staff. Their great complaint is a shortage of workers rather than an oversupply of workers. So these changes are big.

LAWS:

Why did we need them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Because we've got to keep making changes to win more productivity. You don't stand still. Anybody who runs a business, particularly a small business knows that you either go forward or you go back. And an economy is like that. We've done very well and we're very strong but we're living off the fat of earlier economic reforms. And unless we keep going forward with further reforms, more productivity, an industrial relations system where there's an even greater emphasis on owners and employees working out arrangements that suit them both and suit the enterprise, we're going to lose the competitive edge we have won over the last decade or more. And we'll start to go backwards. That's what's happened to Germany.

LAWS:

Sharan Burrow, to whom I spoke a little bit earlier, says that these changes erode forever the basic rights and conditions currently enjoyed by Australian workers, things like holidays, overtime, leave loadings. Can you explain to me how they won't be eroded?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I will. Can I just first say that that's the kind of ridiculous overstatement that makes a sensible debate on these things impossible. The fair pay and conditions standard will guarantee things like annual leave and holiday pay and sick leave and carers leave and parental leave, as well as an hourly rate of pay taken from the award. And it will also guarantee the normal standard working week or 38 hours. Now they will be written into legislation.

LAWS:

Okay, so nothing in that arena changes at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, they're written into legislation. Now in relation to penalty rates, holiday pay, whether you get extra if you work on a public holiday and so forth, there are certain award conditions governing those now and whilever you are covered by those award conditions, if you are an award reliant employee, then you'll continue to get the benefit of those conditions and you'll also retain, if you are fortunate enough, to have an even more generous long service leave provision than the statutory minimum whilever you're covered by the award you'll continue to maintain that.

LAWS:

Okay, but new workers will have to...

PRIME MINISTER:

... agreement...

LAWS:

But new workers will have to negotiate...

PRIME MINISTER:

... those things can be bargained for. But if they're not mentioned in the agreement then the award condition continues to apply, in other words the default provision is the provision in the award. Now a lot of people might take the view that I'd rather have a bigger salary rather than be paid overtime. There will be some cases where that occurs and it will be a matter of bargaining, but it can't just be something that's casually mentioned in the discussion. It actually has to be dealt with in the agreement. Now if it's not dealt with in the agreement in a quite explicit way then the law will provide that what is in the award that is relevant to the worker's circumstances will continue to apply.

LAWS:

Okay. As I said back then new workers will have to negotiate an Australian workers agreement...

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it depends, it depends on...

LAWS:

Well what's the alternative?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it may be that the firm that he applies to work for, they have a collective arrangement with all of their workforce. It may be that that particular employer says well look what I do is that I pay everybody $50 more than the award rate of pay and in relation to everything else the award applies. So he doesn't have to negotiate anything.

LAWS:

Okay. Well let's say he does have to negotiate something.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he has to negotiate it and he's entitled to have somebody do the negotiations for him. If he's a person under the age of, or she is under the age of 18, he can have, not only is he entitled to have somebody bargain for him but any agreement he or she signs must be done so with the authority and support of his parent or guardian.

LAWS:

Okay. Can anybody be railroaded? I would imagine they could be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well John, we don't live in a perfect world.

LAWS:

No.

PRIME MINISTER:

And I can't say to you look there are no bad employers, there are nasty people who run businesses, there are nasty people who work for businesses. But the great majority of Australian employers are decent men and women, and the great majority of Australian workers are conscientious decent men and women too. I have a more positive, benign view of Australian society than does Sharan Burrow and some others who contribute to this debate. I happen to think we wouldn't be where we are now if employers and employees were a pack of miserable people who are trying to take each other down all the time.

LAWS:

Well that's true. Do you think that Sharan Burrow is not understanding it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think some spokesmen and women for the union movement understand the change that's taken place in this country. They don't understand the rise of the enterprise worker, the person may be a small businessman or woman or just may be an employee, but sees their future as tied up with the future of the enterprise and no longer carries the baggage of a them and us class war that's gone forever in this country. I think that is the problem in trying to have a rational debate about these things. Now we're not trying to take away basic conditions; that is absurd. I've just explained to you that things like holiday pay and leave...

LAWS:

Yeah, but you can do deals for them, can't you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, well in relation to holiday pay you can't... at the moment you can do deals. There are deals done now. There are people who, and in fact under our law you'll only able to bargain away two weeks of the annual leave. And if for example you're working under an award which has six weeks leave, and some do, then you'll only be able to bargain away two. But you can do that now and Sharan Burrow of course won't admit that, but you can. And there are a lot of examples where that happens. Now under our law you won't be able to do so without giving consent in writing.

LAWS:

Can you tell me what's wrong...

PRIME MINISTER:

... won't happen. Look, can I tell you the reality is that this won't happen very often but there are some people who are perfectly happy to do so and why should you rob them of that flexibility?

LAWS:

Can you tell me what's wrong with, in a couple of sentences, what's wrong with the system as it stands now? Why do we need to change?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's still too hard to make flexible workplace agreements at the enterprise level. You've got to get them approved in a complicated way and the terms and conditions which underpin them are too complicated. And I think we have to make it easier to do so. I think that's one thing that's wrong. The other thing that's wrong is these absurd unfair dismissal laws which are a burden for small business. And the other thing that needs changing is our system is too complex. We need a single national system because we are national economy. Now they are the three basic things that need changing.

LAWS:

Okay. At the risk of being aggravating, why was it you told me back in 1996 that nobody would be worse off, but you won't tell me now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I said in 1996 was, I said that our policy would not cause a cut in a take home pay of Australian workers.

LAWS:

You should nobody would be worse off.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well John, I gave a, made a statement then, the statement I'm giving now is to say to the Australian people look at my record over the last nine and a half years. I didn't have a record in government of nine and a half years in 1995. And I think I can honesty say that I have delivered on that commitment, haven't I, over the last nine and a half years people are better off.

LAWS:

Well if you tell us so Prime Minister that's fine by me.

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean what I'm saying to your listeners...

LAWS:

I can't understand why you can't say what you said to me in 1996?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well John, what I'm saying now, nine and a half years on, is that I believe that these policy changes will benefit the Australian workforce. I believe it will result in a stronger economy and I also ask the Australian people to look at what I've done over the last nine and a half years. I haven't been perfect, I've made mistakes, I haven't fulfilled all of their expectations. But I don't think anybody can argue that our unemployment is at a 30 year low, our wages have gone up by 15 per cent in real terms, our interest rates are lower, and our taxation is lower.

LAWS:

Are you going to have a very good look at mental health?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. We have a report on that from the human rights commission and it is an issue that bothers me. It is something that can only be tackled in collaboration with the States - we don't run the psychiatric hospitals. The major problem in mental health in my view flows from the decision taken a generation ago to deinstitutionalise...

LAWS:

Absolutely, absolutely right.

PRIME MINISTER:

And that was a decision taken at a state level. Now I'm not trying to shift responsibility, I'm just trying to call it is as it is. But the deinstitutionalisation was a decision that was embraced by all, by so many of the so-called experts a generation ago. I think it was a mistake.

LAWS:

Well it was. But that money you're spending with all those ads going to air, that would have been well spent somewhere in the health area. $90,000 every time one goes to air.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can't tell you the figure. Look we are spending - not the $100 million that Mr Beazley is talking about.

LAWS:

How much?

PRIME MINISTER:

I can't tell you exactly, but it's significant but nowhere near $100 million.

LAWS:

Okay. Prime Minister I've got to leave you and you've got to leave me, you've got a much bigger job than I have, you've got to mind the country, I just have to mind a few ads here. I thank you very much for your time.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21977