Question Time Wed 3rd February
Senator ABETZ (2.53 pm)Mr President, my question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Senator Arbib.
I refer the minister to the forced outcome between Total Marine Services and the MUA in relation to semiskilled workers in the offshore oil and gas sector. What, if any, productivity offsets have been achieved as part of that agreement?
Senator ARBIBI thank Senator Abetz for that question. I would like to make the point that this is the first question we have actually had on workplace relations in six monthsthe first question from the Liberal
Party and the National Party in six months. The government welcomes Total Marine and the MUA reaching
a new enterprise agreement. We welcome that. The essence of the Fair Work Act is enterprise based bargaining, where the employer and employees, represented by a union if they choose, reach an agreement
which is tailor-made for the needs of the business. Had the Deputy Prime Minister intervened in the dispute, as
AMMA urged, this would have resulted in an imposed arbitrated outcome determined by the industrial umpire,
Fair Work Australia, not an outcome worked on and agreed by the employer and employees. I will just
repeat that: agreed by the employer and employees.
Opposition senators interjecting
Senator ARBIBI take on board the interjections from some of the hardliners in the Liberal Party who are absolutely gagging to bring back Work Choices, but in the end we are providing balance back into the workplace so that employers and employees can sit down on a fair basis and negotiate an outcome. Can I
say that this is one of the very few areas
Senator AbetzMr President, on a point of order: once again, under sessional orders the minister is required
to be directly relevant. The question was: what, if any, productivity offsets have been achieved as part of that agreement? The minister now has 12 seconds to try to get relevant, let alone directly relevant.
The PRESIDENTI draw the ministers attention to the question. I also draw to the attention of other
senators the fact that the answering of a question is not helped by constant interjections, which are not necessarily going to assist the minister in responding to the question that has been asked in this case by Senator
Abetz. Minister, you have 12 seconds remaining to address the question that has been raised.
Senator ARBIBI will make the point again that this was an agreement that was reached between the
employees (Time expired)
Senator ABETZMr President, clearly we are not going to get an answer because I dare say there were
no productivity offsets. I ask a supplementary question: Can the minister confirm that excessive wage increases of this kind, which are not offset by increased productivity, will simply lead to wage inflation, which will, as it inevitably does, increase the cost of living for all Australian families and destroy jobs?
Senator ARBIBI totally reject that claim by Senator Abetz. Something that coalition senators and
certainly Senator Abetz have ignored time and time again are the absolute benefits that are going to be
gained from moving to a national system in terms of improving productivity. We have seen the Access Economics report which talks about the over $4 billion that will be generated in savings because of the changes that the federal government has put in place through Fair Work Australia. Let us get down to the basics. Senator Abetz is ideologically driven. We know where he comes from in terms of his history. We know his position on penalty rates. He was the author
The PRESIDENTOrder! Senator Abetz, I understand you are taking a point of order, but there is one
second remaining on the clock. Are you aware of that?
Senator AbetzMr President, I do take the point of order because, with great respect to you, senators
should not have to continually get up on their feet reminding the minister of the sessional order to be directly
relevant and I would encourage you to invite ministers to be directly relevant to the questions that
are asked and not simply go on their little rants and raves that are completely irrelevant to the subject matter
of the question.
The PRESIDENTThere is no point of order.
Senator AbetzMr President, I rise on another point of order. I invite you, Mr President, to read the
question, then read the Hansard of Senator Arbibs answer and report back to the Senate on how that answer
was directly relevant to the question that was raised.
Senator LudwigMr President, on the point of order: There are two parts. The first part is that Senator
Arbib was answering the question and was directly relevant to the question. The second point of order
which was raised by Senator Abetz borders on an instruction to the President, which Senator Abetz knows
that he should not do. He knows that that would not be an appropriate course. The usual practice if you want
something is that you ask the President to have a look at a particular matter rather than directing the President.
Senator Abetz did not use that language, Mr President, and I would ask you to have a look at the
language that Senator Abetz did use.
The PRESIDENTOn the point of order, I will review the matter and I will come back to the Senate if
I think it is appropriate. It is as simple as that.
Senator ABETZMr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I note that the minister in fact
welcomes this excessive wage increase. Can I therefore assume that the government will not be taking any action to ensure that this unfortunate outcome does not flow on to other employers in that sector or indeed any
other sector in the Australian economy?
Senator ARBIBI will make the point again: this was an agreement that was made by employers and
employees directly. There was no government involvement. There was no involvement from Fair Work
Australia. Can I make the point that the government, when constructing Fair Work Australia, conducted extensive consultations with industry, with business and with employee representatives. One of the few things
that was unanimously agreed upon by all employer representatives, including AMMA, was that Fair Work
Australia should not be able to intervene to end a bargaining dispute and arbitrate an outcome except in the
most exceptional of circumstances. That was agreed unanimously by employer organisations. Again, it is
complete hypocrisy for the opposition to argue that the provisions of the Fair Work Act have failed. The provisions concerning harm to the economy are identical, Senator Abetz, to the previous(Time expired)