I say to business tonight: the ball is in your court (07/02/2012)

08 January 2013

Labor-Manufacturing-Group-mtg-8feb12-018.jpgAs the House adjourns and the member for Goldstein retires to contemplate how he will fill the $70 billion black hole in the opposition's proposed budget, I would like to make a few observations about governing in the interests of working people and the concept of a social compact between employer and employee and between government and business.

I acknowledge at the outset that this compact is changing, particularly between employer and employee. No longer do employees have lifetime employment as the norm. Indeed, over one million Australians change their job each year and 1.4 million Australians are engaged in a way that 10 years ago we would have described as 'nontraditional'. More and more businesses buy and sell on an international stage and employees now contribute as much as their employers do in terms of money and time to their own vocational education and training. Indeed, working hours are increasing and the boundaries between work and home are dissolving.

Parallel with these changes is a demand from business that their relationship between themselves and their employees be governed more by trust than by regulation and the relationship between government and business be one that facilitates rather than regulates their business. These on their face are reasonable requests but requests which are all too often undermined by the action of their advocates. We can have little sympathy for employers who decry the role of an independent umpire, for example, in the resolution of industrial disputes but then lock out their workforce and cripple a country's aviation system in the midst of an industrial dispute. There are employers who demand more trust and commitment and time from their workforce but reward that trust and commitment by increased casualisation, precarious employment or the off-shoring of jobs.

Employees are quite rightly demanding a reciprocal obligation from their employers. With equal force, Australians grow tired of businesses who decry regulation while seeking assistance or concessions. I have spoken at great length in this place about the need for government to assist and facilitate business to make strategic interventions in the market where those interventions are aimed at delivering a greater social good than the roaming hand of the unfettered market would otherwise deliver.

I stand by what I have said. I believe that we need an auto industry in this country. I think it is critical to the future of our nation, its intelligence and how we produce and consume. I think to that end the Automotive Transformation Scheme is critical. I believe the coalition's policy will destroy the automotive industry in this country.

I believe we have a need for a steel industry in this countrya clean, modern, high-tech steel industry, and I believe the steel industry transformation plan and the $300 million associated with that by this government will assist. I believe the coalition's refusal to back that plan is a clear threat to the future of the steel industry. I believe that it is incumbent on these businesses to show a reciprocal obligation to Australian taxpayers and their workers.

The obligation should include an obligation to keep jobs onshore, to train the next generation of workers to invest in modern equipment, plant and processes and to ensure that their middle management force is up to the task of meeting the challenges of the future. These are not radical socialist ideals. Indeed, the President of the United States recently reflected a very similar sentiment in his address to congress, the address to the nation. I say to businesses quite clearly that your failure to meet your side in this compact, your side of the reciprocal obligation, will not go unchecked.

There are many areas of government policy where government is facilitating the demands of businesses: for instance, in the area of 457 visas, industrial assistance, tax relief and industrial relations reform, which are providing real and everyday benefits to business. Indeed, these are a continuation of reform that we have seen since 1983. We have seen an unprecedented shift towards opening up our economy and freeing up our markets. We should not assume that this will be an uninterrupted trajectory.

Australian people as consumers, as neighbours and as voters will respond to the continuing offshoring of jobs on the one hand as business with the other hand holds its hands out to government and demands more and more concessions and more are more assistance. Quite simply, the Australian people will not accept this.

So I say to business tonight: the ball is in your court. You must meet your part of the bargain or the rules will certainly change. They will change as Australian governments of all persuasions respond to an Australian population which is demanding a more vigorous response from its governments to the challenges that people are facing.