The Hon. Rob Lucas MLC

The Hon

Rob Lucas MLC

Treasurer

Speeches

Statutes Amendment (Budget 2010) Bill

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL

Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 14 October 2010.)

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (15:32): I rise to speak to the second reading of the Statutes Amendment (Budget 2010) Bill. In doing so I acknowledge that this is one of two budget bills that this chamber will debate. There is the Appropriation Bill and members, including myself, will obviously address a wider series of comments to that bill, as it is the major budget bill. This is the Statutes Amendment (Budget 2010) Bill, which does make some specific amendments to a series of existing acts as part of the government's 2010 budget.

The Liberal Party's position on the passage of the bill through the parliament was clearly enunciated by shadow treasurer Iain Evans (the member for Davenport in another place), and I indicate that the Shadow Treasurer, as he indicated on that occasion, speaks on behalf of the Liberal parliamentary party in relation to the budget bills.

At the outset I note that the 2010 budget is based on spin, deception, hypocrisy and broken promises. I will address some of those issues and others in this debate, and I am sure other members will address their view of the bill, and I will address some comments in the Appropriation Bill debate as well.

In opening my contribution I refer to comments made by members of the government in this and another chamber on aspects that were a critical part of this bill, and they relate to workplace relations. At the outset I say that, in my view, this budget that has been brought down—it is one based on spin, deception, hypocrisy and broken promises—has sown the seeds of the destruction of the Labor Party in South Australia, in particular the state Labor government. I did not just say the Rann Labor government, because I do not think there are many who, even within his own caucus, believe they will go to the election under the title of "Rann Labor Government" but some other version, as Mr Rann will have either been forced to retire or will have retired under pressure and supposedly of his own volition.

This budget sows the seeds of the destruction of the state Labor government—not just the Rann Labor Government. Mr President, with your staunch and strong union background, you would know that it is hard to know what the Labor Party says that it stands for in recent times as it has moved more steadily to the centre and tried to replicate the Liberal Party in terms of its approach to economic management—unsuccessfully I might add, given its record, but it nevertheless says that it seeks to do that.

The one thing it has always said it held dear to its heart was that it was the party for the workers, the party that would defend workers and their entitlements. It, rather than any other party, but in particular the Liberal Party, was the party that would defend the unions, employee associations and the workers in South Australia, whether in the private or public sectors. Those of us on this side for the past five or six years have listened to Labor members in this and another chamber pat themselves on the back, puff out their chests and attack the former federal Liberal government for a variety of what it saw to be sins in terms of employee relations under what they believed was the pejorative label of WorkChoices. They attacked the Liberal Party in South Australia and federally, and they attacked WorkChoices.

However, in this bill, as the workers and their representatives queue up on a daily basis outside Parliament House to try to get space to protest against the government and its members, we have a government which, in the middle of enterprise bargaining negotiations with its own workers, is legislating to take away workers' entitlements by way of a sneaky provision in a budget bill. They know the conventions in South Australia are that budgets are not opposed or defeated by oppositions and, unlike in other jurisdictions, they have been adhered to by both Liberal and Labor parties for decades. So, they knew the way they could breach their supposed commitment to their own employees and to the workers of South Australia was to include these provisions in the actual budget bills themselves.

I know that some in the union movement at the moment have taken a political decision to say, 'Well, this is just the fault of Rann and Foley.' That is a convenience for some of them because they cannot contemplate the thought of saying anything nice about the Liberal Party or the opposition.

Mr Rann and Mr Foley have both made it clear that these were unanimous decisions of the cabinet and that the supposed hero of the left, Mr Weatherill, and others in the cabinet unanimously agreed to all these provisions. The government spin doctors have told the media and everybody who will listen that, when these were announced to the caucus, there was acclamation. There was applause. Kevin Foley himself has indicated to the parliament that there was applause. Some have even suggested a standing ovation but I think that perhaps is taking it a little too far for some of us to even believe.

There was applause and acclamation from the caucus members at the magnificence of the work of Mr Rann and Mr Foley in the cabinet—the whole cabinet, including the Hon. Mr Weatherill—in relation to the provisions in this budget. Let us not be deluded by the political stance of some that this is just the sins of Mr Rann and Mr Foley being visited upon public sector workers in South Australia.

This is a conscious decision of every member of the cabinet, not just the Premier and the Treasurer: it includes others who would like to be the Premier and the Treasurer in the future. It includes Mr Snelling, Mr Koutsantonis (heaven help us all if he is considered a potential leadership aspirant—the 'welsher from the west'), Mr Weatherill, Mr Rau and Mr Hill. Mr Rann and Mr Foley, the Premier and the Treasurer, are not going to go down without taking a few people with them.

They have made it quite clear that, if they are going to be targeted, then everybody—even the Leader of the Government in this chamber—was a willing participant and that they all unanimously supported the decisions to rip away workers' entitlements in this budget measure. Then, as I said, when they went to the caucus, clearly people like the Hon. Mr Wortley and the Hon. Mr Finnigan and all the Labor members of the backbench, according to the Treasurer and the government spin doctors, applauded the decisions taken by the cabinet to rip away the workers' entitlements.

That is what they do in the privacy of the cabinet and the caucus room. But what do they say when they come out into the parliament and into the community? There is a simple answer in relation to this bill: they say nothing. They will not defend these particular decisions, particularly people like the Hon. Mr Wortley, the Hon. Mr Finnigan and others: the Hon. Mr Hunter and the Hon. Mr Gazzola. Those members in this chamber are not going to be courageous enough to stand up to them and defend some of their statements of the past.

I want to remind some of these courageous members of the Rann Government of what they said they stood for—and there are many other quotes that I could put on the record, including some from your good self over the years, Mr President—but let me start with the Hon. Mr Holloway who, on 2 May 2007, proudly boasted in a passionate contribution in this chamber:

The Australian Labor Party was founded in the 1890s to protect the conditions of Australian workers and to give them a fair go. What has not changed is that the Australian Labor Party believes in a fair go for Australian workers and their families and that will continue.

That was the proud boast of the minister in charge of industrial relations and public sector management in this chamber. I guess it does not change from 2 May 2007 until September 2010. His passionate defence, his contribution on behalf of workers in South Australia had a use-by date of September 2010.

There are many other contributions from this Minister for Industrial Relations. Will he stand up, Mr Acting President? I asked him questions only a couple of weeks ago as to, given that the government is the model employer it supposedly is, does he now believe that this is the way it will treat its employees in future enterprise bargaining negotiations and does it now believe that this is the way private sector employers should treat their employees in future enterprise bargaining negotiations? Surprise, surprise: the leader of the government was unprepared to answer the question. Let us hope he will have the courage to stand up—

The Hon. P. Holloway interjecting:

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Well, you didn't answer the question. Let us hope the Leader of the Government will have the courage to stand up in this chamber and defend his statement of 2 May, and many others that I could have put on the record, where he said it was the Australian Labor Party that believed in a fair go for Australian workers and their families and that would continue, and that it was the Labor Party that would protect the conditions of Australian workers and give them a fair go. Let him explain to the thousands of people protesting on the steps of Parliament House over the last few weeks how this budget and this decision—of which the Minister for Industrial Relations Assisting in Public Sector Management was a critical part—are consistent with his passionate defence on behalf of workers in this chamber back in May 2007.

Let me quote other statements, the many from the President, Mr Sneath, and from the Hon. Mr Hunter. The Hon. Mr Finnigan, for example, in 2007 said:

The introduction of WorkChoices means that employees must rely more than ever before on their ability to negotiate with their employers in order to secure fair terms and conditions of employment. Of course, the fundamental weakness of WorkChoices is that it very much puts the bargaining power on an unequal level, so that the employee is at a disadvantage.

Let me put the question to the Hon. Mr Finnigan: how much of a disadvantage is it as an employee when your employer is the government, who can sneak into its budget bills provisions which actually reduce workers' entitlements as part of a budget bill package? How disadvantageous is that for the employees of this employer, the South Australian government?

The Hon. Mr Wortley, who loves to pat himself on the back, throw his hair back and let the wind take effect at the magnificence of his mane, has always proclaimed himself to be the fearless champion and defender of workers' rights and workers' entitlements. It did not matter whether he was in the far left or the near left, or indeed now the right of the Labor Party.

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: The centre left is the only faction he can say he never joined. In all those factions, in all those incarnations within the Labor Party, the Hon. Mr Wortley said he remained true to, and was always a passionate defender of, the rights of workers in South Australia and Australia. In 2007 and 2009 he said:

The Rudd Labor government was elected on the basis that WorkChoices should be dismantled. That government and its partner, the Rann Labor government, are determined to fulfil their mandates and will not be distracted. We will together set in place an industrial relations system that is based not on conflict and discord, but on the facilitation of fair agreements that contribute to workplace productivity and a system that will benefit us all.

Then, in another contribution, the Hon. Mr Wortley went on to say:

It is absolutely vital that Labor wins the endorsement of the people at the next election so that we can stop the current federal coalition government’s ideological war on the Australian people. The attack on working people is not about creating a fairer and more equitable system and a flexible workplace; it is about creating fear in the workplace and it is about taking away the legitimate conditions and wages which working people and their families rely upon for a decent life.

Further on, the Hon. Mr Wortley says:

Prior to being elected to parliament last March, I spent 22 years fighting for the rights of working people and their families. Over the years I negotiated with and on behalf of my members to improve their working conditions, along with representing members who suffered workplace injuries and who were unfairly dismissed.

Later, he went on:

The believers and the founders of May Day died fighting for the rights of working people and their families—and for what? Today workers’ job security has been taken from them, as have their freedom to negotiate and their freedom to claim their legitimate entitlements. Without job security, how can ordinary Australians pay their mortgage and invest in their future?

I might just interpose there that I would love to see the Hon. Mr Wortley's defence to the nearly 4,000 public sector employees who have the spectre of forced redundancies hanging over their head at this very moment as a result of a decision of his cabinet and government, for which I understand he amongst other caucus members applauded the Premier and the Treasurer in the caucus after it was brought down. Finally, the Hon. Mr Wortley concluded with this promise:

...if Labor is successful in the polls the working people of this state and this nation will have their rights restored.

What a magnificent promise and commitment from the Hon. Mr Wortley. If Labor is re-elected, if it is successful in the polls, the working people of this state and this nation will have their rights restored. I hope the Hon. Mr Wortley will have the courage, the guts, to stand up in this chamber as part of this debate, together with the leader, together with the Hons Mr Finnigan, Mr Hunter and Mr Gazzola and defend the decisions that they have taken unanimously in the cabinet and applauded.

The Hon. R.P. Wortley interjecting:

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: The Hon. Mr Wortley is going to defend it. Good. I will be very pleased.

The Hon. R.P. Wortley interjecting:

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: We will be delighted to hear the Hon. Mr Wortley who is going to stand up and justify these particular decisions, and I think the workers in government departments and agencies and other workers will be delighted to hear the contribution that is going to come from the Hon. Mr Wortley.

As I said, this budget has sown the seeds of the destruction of the state Labor government. We have seen massive protests. People are having to book space on the steps of Parliament House. They are queueing to protest against this particular government. We see in the recent protests, Mr President, your good self and other members of the left and various versions of the left in the Labor Party slinking on the steps of Parliament House, not quite getting into the major protests, although credit to Frances Bedford and Steph Key who were at the first protest, up front and centre.

Mr President, your good self and the Hon. Mr Gazzola were slinking there on the steps of the Legislative Council. Mr Bignell from the left was there again today amongst the groups protesting. We saw the first signs of someone from the right at least out there sneaking down the steps of the House of Assembly chamber—Mr Alan Sibbons, the member for Mitchell. He is a member of the right, as you know, but only by convenience.

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: Like some others.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Like some others. He is another one of those who has been won over by the offer of advancement within the right. As I think you would probably be aware, Mr President, the left is not in a strong position within the caucus at the moment but mark my words: the left will be using these decisions to start to peel off the members from the right, the controlling faction in this particular government.

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: There was a meeting this morning, I think.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: A meeting this morning, the Hon. Mr Dawkins tells me. They will be looking at some of these members who were members of the left—Mr Odenwalder and Mr Sibbons (and I do not know whether they would actually deign to talk about the Hon. Mr Wortley because he is probably a lost cause and will not be here for too much longer)—and who might be here for a slightly longer career than the Hon. Mr Wortley and worth while talking to.

That is going to be a problem for stable government in South Australia because we are going to have a government tearing itself apart. We are seeing the fist signs of visible protest on the steps of Parliament House with the first member of the right turning up (at least timidly) to have a look at the particular protest here today. I hope there might be others who will turn up tomorrow, when many hundreds of country residents will travel hundreds of kilometres within South Australia to protest against this budget and, in particular, the cruel and heartless decisions that cabinet ministers and backbenchers have taken which will potentially lead to the closure of hospitals in a number of country communities.

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: And the loss of many jobs.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: And the loss of many jobs with the closure of important hospital services in a number of country communities. It is not just the issue of the government ripping away the entitlements of its own members. May I say that many in the union movement and others, at least in the initial stages, likened this to WorkChoices. At least in relation to WorkChoices, under the federal government's arrangements, it led to a negotiating environment; the unions and others disagreed in terms of the change of rules of that environment, but employees and employers could negotiate within those changed rules. It was not a position of the federal government legislating (as this state Labor government is doing) to rip away workers' entitlements whilst engaged in enterprise bargaining negotiations, as they are at the moment.

WorkChoices meant that people could still go off and negotiate and, while they might have been unhappy with the framework within which they had to negotiate, in the first version of WorkChoices there was at least a 'no disadvantage' clause. That was then lost but returned again in almost the same way. People may not have liked the framework but it did allow employees and employers to negotiate. This is not what the state Labor government has done. The state Labor government, by sneaking these provisions into the budget bill to ensure their passage, is going to rip away the entitlements of their own workers, contrary to the commitments it gave to those workers prior to the election.

I know that a number of other members will address this issue during their contributions. These were specific commitments and specific promises given by the state Labor government to its employees over a period of time prior to the election, to toady to its public sector employees to ensure that they would support it rather than what the government sought to portray as the ogre of a potential state Liberal government.

I will be interested to hear the Leader of the Government, the minister in charge of industrial relations, defend the integrity and honesty of what they told their own public sector workers prior to the election and what they are doing to those workers now. Knowing the leader, I suspect he will not have the courage to stand up and answer that particular question. Sadly, he will not have the courage to stand up and explain the duplicity, the deception and the hypocrisy that he and the Premier and the Treasurer have engaged in as part of this budget, the commitment they gave to public sector employees prior to the state election, and now what has been done after the state election.

It was not just in this chamber, but let us look at some of the ministers, supposedly from the left and right—I will be non-discriminatory in my attribution of comments, or my quoting of members in another place. Let me turn to Mr Caica who, at varying stages, has been the minister responsible for industrial relations in South Australia. He is a former union leader and a member of at least one of the versions of the left within the Labor caucus. This is Mr Caica on the Fair Work Bill on 9 September 2009:

I—and I am sure all members of this house—am proud to take this opportunity for South Australia to participate in a national system of industrial relations for the private sector, while maintaining a contemporary and equitable state system for the public sector and local government.

The background to that was that the public sector workers and their representatives in South Australia, I guess, trusted the state Labor government. I hope that their representatives will now be more circumspect, I guess, in terms of what they believe and trust from any leader. I am not just talking about Mr Rann and Mr Foley, but any Labor leader in this state, in terms of the commitments that they give them.

This was in terms of the debate about the federal government, or the federal system, taking over industrial relations. This legislation was keeping state public sector workers in the state system. There was Mr Caica saying that there was going to be maintained an 'equitable state system for the public sector and local government' because the benign, the benevolent—in his view—wonderful state Labor government would look after its public sector workers rather than letting them loose under the jurisdiction of a potential federal Liberal government.

Then on 13 October 2009 minister John Rau (although I do not think he was a minister at the time) said:

That is exactly what they have done. Howard did that without putting it to an election, without telling the public what he had in mind, and he got his just deserts at the next election for doing something that was despicable. It was dishonest because it was not put to the public first, and it was despicable because he betrayed his own mob…

How prophetic, how pathetic—prophetic and pathetic. Here now is Minister Rau, portrayed by some in the right as a future premier in South Australia. The words that he quotes—he thought he was quoting in relation to a federal Liberal government—could be turned directly on himself, as one of the unanimous cabinet that endorsed these proposals, and on his own government—despicable, dishonest because they had not told the people at the election what they intended to do. Well, my challenge to minister Rau is what, in this aspect of the proposals of the budget, did he and the government share with the public sector in South Australia and the South Australian community prior to the election? Further on, in relation to the Fair Work Bill on 13 October 2009, minister Rau said:

Let's applaud the great common sense of the Australian public. They saw a rotten act, they saw a dud system, and they did not like it. But guess what? We are stuck with it now. The damage has been done—you cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

There are literally hundreds of other quotes that I could put on the record—and I will not today—not just from those members but many other members, as I said, seeking to portray as we know, falsely, the Australian Labor Party, the state Labor Party, as the party that defends workers in South Australia.

There are many other aspects of the Statutes Amendment (Budget 2010) Bill, a number of which we will be able to go through in much greater detail during the committee stages of the bill. There are two provisions among many others that I want to address briefly.

One matter is the fury from country constituents and the members who represent them in relation to the lack of interest in regional communities shown by this government in this budget. Those of us on this side of the chamber have known that for a long time, and this budget just reinforces that view. The abolition of the fuel subsidy of up to 3.3¢ a litre in some country communities is just a further indication of that, and that provision is included in the statutes amendment budget bill.

Also, as I said, in other aspects of the Appropriation Bill the issue of cuts to services in regional communities (such as the decisions which will lead to the potential closure of some country hospitals and other services in regional South Australia) are being strongly opposed. As I said, I think that those communities have managed to book space tomorrow on the steps of Parliament House (among the many groups that want to protest against this government) to voice their protest tomorrow against the government and its decisions.

The other issue that will potentially take a little time in the committee stage of this bill does relate to some specific provisions of the changes to the Motor Vehicles Act, which includes, in particular, the abolition of the registration sticker. I am aware that a number of groups are expressing concern about this provision, and I know that some of the issues were raised with the Treasurer in another place.

A potential amendment was raised in the House of Assembly. I know that the Motor Trade Association, for example, has been in contact with the Treasurer's office seeking an amendment to some of the specific provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act section of this legislation. I know that a letter in recent times has been sent directly to the Treasurer (dated 21 October) from the Motor Trade Association. The particular issue that organisation and a number of others are raising is the issue in clause 18(1)(1a)—what is the definition of 'reasonably expected to have known'?

The example the Motor Trade Association is giving is a busy dealership's service department, where dozens of cars from private individuals are dropped off and moved. As their employees drive those cars around the block or up the road to test and find out what the problem is, will the motor vehicle employee be held liable if that car has not been registered, because, of course, there will not be a sticker? You cannot see whether or not it is registered.

The way in which the legislation is drafted, that motor dealer employee will be held to be liable in terms of driving that vehicle. The government's response is, 'Well, when it's dropped off, the owner has to tick a box and say that it's registered.' The question raised by the shadow treasurer is, 'Well, if the government says that it believes that is reasonably expected to have known and that is a fair defence, why not put that provision in the bill?'

The Treasurer has said that he will look at that between the houses to see whether or not he is prepared to move that amendment. We have not seen any amendments. I am assuming that it is one of two things: first, in its typical arrogance, the government has just ignored it and is not prepared to do it; or, secondly, it has looked at it and rejected it. We can enter into the reasons for that, if that is the case, during the committee stage of the debate.

The issue that I raise, also, is that it is not just about motor vehicle dealers. As one thinks about this issue, when one looks at the issue of valet parking here on North Terrace at the casino, or at a number of the hotels in the CBD where you get valet parking, employees of those establishments will drive your car to wherever they park them, and, on my reading of the legislation, they will be in exactly the same position as the motor dealer employee.

The government's response is that you can go to a website and check whether or not it is registered. I am not sure whether it has actually thought through the practicality of that and whether employees doing valet parking out of hotels will be able to instantaneously check whether the car has been registered. What do they do if the bloke has gone and left the keys of the car in front of the hotel blocking access of other vehicles to that establishment?

I think the issue that has been raised by the motor vehicle dealers is an alive issue and could be applied in a number of other areas. I know that my colleague, the Hon. Ms Lee, has raised the issue in relation to employees in the taxi industry, and I guess there could be similar issues in relation to courier drivers; and one can think of a number of other examples where this new provision, in terms of who is liable, will prove difficult for some individuals.

Part of the government's defence is hat Western Australia has done this. I do not think that is satisfactory, because maybe they are now going through the same problems in the west; I do not know. What we need to know is how this particular issue will be addressed if the bill goes through in its current form.

I guess the other point is: what would be the implications on the budget bottom line if this defence provision is changed or tweaked in some way? If this particular defence subclause is amended along the lines being suggested by motor dealers and others, what advice has the government received in relation to the potential budget impact of such a change? Let me say as a former treasurer that it will be difficult, I accept, but the government and Treasury officers should be in some position, based on Treasury and Crown law advice, to indicate the ballpark in terms of the potential costs of an amendment in this area.

Certainly, from the Liberal Party's viewpoint, our position as we put to the Motor Trade Association and others is that we believe it is the government's budget bill and its major responsibility is to try to convince the Treasury and the government of, first, the need to amend the legislation and, secondly, whether the government is then prepared to proceed with it. From our viewpoint, clearly, if the government is prepared to amend the legislation we can see at least the potential logic in this. As I said, if the issue is raised in relation to motor vehicle dealers, it potentially impacts on a number of other areas as well and we would need to see some equity in terms of a potential government response for those other groups in the community. Again, we would obviously be interested to know what, if any, impact there might be on the bottom line if this subclause were to be amended.

I conclude my contribution to the second reading and indicate, as I said, that there are a number of issues that I know will be pursued by other members and also me during the committee stage of this bill.

Source: Hansard

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