Australian Broadcasting Corporation\nTV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT\nLOCATION: [url]http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2005/s1479023.htm[/url]\nBroadcast: 10/10/2005\nHoward asks Australia to trust Govt's economic record\nReporter: Kerry O'Brien\n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Heather Ewart with that report. Prime Minister John Howard joins me now from our Parliament House studio. On the night you won the last election, you promised to govern for all Australians. So why when you decided to have a special briefing to unveil the latest detail of the new laws, did you invite business groups to that briefing and no-one else, not the trade union movement nor any other group that could be said to directly represent workers?\n\nJOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Kerry, the ACTU had made it very plain from the very beginning that no matter what we said, it was going to oppose our proposals. The ACTU now represents only 21% or 22% of the work force of Australia. That's the percentage of Australians who now belong to unions in this country. It's lower than 20% for the private sector. There will be ample opportunity for these reforms to be debated and analysed. The document I released at the weekend is an advance explanatory memorandum. There will be plenty of opportunity when the legislation comes in. The ACTU had at no stage evinced even a willingness to talk seriously about our proposals, they just said from the beginning, any change to the existing system was automatically bad. They would oppose it. They misrepresented it with their very first ad when they falsely asserted in that ad that it would be possible under our changes for somebody to be sacked because they couldn't come into work due to the sickness of a child. That is one thing that will not be, among a lot of other things it would be an unlawful basis for the termination of somebody's employment. If the ACTU is prepared to evince, in the future, willingness and to seriously sit down and discuss some of these issues with us instead of taking an attitude of blind, blanket opposition, misrepresent what the Government is trying to do then I'm obviously prepared to go halfway. On the one occasion Mr Combet has sought to see me, I have readily accommodated that, and if he and Sharan Burrow want to have a further discussion with me, then I'm obviously willing to do so. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: What about other interest groups with the interests of workers at heart, like church groups, like for instance ACOSS? \n\nJOHN HOWARD: Well, if ... \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: You've gone for the people who support you? \n\nJOHN HOWARD: No, no, look, if those organisations want to talk to me, then I'm very happy to do so. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: You've been exclusive of them. You did not invite anybody other than business groups to your briefing? \n\nJOHN HOWARD: No, that's not right to suggest we've been exclusive of them. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: You were yesterday. \n\nJOHN HOWARD: Yesterday is not the be all and end all of our discussions. The new Anglican primate of Australia has had a detailed discussion with Mr Andrews. He came to see me after he'd had that discussion. I'm in the process of writing to a number of other church leaders inviting them to come and have discussions with me. The suggestion that yesterday was the be-all and end-all of the discussions and consultations about this legislation is a debating point, it's not something of substance. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: What does it say about openness in government that you would brief business groups for an hour yesterday but give the media, whose job it is to report the changes to the rest of the country, literally two or three minutes to absorb a 68-page package of change before walking into a press conference and exposing yourself to questions?\n\nJOHN HOWARD: The media has plenty of opportunity to analyse this document. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: But why wouldn't you give it to them at the same time as you gave it to your business leaders?\n\nJOHN HOWARD: Yes, well, Kerry, the media is normally provided with statements of this kind when news conferences take place, unless they are part of the lock-up. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: And that would be I assume so they've got little time to prepare the tough questions?\n\nJOHN HOWARD: Kerry, I think you've had plenty of time to prepare the tough questions for tonight, so I think we're wasting the viewers' time. It's a rather circular...\n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Alright. Let's go for it. You say these changes are fair, but how can they be fair when there are two sets of rules, one for people in existing jobs, and one for people going into new jobs?\n\nJOHN HOWARD: Can I start by saying that in the end, the thing that will determine job security and wage rates and conditions of employment in this country is the strength of the economy, not the rules and regulations that govern it, and the worth of any industrial relations system is the contribution that it makes to a stronger economy. Now, under the present law, there are certain arrangements. We're going to make them different under these laws, and in determining the overall worth of these changes, you've got to look at the individual positions of people, and the strength of the economy. And you can't judge the fairness or otherwise of the system entirely by the actual rules and regulations. You've got to look at the strength of the economy. No system can guarantee full employment, unless the economy is strong. And I think the greatest value of these changes is that they will produce a stronger, more flexible economy and that more than anything will deliver job security, higher wages and better conditions. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Of course we'll have to wait one, two or three years to test that, but you say it will be illegal for an employer to force an existing employee onto an individual contract where they lose conditions like penalty rates, half of their four weeks' holiday etc., but a person applying for a new job will have no such protection. How could you possibly call that fair to all? \n\nJOHN HOWARD: Well, a person often applying for the new job is out of work and you've got to judge the fairness ... \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: But many of them aren't. Whether they're out of work or whether they're going from one job to another, the same applies. \n\nJOHN HOWARD: But you can't just look at it in the context of applying - going from one job to another. A person who is out of work and has been out of work for a period of time obviously will take into account, in determining whether or not to accept the job on certain conditions, will take into account his current position as well as his future position. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Mr Howard, approximately 25% of workers change their jobs each year, so it won't be long at all, will it, before virtually no workers have legal protection against being forced to accept individual contracts, whether they like them or not, with significantly reduced conditions? \n\nJOHN HOWARD: But Kerry, that completely ignores the market reality in which we live. We now live in what I've called a workers' market like never before. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: That doesn't apply to all workers, Mr Howard, as you well know, it applies to workers in different parts of the country at different times. \n\nJOHN HOWARD: Yes but everybody can quote a different situation. I accept that. But the overall reality of the Australian economy now is that we do live very much in a workers' market. The greatest complaint I have from employers at the moment is that they can't get enough good staff. That is the complaint that we have. We've had an ongoing debate in this country about a skills shortage. Why don't a lot of young people go into apprenticeships? The reason is that they can get highly paid unskilled jobs as soon as they leave school. We are living in a situation where it is a workers' market, like never before.\n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: But Mr Howard ... \n\nJOHN HOWARD: It is the assumption all the time as you do with your question, that every boss is somebody who wants to take down a person .... \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Not at all. \n\nJOHN HOWARD: But that is implicit in so many of these questions. The assumption is that it's always the worker that is going to be taken down. There is never an acceptance... \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Mr Howard, what I'm trying to do is to present a complete picture, not a partial picture. Let me quote from one of your own examples of how this system will work for someone seeking a new job. This is from your own package. His name is Billy. The individual contract he's offered "explicitly removes award conditions for public holidays, rest breaks, bonuses, annual leave loadings, allowances, penalty rates and shift overtime loadings". That's giving up a lot, Mr Howard, but somehow or other they don't lose out, now how is that? Because there's no guarantee for what they'll get in return for what they give up.\n\nJOHN HOWARD: Well, why don't you go on and read the rest of the example? \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: I have it here. \n\nJOHN HOWARD: Yes, well why don't you tell the viewers that that person has been out of work and he's made a judgment after having somebody bargain on his behalf that he will accept that in preference to the... \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: But there's no guarantee that he'll have somebody working on his behalf. And even if he does have an agent working on his behalf... \n\nJOHN HOWARD: I remember that example very well, because I asked that it be inserted in the document so that we would be completely transparent about that kind of situation, and you should've told the viewers... \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Let me finish it. \n\nJOHN HOWARD: You should have told them that the person was out of work. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Billy has a bargaining agent assisting him in considering the AWA. \n\nJOHN HOWARD: Why didn't you tell people that he was out of work? \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Because there are many, many people who will be in exactly the same position as Billy who are transferring from one job to another. Do you acknowledge that? \n\nJOHN HOWARD: It would've been a good idea if you had quoted the full example. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Why doesn't that example equally apply to people who are in work but changing jobs - of course it does. \n\nJOHN HOWARD: Well, Kerry, there were other examples where people's penalty rates are rolled into higher wages. Why don't you quote that example? Why don't you acknowledge that there are situations like that? \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Isn't it true, Mr Howard, that Billy, or anybody coming from one job to another, could be confronted with an individual contract that loses all of these conditions, with no particular guarantee of substantial remuneration in return for it, whether they have an agent or not, that the agent isn't necessarily going to change the mind of an employer who's determined to enforce it and that they have the choice of either accepting the contract or not getting the job? \n\nJOHN HOWARD: Yes, but you're talking about somebody who is coming from one job to another. Right now, and under any industrial relations system, people consider changing jobs. They make an assessment according to what they're offered and if they're offered something which is better, then they'll take it. If they're not offered something that is better, they may not take it. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Many people won't have the choice, will they? \n\nJOHN HOWARD: Well, that will depend ultimately on the strength of the economy. Gets back to what I said at the beginning, that what will guarantee job security, what will guarantee higher wages and better conditions, is the strength of the economy, not the precision of the rules and it's the contribution that the rules and the regulations make to the strength of the economy that, in the end, is the true measure of their worth. \n\nKERRY O'BRIEN: Mr Howard, really, this just the start of the debate, and I imagine there will be many more questions but we're out of time for tonight. Thanks for joining us. \n\nJOHN HOWARD: Thank you.