Economic challenges & WorkChoices

The wrong strategy

Greg Combet


I want to address two economic policy issues tonight. Firstly, the government's industrial relations legislation. Secondly, the real economic challenges Australia faces, particularly the challenge of re-positioning our manufacturing industry in the global economy.

WorkChoices is very nasty legislation. It is the wrong economic strategy for Australia. It encourages exploitation, not enterprise. It will undermine the security of working families. The government has failed to make the case that the laws will create jobs, lift productivity or improve living standards. It is ideology we are dealing with here - the articles of Liberal Party faith. We face these laws because the government has won control of the Senate and has the power to do what it wants.

Let's not forget that Australia is in its fourteenth consecutive year of economic growth. The industrial relations system has not held the economy back. Industrial disputes are at historic lows. There has been sustained productivity and employment growth. The profit share of the economy is at record highs. Even the pet-shop parrots know that.

Certainly we must continue to make economic reforms that will generate future prosperity. But reform that makes it harder for working families to share the benefits of the economic good times, and leave them with little protection in the hard times, is not the way forward. There are far more important economic priorities - education and skills, Australia's flagging trade performance, investment in research and development, leadership in social and economic infrastructure investment, the need to reduce dependence on domestic debt and consumption as drivers of growth, and the importance of building savings. In the labour market, the government, notwithstanding the surpluses available to it, has still not addressed the reform the ACTU has advocated for some years - the disincentives generated by the high effective marginal tax rates imposed on many social security recipients and low income earners.