WorkChoices Legislation High Court Decision
The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN: My question is directed to the Minister for Commerce, and Minister for Industrial Relations. Would the Minister inform the House about today's decision of the High Court?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: As honourable members would be aware, today the High Court announced its decision on the validity of WorkChoices. But today's decision is about the constitution; it is not about the fairness of these laws.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I call the Hon. Melinda Pavey to order for the first time.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: WorkChoices is as unfair today as the day it was rammed through the Senate. Five judges of the High Court have determined that the Howard Government has the constitutional power to make these laws; two judges believe it does not. Justice Callinan said this decision has "the capacity to obliterate the powers of the State". He described WorkChoices as an "act of unconstitutional spoliation". For those not familiar with the term "spoliation", it means, one, plundering; two, the destruction of a document—in this case Australia's Constitution; three, the taking of privileges by someone not entitled to do so.
The Iemma Government made a stand—and it was a stand that had to be made—to protect the hardworking families of New South Wales. Today's decision will not divert us from our duty to protect the vulnerable. This far-reaching decision of the High Court has shown that the Iemma Government is now the only thing standing between John Howard and Peter Debnam and their agenda for New South Wales' families. They are proud of a system that allows dismissal at will; cut-rate Australian workplace agreements with no penalty rates; longer working hours; sick leave and holidays cashed out; and take-it-or-leave-it bargaining with no fairness at all.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: How much of taxpayers' money paid for the Government's political ideology? How much did it cost us?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: It is actually the Opposition's political ideology. The Howard Government has now been given the green light for further use of the Corporations Powers, and we all know the member for Vaucluse will never stand up to the Prime Minister. The New South Wales Government will continue to legislate, campaign and design measures to protect younger workers, injured workers, front-line public sector workers and all the people we can protect from the Howard-Debnam race to the bottom.
Already the Iemma Government has introduced new legislation to protect front-line public sector workers such as nurses, TAFE teachers and ambulance officers. And we are pressing ahead with legislation to protect young people and injured workers. We will maintain the State industrial relations system, the award safety net, real minimum wages and the independent umpire, that are a feature of a fair, balanced and efficient system. Our opponents have a nonsensical industrial relations policy. They have pledged to hand over "the bulk of New South Wales powers". They have pledged to hand over millions of New South Wales families, and they have confirmed that that they are "in lockstep" with John Howard. Yet, they claim they will keep the New South Wales system for front-line public sector workers.
It is an acknowledgment that WorkChoices is an unfair, divisive and unbalanced system that risks the delivery of vital public services. Surely everyone deserves the protection of the New South Wales Government. No-one believes the Opposition will keep a system with awards, judges and a court that will order the reinstatement of the thousands of front-line workers Peter Debnam plans to sack. Even with the split decision today, a million New South Wales' workers are still protected by our State system with its award safety net, decent minimum entitlements and a strong, independent umpire. The Iemma Government will stand up to Canberra. We will continue to do all in our power to protect New South Wales' families. We know the Opposition and its leader do not have the spine to do so.