Release type: Speech


Speech to 46th ALP National Conference - Opportunity and fairness for working families Friday 2 December 2011


Senator the Hon Chris Evans
Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations
Leader of the Government in the Senate

Friends and delegates. 

120 years ago our party was formed to improve the lives of working people in this country. 

To protect the rights of working Australians. 

To deliver a fair go in our workplaces. 

Through the years our commitment to working Australians has never faltered.

And as the Prime Minister said this morning, in 2011 we remain true to the values that forged our party.

They are values which united us as we campaigned against the unfair WorkChoices regime.

Thanks to your hard work, it was a campaign we won. But make no mistake delegates, the fight is not yet over.

Industrial relations is once again front and centre in our political debate and at the next election we will again be fighting for the values we believe in. 2

Our opponents can’t change their DNA and have already opened the door to reinstating the policies of the past.

We all know that when they speak of flexibility they mean a return to individual contracts and removal of unfair dismissal protections.

And while they will not utter the words WorkChoices, Tony Abbott’s Liberals remain firmly committed to reintroducing the policies which stripped pay and conditions from working men and women across Australia.

Labor is ready for the fight and we will defend the changes we have introduced. Changes which restored fairness and balance to our workplaces.

We believe the Fair Work system gets the balance right.

As you know, we have committed to an independent review which will examine the operation of the Fair Work Act.

The review will provide the opportunity for all parties to be heard and for the Government to assess whether the objectives of the Act are being met.

But the Review will not reviewing our fundamental commitment to Labor values.

Labor will not return to individual contracts and we will not sanction the exploitation of Australian workers.

Since coming into office Labor has delivered real outcomes for working Australians.

In the Fair Work Act, we delivered the most significant industrial relations reform in more than a century.

But we didn’t stop there.

We have introduced paid parental leave, made it possible for SACS workers to achieve wage justice, restored workers’ compensation protections for public sector workers and provided access to long service leave for workers in the coal industry.

We remain the party of work and opportunity. 3

The party of jobs, growth and fairness.

And there is no greater advocate for jobs and growth than Australia’s proud and strong union movement.

Unions understand that growth equals jobs and everyday they work to secure more jobs for their members.

In the recent debate about securing the future of the manufacturing industry in this country the strongest, most articulate advocates have been union leaders - Paul Howes, Dave Oliver and Michelle O’Neil.

Union leaders who have been leading, making constructive, positive contributions to securing the jobs of the future.

Labor is establishing the Workforce and Productivity Agency to drive our skills and training effort and to conduct research into the future of work in this country.

The Agency will have the capacity to advise Government on how best to support the creation of the jobs needed in our economy’s future and the skilled workers needed to fill them.

And we recognise – as we have for 120 years - that the jobs of the future must be high quality, fairly paid and secure.

Today I heard from workers whose lives are being impacted by the insecure nature of their work.

They spoke with raw emotion about the very real toll insecure work is having on their lives.

The ACTU’s job security campaign is rightly focusing our attention on the nature of work in the 21st century and the importance of having secure employment.

We all know that job security is a fundamental building block for our economic strength. 4

Strong growth in sectors such as retail and housing is heavily dependent on Australian workers having secure jobs and decent wages and confidence in their future.

And while we hear a lot about the importance of consumer confidence the reality is consumers can only be confident if they have a secure job.

Without a secure job you can’t plan to have a family, to educate your children, to get a mortgage and build a better life.

Labor will continue to protect the rights of working men and women.

We now have legislation before the Parliament to deliver further reforms in the textile, building and transport industries.

This morning Louise Tarrant urged us all to remember the faces and the voices of the 27 cleaners who are fighting for their rights to a fair workplace.

Delegates I can assure your Labor will never forget.

Delegates, I commend this chapter to you.