September 15, 2005

Transcript of Kim Beazley’s address to the Emergency Service Workers’ rally, Parliament House, Canberra, 14 September 2005

It’s good to be here with you, Leigh, and with Sharan and with genuine Australian heroes. You know, every night on television, because of the nature of what interests the editors of our news services, you feature. It’s either the nurses featuring, it’s either the firies featuring, it’s the paramedics featuring, because there is a sense about all of you in this era of natural disaster and potentially man-made disasters in regard to terrorism, there’s a sense that you’re the frontline, that you are the frontline of the community in protecting the community. And that’s the truth – you are.

The conditions, the terms of your employment, they ought to be the last thing on your mind. The first thing on your mind, of course, is the community that you protect.

And it’s part of the evil genius of the laws that John Howard proposes to put forward that instead of being in a situation where you’re devoted entirely to that calling that you have to protect the community, you have to think about the circumstances which affect you. I appreciate the fact that you’re doing that. It’s a very big help to the rest of us.

I want to tell you something about these laws: they may think that they can get their laws through the Senate where they now have dictatorial powers – and we’re seeing that as they cowboy the Telstra legislation through the Parliament – they may think that but we are still a democracy and there will be an election.

My undertaking as Labor Party Leader is that I’m going to fight these laws like blazers in the Parliament as hard and as effectively as I can but I’m not going to treat the passage of that legislation as the end of the matter. We will go to the next election campaign, front and centre in Labor Party policy, the protection of the rights of Australian workers – the protection of their rights.

Now frankly, we’d have gone to the next election with an industrial relations package anyway, because I don’t like many features of the current laws as they now stand. They are insufficiently protective of collective bargaining. They are insufficiently protective of having a decent umpire. But nevertheless, they’re a great deal better than what is proposed.

So, we’re going to have a package that recognises the umpire; that recognises workers’ rights to collective bargaining; that recognises workers’ rights to have themselves represented by trade unions. These are all critical to the peace of mind of the average Australian family.

There are many features in your awards which affect the very dangerous circumstances in which you find yourselves. You have to have a capacity to have an award and an agreement that represents the realities of the workplaces in which you operate; dangerous workplaces; workplaces that involve enormous stresses on you – spiritually, mentally, physically, that tax you to the very ‘nth’ degree. You confront sights and sounds of humanity and extremity. These are the worst things psychologically that anyone can experience in this community.

Your leave arrangements, your shift arrangements, your remuneration arrangements, the penalty arrangements, all of these things reflect the fact that on a day-to-day basis you do the hardest and most mentally exacting job in this community. To say that you cannot put those in awards, to try and force you out of a collective agreement into an individual bargain to effect these provisions that you’ve had for very many years, that is completely unacceptable and a great indication of what is wrong with what John Howard proposes.

Now, I’m so glad that you’re here fighting for yourselves and your fellow workers. You’re exactly the sort of people who ought to shame this bunch behind me into walking away from what it is they propose to do, because the first stage of this campaign is to get the Government to back off. That’s the first stage of the campaign.

The second stage of the campaign will be to get the right industrial relations laws in place that properly protect your rights. Some of those will need to deal with current industrial relations laws as well as having to deal with laws that may pass that Parliament in bits and pieces left over from the back off which will, to some extent, probably occur.

So, I want to thank you for being here. I want to thank you for being part of this struggle.

I want to just give you some guarantees from the Labor Party’s point of view. We regard this as our very meat and drink. We regard this fight as our heart and soul. For this fight, we were created. We were created over 100 years ago to fight exactly these battles. The battles never cease.

So, we recognise where we come from and we recognise our ongoing duty and it’s just a terrific thing to have so many allies in it and so many politically potent allies, as you are, because of the things that you do in the community, the absolutely essential character of your task for our community.

Thanks very much.

ends