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Monday, 17 June 1996
Page: 1973

Mr LIEBERMAN(3.55 p.m.) —I am delighted to add a few words in general commendation of the motion put forward by the member for Prospect (Mrs Crosio). I was also very interested to hear the comments of the member for Menzies (Mr Andrews) and the member for Batman (Mr Martin Ferguson) in general support of the motion. Like most honourable members here, I have had some experience in these areas dealing with constituents in hardship, subcontractors who more frequently than not are being struck down and forced into insolvency and bankruptcy because a head contractor has gone into liquidation and insolvency, and of course employees.

In my electorate at the moment in Wodonga one of the very large export abattoirs unhappily has closed its doors. More than 300 of my constituents have been left as unsecured creditors—employees along with a lot of other people, including subcontractors. A friend of mine who is a building subcontractor is owed $35,000, which is an enormous amount of money for him and his family to lose. They may well go under; I hope they don't. So I have a fair bit of passion about this issue. My own approach to it, frankly, is to ask that more lateral thinking be applied to this problem. For example, the Commonwealth now, to its credit, requires the head contractor to certify and to produce evidence that subcontractors have been paid before progress payments are made on construction jobs. I fought for years to get that in the state. I am very happy to see that the Commonwealth has done that. That is the sort of lateral thinking we can adopt.

I think it would not take much ingenuity to devise a scheme whereby companies are encouraged and even rewarded under a code of ethics or accreditation systems to introduce practices where they put into trust accounts that are legally shielded from liquidation the accumulated sums that a good company under good management should put aside each month towards long service and annual leave. Then the legal problems would be solved. Once a fund is identified as a trust fund for legal entitlements for employees, it cannot be siphoned off with proper management, care and auditing towards the other claims in the event of an insolvency.

I think we should concentrate on and direct our minds to a lot of the practical ways of helping, because none of us here want to put an added burden on businesses. We all know the problem of unemployment and getting businesses to invest, take risks and save. We need to ensure that small business in particular is not faced with more levies and more burdens. That is our responsibility. Anyone in this current parliament who does anything to add to the burden of business will have a lot to answer for, because that would detract from the employment prospects. Using lateral thinking, we could find lots of ways of ensuring added protection.

The very welcome legislation that was brought in to put the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation behind employees was legislation that we all worked hard to get. I must say I was very frustrated that it took so long. There was a bus company that crashed in Victoria, and the employees there fought for years against the tax commissioner. Actually, from memory I think the tax commissioner took them to the Hight Court to oppose their application for priority. The employees were out borrowing money to pay their rent while the tax commissioner took them to the High Court. I did not like that at all: none of us did. The legislation that went through was good legislation and I supported it.

I do not want to be too political, and therefore it is a little ironic that in the last few seconds of my speech I have to reflect that this motion by the opposition comes after 13½ years of its being in government. I think it is only fair that I should put that in context. I was not going to do that, but the honourable member for Batman, in what should have been a non-party political contribution, attempted once again to put the class war. He attempts to divide the community needlessly and attempts to put employers risking capital at odds with employees wanting to share with employers in the development of exciting and innovative business opportunities and job opportunities in Australia.

I want to make that comment in passing, but nevertheless with a fair bit of fervour. However, enough of that. Too many opportunities have been lost in Australia in the last decade because people have been discouraged to invest and take risks. Unless we encourage them to do that, we will not achieve our full potential and, even worse, our young people in Australia will be denied employment opportunities. We must understand that there is a change in Australia, and the honourable member for Batman should take that into account. (Time expired)