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Thursday, 15 May 1997
Page: 3784


Mrs DRAPER —My question is addressed to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Given that the government's proposed partial exemption of small business from the unfair dismissal provisions will promote employment, can the minister advise the House of reaction to Labor's decision not to support the initiative? What do employer organisations say about Labor's anti-jobs decision?


Mr REITH —I thank the member for her question. There has been a very positive reaction to this proposal to exempt those small businesses with 15 employees or fewer from the unfair dismissal scheme in the first 12 months of somebody's employment. The initial reaction came from Senator Cook, from the Labor opposition, who said it was not a bad idea. We had the Labor shadow spokesman for small business saying the other say basically it would be political suicide for the Labor Party to oppose it. In the last 24 hours we have had a whole series of people saying it is a good idea. A spokesperson for the small business community said that Labor's decision was:

. . . stupid . . . highly disappointing and frankly absurd . . . This is total idiocy and I call on Labor to assist the government to remove this impediment to employment.

Brian Noakes of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that Labor had made a serious error because the small business community remained extremely concerned about the impact of the unfair dismissal laws. He also said that the exemption gave small employers a really good, positive signal to go out and give somebody a job. The Australian Business Chamber said:

The government's objective is an important pro-employment initiative that should be supported by all political parties.

Then this morning's Courier-Mail , which summed it up pretty well, said:

Small business must be given incentive to employ more people.

They also said:

There is a sound argument for employers to be given an effective 12-month period when new employees can be judged on their merits and, if they don't measure up to the task, be dismissed without unnecessary regulation and difficulty.

That is a pretty sensible point. In fact, somebody else said that yesterday on the Jeremy Cordeaux radio program. This other person said:

. . . I think it's reasonable that people coming to jobs have an extended period of probation to prove themselves . . .

Fair enough; we would all agree with that. In fact, that was basically the reason for doing this. Furthermore, it was said: The people I employ in my office, I keep them on months and months of probation to make sure I've got the right person . . . I think that's absolutely reasonable for small business . . .


Mrs Sullivan —Who said that?


Mr REITH —Who said that?


Mr Costello —Senior counsel!


Mr REITH —Senior counsel said that. In fact, the case was put very well by the shadow Treasurer, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He said that yesterday. He is absolutely right.

This is not some sort of arcane matter of detail. The reality is we are trying to say to the small business community that they have the support of the government with a sensible system to go out and give somebody a job. And what is the Labor Party's message? Their message is: don't give somebody a job. Their message is, `Oh, look. We're pro jobs but actually in the parliament we are going to do absolutely everything we possibly can to prevent the government setting up a system that will give small business a go.'

I do not know what their explanation is for it. In fact the shadow Treasurer has blown away the reality of this, and that is that Labor is opposed to it for purely political reasons. You have no explanation for this. I think you need one. The reality is that you are on probation as well. I say to everybody in small business and those people who are unemployed that they ought to write to the Leader of the Opposition and voice their concern and require of him a bit of decent leadership on an important issue.