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Monday, 1 June 1998
Page: 4276

Mr BROUGH —My question is addressed to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Small Business. I refer to the government's policy providing for representative actions for small business under the Trade Practices Act. Is the minister aware of alternative policies with respect to this? What is the government's response to those policies?

Mr REITH (Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Longman for his question. He is a very strong supporter, a tireless worker, for the small business community in his electorate and I appreciate his interest in the small business policy issues before the parliament.

As we look over some of the debates we have already had this year, it is interesting that, whenever there is a choice between the interests of the small business community and the trade union dictates on the Labor Party, on each and every occasion they always come down in favour of the unions. In this parliament we have had votes on whether or not there should be an exemption for small business in respect of unfair dismissal. It has been rejected twice by the Senate. Why has it been rejected? Because, when it comes to a choice between the interests of small business and the unions, the Labor Party always supports the unions.

In the recent waterfront dispute, when it has been a choice between the thuggery of the MUA and the interests of some small business, whom do they support? They support the unions as usual. They always support the unions.

When it comes to award simplification and trying to remove red tape, whom do they support: small business or the unions? Every time it is the unions. Now with one of the proposals before the House there is this question of representative actions being taken by the ACCC. This is a law which we are proposing which simply says that, where you have a number of small business people who have a legal right to take action, instead of their individually taking the action—and they cannot afford to because of the legal costs—the ACCC should be able to do so. That is a good idea. That is a sensible idea.

In fact this idea has been around for years. When the Labor Party was in office, they themselves thought it was a good idea. In fact they gave to the ACCC the capacity to take representative action on behalf of consumers and, when the Reid committee report came down, the Labor Party said it should be adopted lock, stock and barrel.

Mr Martin —And what did you do with it?

Mr REITH —That was your policy.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Cunningham will remain silent.

Mr REITH —When we introduced our policy, they were saying, `You ought to go the whole way and adopt each and every recommendation of the Reid committee. You ought to dot the i's and cross the t's.' We announced then that the ACCC would have a representative capacity to take action on behalf of small business.

The only reason we did not introduce the legislation there and then back in September was that, when you are changing the Trade Practices Act, you have got to go around and consult with the states. That is the only reason. So we had a process of consultation with the states and, when that was completed, we introduced the legislation.

Now what do we find with Labor Party again? They say to themselves, `This may allow the ACCC to take a representative action to defend small business against the MUA.' They have a choice. Are you going to support the small business community, as you said you would, or are you going to support the MUA? So what do they do? They dump the small business community on every possible occasion. This is not creating new rights for small business; this is simply saying, `Where they have existing rights, an ACCC can come in and take a representative action.'

So is it retrospectively creating rights for small business? No, it is not. It is simply allowing the rights already existant for small business to be taken up on their behalf by the ACCC. That is a sensible idea. You have publicly supported it. You have done the same thing for consumers and you yourself have been saying, `A small business person ought to have the same protection as a consumer.' If you are fair dinkum about that, why aren't you supporting this measure? The answer is obvious. On every possible occasion—unfair dismissals, getting interest rates down, doing the right thing by small business—whenever you have a choice, the member for Cunningham, who is supposed to be the spokesperson for small business in the Labor Party, is silent because he gets rolled by the trade union thuggery which runs the Labor Party. We are pro-small business. We are proud of it. This is a good measure that you ought to be supporting.