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Thursday, 2 September 1999
Page: 9803

Mr WILTON —My question is to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Minister, are you aware that Mrs Elaine Johannsen of Devon Meadows—one of your constituents—contacted your electorate office last week disgusted that after 20 years of service with footwear manufacturer Guerdon Industries, the company has folded, abrogating its responsibility to pay her and 35 colleagues up to half a million dollars in legally accrued entitlements? Minister, what have you done about the plight of your constituent? Given the Oakdale miners recovered 100 per cent of all entitlements owed to them, will you today give Mrs Johannsen and her fellow workers a commitment to assist them to recover 100 per cent of all entitlements they are owed?

Mr REITH (Workplace Relations and Small Business) —The government is of course aware that there are difficulties for people who as employees find themselves in the situation where a company goes insolvent and their entitlements are not met. I do not have all the particulars of that case and I have not myself spoken to the lady but I am very happy to do so.

Mr Melham —Do you know where your electorate office is?

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Banks!

Mr REITH —Where the government is able to assist immediately in these situations, then we are very keen to do so.

Mr Bevis —Is your penthouse in your electorate?

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Brisbane.

Mr REITH —For example, in the case of Cobar, the government took the action available to it and something like 85 per cent of entitlements in that case were able to be recovered. It is a fact that in most industries in most situations, unlike Oakdale where there is an industry fund which can be made available—and I am pleased to say to the House that the Oakdale legislation has now passed the Senate so those workers will receive their entitlements—there is not an industry fund available, nor is there a national scheme available. The reason there is no national scheme available is that, when the Labor Party was in office for 13 years, you did nothing about it. In fact, on our calculations, for the 13 years that Labor was in, there was something like $1,800 million of employee entitlements and not one cent was paid. Not one cent—and you people call yourselves the supporters of the ordinary worker. You never lifted a finger. Not one of Labor's industrial relations ministers was ever actually prepared to stand up and do something for workers. On this side, we have a proud record of looking after the interests of workers. Not only have workers had higher pay in the time we have been in; we have reduced the unemployment rate now to the lowest level it has been in nearly 10 years.

Let us not have the hypocrisy of Labor backbenchers talking to us about workers' rights. This government at least acknowledges them. Let me say it would be abroad in the Australian community for people to say, `It doesn't seem quite right that you could be a highly paid executive, leave a company in a parlous state and walk away with millions of dollars; yet if you are a worker who has done the right thing, worked hard in your business and made profits for your shareholders, in the end you get dudded.' We say that is not right. We say it is time something was done about it, and we intend to do something.