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Tuesday, 15 August 2000
Page: 18954

Mr SOMLYAY (2:47 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Minister, would you inform the House of the progress made in implementing the government's innovative Employee Entitlement Support Scheme? Are you aware of alternative schemes? If so, are these schemes viable?

Mr REITH (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the honourable member for his question. I can assure you that there are no alternative schemes. The Labor Party never had a scheme when they were in government. In fact, so uninterested were they in the plight of workers in this situation that they did not even collect the statistics. They were truly the forgotten people. They were in fact hidden away, never of any interest to the Labor Party in government. The government has acted decisively to extend the social welfare safety net to provide assistance to workers who find themselves out of a job and out of their entitlements. I am pleased to inform the House that, since the commencement of the scheme on 1 January, $747,151 has been paid out to 214 successful claimants. This is 214 more people helped by this government than were ever contemplated for help when Labor were in office.

The Labor Party might be interested to know that we have had 2,000 former employees from 189 companies make a claim for assistance. I would hope that they would be interested to know this because under our scheme we are prepared to help these workers. The Labor Party have a deliberate campaign to ensure that no state government in the country on the Labor side is prepared to help these workers. This is one of the most disgraceful, cynical exploitations of the needs of workers for party political interests that we have ever seen in this country. This matter was on at the National Conference of the Australian Labor Party and, instead of having a debate about the needs of workers, they deliberately set out to gag debate because they did not want to be seen to be opposed to the interests of workers. Not only was I listening but also I heard an explanation for your disgraceful conduct from the man who likes to tell all—none other than John Della Bosca. What he said reveals the utter cynicism of you people. He said:

We cannot allow the Peter Reith scheme to be let off the hook for what it is. We cannot allow accidentally to endorse that scheme. We cannot allow accidentally to in any way or sense create a view that Labor governments in the state jurisdictions would be cooperating with the scheme.

In other words, bad luck to the workers. It would be an embarrassment for the Labor Party to in any way be associated with a measure that actually helps workers. You are so concerned about your political interests that, when it comes to supporting workers, what does John Della Bosca say? He makes it pretty clear. He says that it would be an embarrassment for the Labor Party if anybody supported a scheme to help workers, so they will gag debate and sweep under the carpet the concerns of workers who have missed out because it is inconvenient for the Labor Party. When you look to Queensland, the gag is on there as well. I have a letter here from the office of the Premier dated 11 July to a worker who is with a business called the Cooroy Private Hospital. He is asking, `Is the state government prepared to help us?' What does the Queensland government say? It says that it is considering this request and will make a decision as quickly as possible.

Labor have a policy to encourage the state governments to dupe people into thinking they might have a chance when John Della Bosca has made it quite clear that they got the fix in so no worker gets the help they need. We are proud of the fact that we saw a need and were prepared to help workers. It is a sad indictment on the Labor Party. You are run by the union bosses. I met a group of Victorian workers who could not understand why they supported the Labor Party's election in the state of Victoria, because when they were in need the state Labor government, at your request, was not prepared to pay a dollar to help them. It is a disgrace to the Labor Party.