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Tuesday, 19 June 2001
Page: 27902

Mr BEVIS (5:46 PM) —We have just witnessed the feigned indignation of two ministers confronted with some degree of humiliation, having now to take the advice which we gave them last November. This Trade Practices Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2000 would have transited the parliament last year if they had in fact done what the Labor Party put to them last November. The Minister for Small Business, who has just left the chamber—

Mr Fitzgibbon —Again.

Mr BEVIS —again, does not think this is a debate that should occupy too much of his time. The Minister for Small Business is aware that when he talks to small business the issue that they raise with him is not the matters that he just spoke about: it is the GST and the time-consuming paperwork and the cost to their cash flow associated with it. If we were going to broaden the debate, as he started to, by talking about the critical issues confronting Australian small business today, make no mistake: the number one, two and three priority for small business in Australia today would be the increased problems associated with the GST and the tax system that this government has introduced. But let us leave that aside and deal with the specific matters that are here.

Let me go to the point that was referred to by the Minister for Small Business, which was this question of delay in what has transpired, because we have now reached the point where the parliament is agreed on the legislation that should go through, and that is a good thing. I said in the parliament on 28 November last year:

So the government will have the support of the Labor Party to deal with those matters—

and I had previously referred to the matters in question—

in relation to the operation of small business that have been referred to, but in the Senate we will move amendments to excise from the bill those secondary boycott provisions, and that will put the government to the test. If the government is fair dinkum—

I said on 28 November—

about wanting to assist small business, the bill will pass without problem.

The government had a commitment from the Labor Party in November last year to pass the bill in the form in which it will now pass. People should understand that. What have the last six months been about? We are now passing the legislation exactly as Labor said it would pass it last November. This is no different from what we said last November. The only difference between what is happening now and what could have happened last November is that the government wanted to test its industrial relations agenda yet again, as it has done with other bills.

I want to repeat the comments I made in an earlier debate on this, about the government's form. When the government decided it would establish a Federal Magistrates Court, that move had the support of the opposition. The Federal Magistrates Court was to deal principally with issues overflowing from the demand in the Family Court and, to a certain extent, in the Federal Court. That had bipartisan support. But, as is its wont, this government decided that it would try to sneak into that agreed position an attack on the trade union movement by empowering this newly created Federal Magistrates Court to deal with the most sensitive industrial relations issues: questions of when strikes arise, and internal matters. Those things that have traditionally been complex—and, I might say, find their way too often to the High Court—the government was going to put into this new Federal Magistrates Court, because it did not like the answers it was getting in the Federal Court.

The government was willing to manipulate the creation of the Federal Magistrates Court on the altar of its industrial relations policy. We succeeded in blocking that in the Senate because no-one in the Senate, except for the government, supported that position. But so committed to it was the government that the then minister, Peter Reith, went down to the Senate chamber so that, as Democrat senators were walking in, he could grab them in a last-minute frenzy to try to persuade them to back his position. Well, here we have the same game being played by the government. That is what has cost the last six months. If the government had taken the advice we gave it in November, this bill would have been dealt with in exactly the same words and exactly the same form as it is now. The government is now agreeing to the amendments we moved in the Senate. In exactly the form that it will be adopted now, it could have been passed by the parliament last year. I do not know whether I will have need to rise again in this debate, but, if I do not, I simply make mention of the fact that that offer of support was made clear again in my speech of 4 April. The fact that we are back here now in June dealing with this matter squarely rests on the shoulders of the government. It has come to its senses, it has taken our advice, it has backed down and it has accepted the Senate amendments. That is a good thing. The pity of it is that it took the government six months to do it.