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Tuesday, 19 June 2001
Page: 27904

Mr FITZGIBBON (5:56 PM) — I want to express my disappointment that the Minister for Small Business has again deserted this debate. Last time we were in this House debating this issue he came in here only when I summoned him. He then made a five-minute contribution and exited again. Why wouldn't he scurry out of the door? Why wouldn't he be embarrassed that, for no apparent reason, for no gain, the small business community has been forced to wait six months for these amendments—that is, the carve out of 45D and 45E—and since 1997 for the extension of the ACCC's powers to take representative action under sections 46 and 47 of the Trade Practices Act. He was not able to deliver one thing for small business in the 2001-02 budget, notwithstanding the fact that there is a general consensus both in the business community and in the wider community now that the small business community has been hit for six by the GST. The small business community was looking to the government to make up some lost ground in that budget. The minister describes himself as the `Minister for Small Business full stop'. In other words, he has no responsibility other than for small business, which in some way suggests that he cannot handle two portfolio areas and it is very important that he has only one. No wonder he would be embarrassed and would leave this chamber once again, as he did the last time we debated a similar Senate message.

I feel sorry for the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation because at 6.20 p.m. last night, when Senator Macdonald rose in the Senate to insist that the House agree to the Senate amendments, it was a whack on the chin for the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation. He stood in here only a matter of weeks ago, beating his chest, telling the world that the only way to give effect to the recommendations of both the Joint Select Committee on the Retailing Sector and the Reid committee was to ensure that sections 45D and 45E remained in the bill. On that occasion he told us that he felt a little bit sorry for me. I appreciated his sympathy, but tonight I am feeling sorry for him. On that occasion he told this House that he would stand firm, that the government would stand firm, against the Labor Party to the last man and would ensure that the secondary boycott provisions remained a part of the Trade Practices Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2000. Well, it is a much different tune now.

Mr FITZGIBBON —I welcome the member for Reid's intervention. This is a minister that has botched this process. He got on the phone to the Prime Minister and said, `Oh, no, Prime Minister, we have to dig in on this one to give efficacy to these recommendations. We have to stand firm on 45D and 45E.' And, knowing that the Prime Minister would enjoy this additional statement, he said, `This is another chance to whack the trade union movement.' So the Prime Minister took his advice. But what is the result? The Minister for Financial Services and Regulation has forced his own government into a very embarrassing backdown.

I welcome the contribution from the Minister for Small Business. I welcome the fact that he introduced—brief as it was—the unfair dismissal issue into this debate. Here, again, he has misrepresented Mr Rob Bastian. Mr Bastian told the world in, I think, the Australian Financial Review today that when Minister Reith claimed that the unfair dismissals law would create 50,000 jobs he had been taken out of context. Yet here is the Minister for Small Business again tonight misrepresenting Mr Rob Bastian of COSBOA.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I will take another opportunity to speak and I hope the government will keep this debate alive because it is an important issue for small business. More importantly, I can see that the minister at the table has absolutely run out of things to say. In terms of retailers in his own constituency, I ask him what he is doing for his independent supermarket retailer near North Sydney railway station who is under threat of eviction in favour of another anchor tenant. (Time expired)