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Thursday, 21 February 2002
Page: 703


Mr BAIRD (11:52 AM) —It is interesting that the member for Corio now leaves the chamber. How unfortunate it is that, having talked about a fair go, he is not interested in a fair go for small business in this country. He has, as per normal for the Labor Party, an antiquated view on life. I have an electorate which has many small businesses. While there were some issues with compliance costs related to the GST, there is no doubt that the changes made by the government and the fact that small businesses are now used to working with the GST—they have developed their own computer programs, such as MYOB, which enable them to better manage their own businesses—assist them in the whole process. So I think the views of the member for Corio on that aspect are a little dated.

One could ask: did the member for Corio make some interesting points? On the surface, he talked about a fair go for employees and said, `We don't want to see them unfairly treated.' The reality is that this legislation will be of great assistance to small businesses in this country. The government know that the Labor Party have their marching orders from Sussex Street, and it is this area of industrial relations which is the defining area of the essential difference between our parties. They say that they are about a fair go, they say that they are about equity, but in fact it is the reverse, because they are putting shackles on small businesses around the country. The member for Corio said he has many instances of parents bringing their son or daughter to him with examples of their being unfairly treated by a small business owner. I certainly have not had that experience in my time as a member of parliament. Rather, I have many examples of the reverse: small businesses who find themselves with employees who are simply manipulating the process when the employers believe that they have terminated their employment for very valid reasons. The ability of small businesses to employ people and, if the employees are seen to be unsatisfactory, terminate their services is taken away by the Sussex Street Mafia. They say: `This is not on. We won't allow it'. The result very clearly is that small businesses are very reluctant to take on young people and give them jobs, so the opportunities there are taken away. This supposed great egalitarianism of the Labor Party cannot be seen in a whole number of areas, especially when we look at the no ticket, no start issue.

My own grandfather came to this country from out of the Gorbals in Scotland, where he was a welder on the Clyde putting together ships. He came here to make a new era for himself. When he went to work for a company in Botany he was black-banned, because he refused to join the union. That was a long time ago, but that tradition, those instincts, are still there. The Labor Party claim they are democratic, but their very instincts, their very being, are about looking after their mates in the unions and looking after their jobs in parliament. The succession program begins with the union, then the union members come into the parliament to implement the Labor Party and trade union agenda. As long as they do that they are assured of a place here. We can see this with three members: the member for Throsby, the member for Batman and the member for Hotham. They were all once head of the ACTU. They have come in here without the flexibility to look at the impediments to small business in this country.

One of the things that would assist in creating new jobs in the country, that would help small businesses expand, would be to give employers the certainty of being able to simply say, `I'm sorry. It has not worked out,' if they employ someone and it does not work out. That person can then move on. Often it is not only better for the small business but also better for the employee. Instead of being caught up in a situation of writing and passing letters and getting evidence as time goes by, it really is better to make a clean break. If you get together a group of small businesses and talk to them—as I have done in my electorate; and I have been to four such small business groups in different parts of the country—the No. 1 issue on the agenda is unfair dismissal, time and time again. This opposition, who often claim that they are interested in small business, have no interest at all. In fact, the former Leader of the Opposition said, `We never pretended to be a small business party.' That is true. They show no real understanding of small business, because they have no real understanding of the impediments to small business or the problems they face.

The 1997 Yellow Pages Small Business Index survey and a 1998 New South Wales Chamber of Commerce survey show the unfair dismissal laws are a major deterrent to hiring new staff. Are the Labor Party interested in helping young people find jobs or not? The unfair dismissal laws are the key criterion, because they are a significant deterrent. Anybody in small business will tell you they are a significant deterrent. Surveys indicate that they are. In terms of anecdotal evidence, the people who come through one's electorate office doors indicate the problems that occur. The stories one hears are absolutely outrageous. Employees are caught doing something totally wrong or they are totally incompetent, and yet they are brought through the whole legal process, with all the legal costs involved, necessitating the employer taking time away from their normal business operation. This is not the type of thing that we should see in the year 2002 in Australia. The Labor Party restrictions which applied when my grandfather arrived in this country in 1911 and went to work in that plant in Botany apply today.

Look at the restrictions that the Labor Party have on their own structure—the 60-40 rule which applies to preselections, selection of delegates to attend conferences et cetera. The Labor Party dominate. They dominate their members in this place. If you spoke to the new members you would find out that almost universally they have a trade union background—jobs for the boys. They get their marching orders from Sussex Street. The ACTU call the shots. And they talk about being the new Labor and understanding social democracy et cetera! They are no different from old Labor. The trade unions totally run the situation.

What does this bill provide for? It will exempt small businesses from unfair dismissal claims. It will prevent new small business employees, except apprentices and trainees, from applying for remedy for unfair dismissal and require the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to dismiss unfair dismissal applications made against small businesses and reject such claims without holding a hearing. A small business is defined as one employing fewer than 20 employees.

It is not as if we are including all corporations. This surely is fair—if you ask the question of what is fair to employers who are often struggling in terms of just getting their business established. They may have upturns or downturns, but just in terms of the challenges that face normal small businessmen— looking at the impediments, the regulatory hurdles and so on—this surely must rank as No. 1 at this point in time.

This is a defining piece of legislation. We have had this bill before the House a number of times. It is entitled `fair dismissal' and that is what it is meant to be about. It provides the appropriate safeguards. It excludes those employees in major corporations. If you are serious about getting small business away and running and removing the impediments, this bill should be passed.

It is important that we see this bill go through and that it is not obstructed by the Senate. It is mentioned almost weekly by small businesspeople with whom I come in contact in my electorate and right across Sydney. It is about time the opposition came to grips with the reality of modern life. Do not steep yourselves in workplace practices of the last century; rather, become a contemporary party and join the government in passing what I believe is a very fair piece of legislation.