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Tuesday, 30 March 2004
Page: 27547

Mrs MOYLAN (2:20 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Small Business and Tourism. Would the minister inform the House of the impact on small business of the decision by the Industrial Relations Commission to extend redundancy entitlements to the small business sector? Is the minister aware of any alternative proposals?

Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Small Business and Tourism) —I thank the member for Pearce. I recognise that, like so many other members of the Liberal and National parties, the member for Pearce has worked in small business. She has real experience in small business, unlike the Leader of the Opposition who has never worked in business, I understand—

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will come to the question.

Mr HOCKEY —or the shadow minister for small business who has never worked in business, let alone small business.

Last Friday the Australian Industrial Relations Commission ruled that all small businesses under federal awards were now liable to pay redundancy to retrenched workers. This is a blow for Australia's 1.1 million small businesses. Since 1984, employers with fewer than 15 employees had previously been exempt. But until Friday's decision, a small business needing to make redundant a minimum wage employee of four years service was required to provide about $1,340 to that employee. After the decision on Friday, that has gone up to nearly $5,000. If it is a qualified tradesperson, they will receive over $8,200 in severance pay, and that is about $6,000 more than prior to Friday's decision. So it is a significant increase and a significant cost burden on more than half a million small businesses that are employing other Australians.

Why has this come about? This has come about because the industrial wing of the Labor Party put a submission to the Industrial Relations Commission supporting this initiative which is going to have a profound impact on small business. I am never quite sure who is driving the policy. Is it the Labor Party, the political wing of the industrial movement, or is it the industrial movement, the political wing of the Labor Party?

Mr Costello —One and the same.

Mr HOCKEY —They may well be one and the same. It is like a Hydra, isn't it? You have got your property wing at Centenary House. You have got your industrial wing in the ACTU. You have got your human resources wing, `Nepotism Inc.'. You have got a range of different subsidiaries. It is not a partnership; it is the union movement driving Labor Party policy. What is the impact of that? Let us have a look at the Labor Party's policies now. Ask yourself how it is going to affect small business to have a policy from the Labor Party that is going to push casual employees into permanent part-time employment. It means that employers are going to have to look at a range of different entitlements for their employees, such as sick leave and long service leave, and, of course, it means a pay cut for the casual workers. We know that the Labor Party wants to introduce a national payroll tax to pay for its employee entitlements legislation—another disincentive for small business to employ more people, and more red tape for small business.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations talked about the right of entry and the fact that the union movement and their mates can now have unqualified access to every small business in the country, even if they have not got union members working there, in order to interview them. Under the Labor Party's industrial relations policy, every employer has to give to an employee coming back from maternity leave an entitlement to part-time work rather than full-time work. The Labor Party does not understand the implications that has in regional and remote Australia. For example, in a small accounting firm or a small workshop with two skilled employees, if one goes off on maternity leave, what is the employer going to do if they have to offer that person part-time work instead of full-time work when they come back?

It is quite clear where the Labor Party is heading. The Labor Party is heading in the direction of closing down small business employment—that is, employment that represents three million jobs in Australia. It is the engine room of the Australian economy, and the Labor Party, through its workplace relations policies, is unapologetically closing down small business employment. This is another example of the Labor Party and the unions working in a partnership. But it is not a partnership. It has a real impact on jobs, it has a real impact on the economy and it has a huge impact on small business.