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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12168


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (11:47): I rise to speak against this motion in the strongest possible terms. There are many ways in which I could respond to this motion, but I thought that the best way would be to read some of the headlines of today's newspapers: 'Qantas crisis engulfs nation'; 'Passengers remain in limbo'; 'Operation lockout'; 'Qantas crisis costing economy $250m a day'; 'Tourism sector fears mass bankruptcies'; 'Clipping union wings with capital strike'; 'Union battle always on route to hit ground hard'.I am sure that the member for Wakefield had honourable intentions when he drafted this motion and perhaps has become a victim of bad timing. However, this reflects the core problem of the industrial relations legislation that he is lauding. It has not brought industrial peace; it has only brought uncertainty.

The consistent theme that I hear from businesses across my electorate of Bennelong is the need to operate in an environment of certainty. The Fair Work Act in tandem with this inept government's woeful management of the economy, has clearly not provided any such certainty in business conditions. Kept afloat by the mining boom, the gap between the two speeds in our economy grows wider every day and increasingly a higher price is paid by small businesses and, subsequently, the workers supposedly cared for by the member for Wakefield's former paymasters at the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association.

Last week I visited the Epping Floral Centre in Bennelong. The lady at the counter spoke of her need to work 80 hours a week without breaks, without sick leave, annual leave or overtime entitlements. Before the SDA put on their orange polo shirts and set up a picket line outside this business, the lady I spoke to is the owner of the business and she needs to work those hours under those conditions just to keep the doors open. She commented that ideally she would employ a staff member to ease her load, which would also contribute back to the economy and to our local community; however, she could not justify this financial commitment in such a restrictive workplace relations environment and with the looming threat of the carbon tax.

Several months ago I addressed a local business forum and was asked a question about Work Choices and penalty rates. I stated our party's policy mantra that Work Choices is dead, buried and cremated, and I repeated some of the stories that had been told to me by local business owners about their genuine experiences of running an enterprise in the current environment. One story, replayed over and over, was that small retail businesses like cafes and hairdressers could no longer afford to open on weekends because the costs associated with penalty rates had become prohibitive. As a result, business owners are angry as they cannot afford to open their doors, workers are angry as they have been priced out of a job and customers are angry as their favourite shop has closed. The economy suffers.

Without detailing any alternative policy, I conclude by saying there must be a better way. The result was a conga line of government MPs misrepresenting my comments as a call for the reintroduction of Work Choices and the abolition of penalty rates. This story is representative of the desperate levels this government will stoop to in order to rekindle the fear that was so successfully installed in the community in 2007.

I am sure that at the next election the streets of Bennelong will be crowded with orange polo shirts fresh from another strike action with Customs staff, weathermen or whatever occupation is their target that particular week, telling all who will listen that the sky will fall in. However, these local business examples represent a far more serious story that was repeated in actions this weekend. Qantas, just like the small business owners, were forced into such desperation by the regulatory environment they operate under and by the militant nature of the unions—supposedly employed to safeguard the rights of their workers. The only way they could ensure the future viability of their business was to shut the doors. Surely, there must be a better way and, surely, this motion should not be supported.