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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2368


Ms BRODTMANN (Canberra) (18:44): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Corporations Amendment (Phoenixing and Other Measures) Bill 2012, which has been introduced into the House by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. It is an important bill because it puts Australian workers right at the centre of policy making—which is probably why the member opposite is scratching his head a bit, because he does not quite get that concept. It shows how committed the Gillard Labor government is to ensuring workers get a fair go, and its primary aim is to protect their rights. Again, it is no wonder the other side is a bit bewildered by all this. These rights were decimated by the former government. We all saw how devastating Work Choices was for Australian working families. We all know the backlash that those opposite received when they tried to destroy workers' rights. In fact, they got thrown out of office for it. I think we all know that they are so eager to get back into office so they can set out to destroy the rights of working people again.

I know they are particularly keen—they are itching; they are licking their lips—to get their hands on the people of Canberra. When the member for North Sydney was talking about this bill earlier he was actually deriding the acronym of the FaHCSIA department. He seemed to be highly bemused by that acronym. To me it was just typical of the attitude he has towards not just Public Service departments but particularly public servants. He has made a commitment that, should the coalition win the next election, they will get rid of 12,000 Public Service jobs. And that is just the beginning. They will also get rid of government departments—the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency being one of the first on the hit list. I can understand why the member opposite cannot see what this bill is designed to do, because he just does not get the fact that it is all about protecting workers' rights. But that is a discussion for another day.

The Corporations Amendment (Phoenixing and Other Measures) Bill amends the Corporations Act through three main measures. It gives the Australian Securities and Investments Commission the power to wind up abandoned companies, it prescribes publication of insolvency motions for better transparency and it creates a new obligation on liquidators to inform FaHCSIA—which, for the information of the member for North Sydney, is the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs—of their appointment to a paid parental leave employer.

We are talking about tackling the issue of phoenixing, which is something we cannot be complacent about, as the impact it can have on workers is absolutely devastating. The bill provides ASIC with a new power to administratively order the winding up of companies that have been abandoned by their directors, effectively delivering on the government's election commitment, as announced as part of the Protecting Workers' Entitlements package, and facilitating greater access to the government's General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme.

GEERS is a scheme funded by the government to assist employees who have lost their employment due to the liquidation or bankruptcy of their employer and who are owed certain employee entitlements. Where the employer is a corporation, a precondition for any payment from GEERS is that the company be placed into liquidation. Although large creditors, such as the Australian Taxation Office, may take steps to place a company into liquidation, this is not always the case. At present, employees have to apply to the courts and incur legal costs in order to place the abandoned company into liquidation before they can access GEERS. But the cost of placing a company into liquidation can be prohibitive. We all know that. Legal fees are expensive for employees, particularly when they have incurred losses in wealth due to the failure to receive their entitlements from a company. This bill will mean that, in cases where companies are abandoned by their directors, ASIC may choose to exercise its power to place the company into liquidation so that employees of the company can access GEERS.

This bill also provides ASIC with the power to place abandoned companies into liquidation in four separate and distinct circumstances. ASIC will be able to place a company into liquidation where a company has failed to respond to a return of particulars within six months, it has not lodged any other documents in 18 months and ASIC believes that it is not carrying on a business—essentially it is invisible; it is a phoenix operation, not a viable operation—and that making the winding up order is in the public interest. ASIC will also be able to place a company into liquidation where: it has failed to pay in full its review fee for 12 months; ASIC has initiated the reinstatement of the registration of a deregistered company and it believes making the winding up order is in the public interest; and ASIC has reason to believe that the company is no longer carrying on business and there is no objection by the directors or company to being wound up once notified of ASIC's intentions.

The bill also replaces the current obligation to publish external administration notices in newspapers or in the ASIC Gazette with a requirement to publish in a prescribed manner. Regulations will be made to facilitate the publication of these notices on a single insolvency notices webpage which will form part of the ASIC website. I think this is a long overdue development. It is an important part of the government's insolvency reform package, replacing 53,000 newspaper advertisements over the next four years and making it easier for creditors to access the information in one location. I know this may not be a winner in the eyes of our newspaper magnates, but it is an important reform and will save the industry around $15 million over the next four years, as these costs are ultimately borne by creditors through reduced returns. There are also costs to creditors in monitoring numerous newspapers for relevant notifications, particularly as there is no set newspaper or day of the week on which notices must be published. I think we can all agree that this change is long overdue. It will ensure that people can go to one location to get the information about insolvencies and it will be a great relief to creditors.

Finally, the bill sets out a new obligation on liquidators to inform FaHCSIA of their appointment to a paid parental leave employer. Paid parental leave payments can be paid either to eligible employees through their employer, making it a paid parental leave employer, or to FaHCSIA through the Family Assistance Office. Where a company enters into external administration, it is no longer appropriate for the paid parental leave payments to be paid by the employer. This amendment will mean also that FaHCSIA will be better informed and better able to determine whether to continue paying paid parental leave payments to the company or make the payments directly to the employee.

Earlier today there was a great debate on the benefits of the Gillard government's Paid Parental Leave scheme. I commend my colleague the member for Robertson for bringing forward that matter of public importance on this issue. She spoke wonderfully in that debate. I commend her for bringing it to the public's attention and all my colleagues who spoke on it. This scheme is incredibly beneficial to working parents and in encouraging more parents back into the workforce.

Unlike those opposite, who wasted 11 years in government, we have implemented paid parental leave. Australia is no longer one of the few OECD countries that does not have such a scheme. I know those opposite are still trying to work out what sort of scheme they are going to have and I know that they are also still trying to work out their $70 billion black hole. Unlike those opposite, we on this side deliver. We have delivered a scheme that allows 18 weeks of paid leave to new parents. Those opposite only talk about paid parental leave, and we know that behind closed doors none of them think the opposition leader's grandiose plan for a new tax on paid parental leave is much chop.

I welcome this last amendment to the Corporations Act, because it recognises the need to protect women and men who are receiving paid parental leave entitlements. We have fought so long for these entitlements—the women of Australia, particularly, have fought for decades for these entitlements—that is why it is so important that everyone who is entitled to receive them actually receives them. The fact that a company goes into liquidation should not be a barrier to people receiving these entitlements. It is hard enough for employees who lose their entitlements and their livelihood through the actions of a dodgy employer, but no-one should be in a situation where they have just had a baby and then their workplace, which they were committed to returning to, goes under. This amendment will protect them and their family from such circumstances.

Amending the Corporations Act to ensure we protect the rights of working people more fully is good policy. It is Labor policy. Labor is all about jobs; it is what we do. It again shows how committed the Gillard Labor government is to protecting jobs and improving our economy. In fact, Labor has created more than 700,000 jobs since we came to office four years ago. We got rid of Work Choices and restored unfair dismissal protections that the former government took away from seven million employees.

We have a record low rate of unemployment: 5.1 per cent compared to the former government's efforts of 6.4 per cent. Unemployment in Canberra is even lower, I am proud to say, although that will probably not be the case should the coalition get back into government, because it will do its level best to make sure that the unemployment figure for Canberra goes through the roof. That is its mission

Labor is getting on with the job of creating jobs and protecting jobs. That is what this bill we are debating aims to do. I commend the Bill to the House.