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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2014

Senator KERNOT —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Minister, given the Prime Minister's description of reform of the unfair dismissal laws `the most important commitment' made to small business during the campaign, and given media reports of widespread backbench and ministerial unrest over the government's rejection of repeated Democrat offers to reform the unfair dismissal laws, I ask: will the government now separate that section from the rest of the workplace reform bill so that we may have these laws debated and reformed by the end of this week?

Senator HILL —I will give you a counter offer, Senator and that is why don't we debate the whole bill? Why don't we address some of the major problems that are facing this country? What we did say in the election was that we would reform the unfair dismissal laws together with the whole IR regime under Labor which had so centralised the system that it inhibited the flexibility necessary to encourage small business to employ and to grow. Why don't we debate it all? Why don't we get on with the job?

Senator Kernot —Why not just do unfair dismissal?

Senator HILL —You could, Senator Kernot. If you so wished, you could split the bill clause by clause and debate each clause separately. But there does not seem to be any reason for us to suit your agenda and take out one part that you say you will support without your meeting your national responsibility of having to debate the whole bill—in other words, having to debate all of the reforms that we say are necessary to provide this country with a contemporary IR legislative regime. So my counter offer to you, Senator, is: why don't we get on with the job and debate the bill that has been presented to you by government?

Senator KERNOT —Minister, picking and choosing the bits you like is a bit like what you are doing today with the Commission of Audit report. On 28 March, when I met with the Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Reith, he said to me that the reason I cannot do this, the reason we cannot split it, is that it is dependent on the rest of the bill. I have looked at the bill; I have checked that. There is no technical dependency; there is no connection. This part of the bill can stand alone. So I am asking you: why is the Prime Minister deliberately twisting the truth on this matter, particularly in the speech he gave in Sydney on Friday, and what is the real political reason that the government will not act now to deliver this reform by the end of the week? You are picking and choosing.

Senator HILL —I find this astonishing, Mr President; she criticises those who pick and choose but she comes into question time today, picks and chooses one particular part and says she will debate that part. I say to you, Senator: let us debate the reform package as a whole. We are happy to do this. We will go on sitting and do it, if you so wish. We will facilitate your requirements in that regard. But you cannot come into this place and pick the part that you like.

Senator Kernot —Tell people the truth about why you are not debating it.

Senator HILL —The whole IR package and the principles behind the package were put to the electorate at the last election. The whole principle of the workplace agreements was spelt out. The community has had plenty of debate. The stakeholders have been debating it for a long period of time. We are quite happy to get on with the job and invite you to debate our piece of legislation, the piece of legislation that we as the government have put to you. The sooner you are ready to do that, the sooner we will all be better off. (Time expired)