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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 21559


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (8:08 PM) —At the commencement of the committee debate, this bill seeks to get rid of a system that has plagued this country for a long time and has been a huge disincentive to job creation. Estimates range from 50,000 upwards as to the number of jobs that would be created in the small business sector in particular if these laws could be changed. If you are talking about social welfare or social justice, the Senate, as I understand it, tonight will for the 40th time be denying the possibility of 50,000 of our fellow Australians finding gainful employment. That should weigh very heavily on honourable senators' minds.

The specific amendment before us proposes to amend the bill so that, if passed, it will commence on 12 August 2004 except if there is a double dissolution before that date. I would have thought the Democrats would be hoping and praying there would not be a double dissolution, but I stray. If there is a double dissolution before that date, the bill will not commence at all. The government believes there are substantial benefits in adopting a national approach to handling unfair dismissal claims. For that reason the government was prepared to accept this and a number of significant changes to the bill. In doing so, the government was conscious that it would be putting on hold the proposed changes to the federal law contained in this bill and the fair dismissal bill that has previously been twice rejected by the Senate during the life of this parliament. Obviously, this involves a significant shift from the government's preferred position, but if reasonable compromises need to be made in securing better laws the government has always been prepared to make them. However, the Democrats have continued to insist on further amendments which not only reduce the scope of this bill but also would make significant changes to the federal law as it has operated for the past eight years. In the absence of an agreement on maintaining the existing federal law and securing a genuinely national approach to unfair dismissal, the government believes the proposed amendment has little to recommend it.

Question negatived.