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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 85

Senator KIRK (2:54 PM) —My question is to Senator Abetz, the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Is the minister aware of government funded advertisements promoting collective bargaining for small business? Don’t these advertisements highlight the benefit of small businesses joining together to negotiate, and the efficiency of negotiating with a group rather than individually? Doesn’t the 36-page glossy brochure on collective bargaining for small business state:

... one of the biggest concerns for small businesses is there comparative disadvantage when it comes to negotiating with big business.

Can the minister explain why none of the government’s Work Choices advertising promotes any of the advantages of collective bargaining for working Australians? Why does the government happily promote collective bargaining for small business but refuse to do the same for working Australians?

Senator ABETZ (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —This is very simple. We as a government promote changes in the law. In relation to small business, there has been a change in the law saying collective bargaining will be allowed. In relation to the employment situation, we are saying that Australian workplace agreements are now being allowed, that this is a change and that you should be aware of the possibilities that those changes provide to you as an individual.

This question has unwittingly debunked the Labor Party’s whole campaign against the government’s communication program because it highlights very clearly and very starkly that we only deal with those issues where the laws are changed and people need to be advised about those changes to the law. That is why, when it was changed for small business—might I add, for their benefit, and they embraced it and liked it—we told them about it. Similarly, on the workplace front, hundreds of thousands of Australians have embraced Australian workplace agreements and the changes, but they would not have been necessarily able to do so had they not been made aware of the wonderful range of choices that are now available to them—a range of choices that has seen the unemployment rate fall to 4.2 per cent and an economy which is now delivering in the terms that our leader in the Senate announced to us earlier on in relation to decreased taxation. Wages have increased by 20.8 per cent. We do not only deal on the work front; we do not only deal with small businesses; we deal with the whole gamut of the economy. When you get the positioning relatively right, you get the good human dividends that Senator Minchin was able to tell us about earlier in question time.

Senator KIRK —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Don’t many working Australians face the same comparative disadvantage as small business when they negotiate their terms and conditions of employment with their employer? Isn’t it hypocritical for the government to promote the benefits of collective bargaining for small business but to ignore the same benefits for working Australians?

Senator ABETZ (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —The honourable senator has tried to change tack in relation to her supplementary question. I have clearly indicated to her that we have communicated a change in the law. One was for the betterment of small business; the other was for the betterment of individual workers in this country. We are very confident that these sorts of changes need to be communicated to small businesses on the one hand and the Australian working men and women on the other hand. That is why the Labor Party’s campaign against our communications campaign has been undone by Senator Kirk’s question.