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Wednesday, 17 February 1999
Page: 3000


Mr BROUGH —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Minister, the small business community has repeatedly called for exemptions from unfair dismissal laws. Is this stance consistent with international standards, and are you aware of recent media reports highlighting the different approaches to this issue?


Mr REITH (Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Longman for his question. There is no doubt that the small business community has repeatedly called for a fairer deal. Whether it is by independent surveys or surveys carried out by the employer organisations or whether it is just talking to people who are actually running their businesses, they are saying right across the Australian small business community that if they had a fairer deal they would go out and create jobs. The action of the Labor Party last night has cruelly dashed the hopes of literally tens of thousands of Australians who look to the parliament to provide a system which will give them a chance of a job.

I am asked whether or not this measure is consistent with international standards. Even the ILO recognises the real need for small business exemptions. Article 2 of the Termination of Employment Convention 1982 plainly allows for exemptions based on the size of an enterprise and exclusions based on a probationary period of a reasonable duration. It is a pretty important point, because this whole unfair dismissal fiasco put in place by the Labor Party was legislated for on the basis of the ILO conventions. The whole justification of Labor's policy was that this was the international standard and they were going to foist it on the small business community. If you reckon that the ILO convention establishes a reasonable standard for Australia, why is it that when it comes to the interests of small business you disregard the very convention which you used as an argument for this whole fiasco in the first place?

Yesterday, as the Labor Party was knocking these exemptions out, including the filing fee and the probationary period, we found out that in New South Wales the union movement was once again pulling the strings of the Labor Party. In a quite amazing decision, the minister, Mr Shaw, has announced that, in respect of applications for unfair dismissal, if you are a non-unionist you have got to pay the filing fee but if you are a unionist you are exempt. This is disgraceful discrimination, and it is just another example of a Labor Party frontbench doing what it is told by trade union bosses. Who ends up paying the price for this disregard of the national interest? It is the very unemployed that you would claim otherwise to be attempting to support.

Jeff Shaw has got his preselection because of what the unions say, because of the unions' control in the New South Wales Labor Party, in exactly the same way as the New South Wales trade union movement controls the preselection of so many of Labor's frontbenchers and backbenchers. As Bob Carr said in respect of electricity privatisation and the ETU, `I have had lunch after lunch with the appropriate delegates from the ETU, but the union's leaders are putting their own jobs and superannuation before me and the best interests of the state.' That is yet another example. When it comes to good policy, the fact of the matter is that the Labor Party frontbench, whether it is New South Wales or federal, do what the unions tell them. The people who pay the price are those people who are today trying to run a small business or the thousands of unemployed who have had their hopes cruelly dashed by your policy failure.