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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18677


Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (1:03 PM) —Nine times now, the government has tried to legislate or regulate to take away people's rights to be treated fairly when they are dismissed. We thought that when Peter Reith left the government, it would drop its unfair, unnecessary and un-Australian unfair dismissals bills; but, unfortunately, we got another minister who has perpetrated that unfairness. We need to replace, with a practical agenda that looks after the interests of both small business people and their employees, the government's ideological obsession. That is what my private member's bill will do. Being treated fairly is not too much to ask; it is a basic Australian right. This bill will streamline and improve the operation of the unfair dismissal laws while still protecting employees from unjustly losing their jobs. It does not mean a worker cannot be sacked; it simply means they cannot be sacked unfairly.

This bill is also about reducing costs and time constraints on employers; and, unlike the government's bill, it will not leave small business owners vulnerable to expensive common law action. If the government's fair dismissal bill is passed, it will mean that there will be no remedy if you are sacked unjustly. That is not fair. It takes fairness away from workers. The government's bill is not a fair dismissal bill; it is an unfair dismissal bill. The government claims that passage of the bill will increase employment. How can you increase employment by making it easier to sack people? It is for those reasons that Labor will continue to oppose the government's legislation.

Just as we have put forward constructive proposals to lift red tape from small businesses struggling with the GST, this private member's bill also addresses the concerns of small businesses. This bill will lower costs, simplify procedures and reduce uncertainty and confusion for small business people. The bill I am proposing contains a number of key elements. It will reduce the cost of defending unfair dismissal claims by limiting the role of lawyers. Labor's bill targets the ambulance chasers, through better regulation of the paid agents. The bill enables the minister to establish an indicative time frame for unfair dismissal cases to be heard, and this will encourage the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to deal with the claims more speedily.

The bill requires sacked workers to seek, as one of the remedies, reinstatement so that the commission cannot consider an application unless reinstatement is part of the remedy. This is designed to combat the pay-off mentality. The bill also requires the minister to develop an information package in consultation with the states. It also seeks to reduce uncertainty for small business operators. It will speed up the process by eliminating unnecessary complexity where several employees are sacked at the same time for related reasons. The bill also requires the minister to develop an information package in consultation with the states. It also seeks to reduce uncertainty for small business operators. It will speed up as well the process through eliminating unnecessary complexity where several employees are sacked at the same time for related reasons.

Today we put forward a positive solution. The government, of course, is not interested in such an approach. It is only interested in playing politics with people's job security and rights. As I frequently say: if the government wants to have an election based on its ability to more easily sack people, let it go ahead. But if it is really concerned about addressing this issue, bringing fairness to the workplace and reducing the complexity and the cost on employers, then it will support our bill. I commend this bill to the House.

Bill read a first time.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—In accordance with standing order 104A, the second reading will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.