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Tuesday, 19 November 2002
Page: 6723

Senator BARNETT (2:48 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Senator Abetz. Is the minister aware of any obstacles preventing small businesses from employing more Australians? What is the Howard government doing to remove these roadblocks to growth?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thank Senator Barnett for his genuine and ongoing interest in small business. I can inform Senator Barnett that the biggest roadblock stopping small businesses from employing Australians is the current Labor, Democrat and Green dominance of this place, which is denying the passage of our repeal of the unfair dismissal legislation. The roadblock for small business is not about bank fees; it is not about late payment of bills or choice in superannuation.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Carr, Senator George Campbell and Senator Sherry: shouting across the chamber is definitely against standing orders, and I would ask you to keep quiet while the minister attempts to answer the question.

Senator ABETZ —According to the voice of small business itself, the biggest problem facing small business is Labor's support for the ridiculous job-destroying, growth-limiting, unfair unfair dismissal laws. Trade union leaders and Labor seem determined to destroy the 1.2 million small businesses in this country that have the capacity to immediately employ 50,000 of our fellow Australians if this legislation were passed. Labor's attitude is anti jobs, anti workers and anti small business. By taking this attitude, they threaten the livelihood of the very people that they claim, quite falsely, to represent; namely, the Australian workers. But will Labor listen to the voice of reason or will they continue to take their orders from the megaphones of the union leaders?

In Victoria, Labor has comprehensively failed to stand up to the thugs of the union movement. Small business in Victoria has suffered as a consequence of Mr Bracks's industrial cowardice. After three short years of state Labor government, Victoria now holds the dubious distinction of accounting for 32 per cent of all days lost due to industrial action. One wonders what the record would be if Labor were given another term. The Labor government in Victoria admitted to the royal commission into the building industry that it engaged in `inappropriate conduct' in letting the CFMEU influence the awarding of government building contracts. Victoria, as Senator Barnett would be aware, is the state where Craig Johnston's thugs run through small businesses, terrorising staff and destroying property, while the Labor government stands idly by. Mr Bracks believes Craig Johnston is such an outstanding individual that he appointed the same Craig Johnston to the manufacturing industry consultative council. Craig Johnston on the consultative council: I would like to see that!

But let us have a look at the list of union thuggery casualties: Federation Square, the National Gallery, the Austin Hospital, the Latrobe Valley Hospital, the Myer Music Bowl and the Vodafone Arena. The list goes on—the MCG, Melbourne Museum, Patricia Baleen Gas Plant—and on and on. Now all of these are big projects but, as Senator Barnett would be fully aware, when you have big projects they are the lifeblood of small contractors who are able to gain contracts in those big projects. It is time for Labor to stand up against this union thuggery. (Time expired)

Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister has correctly outlined a number of the damaging reports in respect of what is happening in Victoria. I would like to know what further action the Howard government is taking to remove these obstacles.

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thank Senator Barnett for the supplementary question. As I have indicated, as a federal government we have moved to try to repeal the unfair dismissal laws. We have also moved to have a building royal commission that the Australian Labor Party opposed tooth and nail. Why? Because now the Victorian state Labor government have had to front up and confess that they in fact did engage in inappropriate conduct, awarding contracts on the basis of what the thugs in the CFMEU told them. It has been said that Mr Bracks is all smiles and no spine, and the people of Victoria, in relation to this matter, have a clear choice: they can have a Howard-Doyle regime or a Crean-Bracks regime, and in the Crean-Bracks regime they would not find a backbone between them.