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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7143


Senator TIERNEY (2:06 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Senator Abetz. Will the minister inform the Senate of what action the government is taking to protect Australian small business, their employees and their families from trade union initiated secondary boycotts? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thank Senator Tierney for his genuine policy question on an issue that is of great concern to Australians. It is in such stark contrast to the sorts of questions we have had from Labor during the past week. They seem to suffer from policy phobia. It is to be regretted that Labor do not have the same aversion to grubby personal attacks on family members of senators and members as they do to policy.

Earlier this year the government introduced legislation that was designed to protect Australia's 1.2 million small businesses from illegal restrictions of trade imposed by trade unions, but it was defeated because Labor preferred to sacrifice small business on the altar of union expediency. But there is some good news for small business. The government will continue to champion the cause of small business by reintroducing the legislation. So Labor will have the opportunity to put the needs of the millions of people employed in small business ahead of the needs of their union masters. This legislation is important because Australia's small businesses cannot afford to defend themselves when they are the innocent victims of union led secondary boycotts. It is no good having the law if small businesses cannot get access to it. This is quite rightly of great concern to the Howard government, to Senator Tierney and especially to the small businesses of the Hunter region.

We want to give the ACCC the ability to defend small businesses against these unlawful activities by taking representative action for damages on their behalf. The fact is that the vast majority of small businesses simply cannot take on the trade union movement in a legal case. They do not have the money or the time and are afraid of what the unions will do in the future. If the unions act lawfully then they have absolutely nothing to worry about. But Labor have been directed by their union masters to oppose protection for small businesses because they are worried—and Labor senators have every reason to be worried as well. A boycott by the unions on preselection day would see each and every one of them disendorsed. That of itself would not be a bad thing, but Labor senators should not be bullied by the union thugs. By voting against the Trade Practices Amendment (Small Business Protection) Bill 2002 [No. 2] Labor will encourage the unions to bring back the turmoil of the old national stoppages—sympathy strikes they used to call them; coal workers striking in support of transport workers—which would only allow more strikes, industrial unrest and job losses.

This government is absolutely committed to Australian small businesses, their workers and their families. The only job Labor senators care about is their own and the only other thing they care about is their endorsement by the unions. Yes, 20 out of the 28 Labor senators are former union operatives. We as a government believe that jobs are more important than union power. The threat of unlawful secondary boycotts to Australian small business is real. It will not stop until Labor do what is in the nation's interest and not the unions' interests.