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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26702


Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (7:36 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

WORKPLACE RELATIONS AMENDMENT (FAIR DISMISSAL) BILL 2004

This bill amends the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to prevent unfair dismissal provisions from applying to businesses with fewer than 20 employees. In doing so, it will encourage the creation of jobs in the small business sector and improve employment prospects for people seeking work.

Many small businesses have serious concerns about the financial and administrative costs imposed by unfair dismissal laws. These concerns have prevented many small businesses from taking on additional employees. This bill will permit small business to create the jobs that are currently being lost because of these laws.

The Government is introducing this bill because it recognises the substantial benefits that will come from the new jobs it creates. They will provide employment for many people who are currently out of work and they will open up opportunities for many people who are looking for different jobs. The wealth generated will flow through to everyone in Australia.

The Government has made a commitment to the people of Australia to free up these jobs and it intends to follow through.

Members will be familiar with the content of this bill. It reaffirms the Government's position as advanced in the Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Dismissal) Bill 2002, which was laid aside for the second time on 25 March 2003 after members of this House again rejected Senate amendments that would have destroyed its employment creating potential.

This bill will require the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to order that an unfair dismissal application is not valid if it involves a small business employer. This provision will only apply to the new employees of a small business, not to existing employees.

The bill will not exclude employees of small businesses from the unlawful termination provisions of the Workplace Relations Act. It will remain unlawful for any business in Australia, regardless of its size, to dismiss any employee for a discriminatory reason, for example, because of their age, gender or religion. In addition, all businesses in Australia will continue to be required to give employees appropriate notice of termination.

This Government has produced an environment of sustained jobs growth through sound economic policies, good fiscal management and workplace relations reforms. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that over 1.3 million jobs have been created since the Government came to office in March 1996. The unemployment rate has fallen from 8.2 per cent to 5.6 per cent, which is as low as it has been for 23 years.

Over 96 per cent of Australian businesses are small businesses and around half of Australia's private sector workforce is employed by small businesses. To ensure that the small business sector continues to contribute strongly, our workplace relations system must be responsive to its needs.

The current unfair dismissal laws place a disproportionate burden on small businesses. They do not have human resource specialists to deal with unfair dismissal regulation. Attending a Commission hearing alone can require a small business owner to close for the day.

The time and cost of defending a claim, even one without merit, can be substantial. In evidence to the Senate committee inquiring into the Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Dismissal) Bill 2002, the restaurant and catering industry indicated that it costs, on average, $3600 and around 63 hours of management time to defend an unfair dismissal claim—money and time most small businesses can ill afford. In fact, according to a study by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, the cost to small and medium sized businesses of complying with unfair dismissal laws is at least $1.3 billion a year.

Research has found that many small businesses do not understand unfair dismissal laws. For instance, a survey by CPA Australia found that 27 per cent of small business owners thought that they were unable to dismiss an employee even if the employee was stealing from them, and 30 per cent of small business owners thought that employers always lost unfair dismissal cases.

A growing body of evidence shows that small businesses are reacting to the complexity and cost of these laws by not taking on additional employees. A report by the Centre for Independent Studies, for example, indicates that, if only five per cent of small businesses employed just one extra person, 50 000 jobs would be created, and concludes that `employment in small business would rise significantly in the absence of the unfair dismissal laws.'

Similarly, the Melbourne Institute study found that unfair dismissal laws had played a part in the loss of over 77 000 jobs. According to the report, unfair dismissal laws particularly disadvantage those most in need of protection—the long-term unemployed, young people and the less well-educated.

It has even been reported that the Opposition members have admitted that the existing unfair dismissal laws act as a disincentive for small businesses to employ more staff.

The burden of unfair dismissal regulation is unnecessarily impeding the entrepreneurship and dynamism of our small businesses. This bill will remove the impediments and help the small business sector create more jobs for Australian workers.

—————

AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 2004

In October 2003 the Government commissioned a broad-ranging review of Australia's livestock export industry, with particular reference to the circumstances surrounding the MV Cormo Express incident. The Report on the Keniry Review recommended that industry should be responsible for research and development and management of quality assurance systems to support its members translate current practice into outcomes consistent with best practice; and that these activities should be funded by a compulsory customs charge.

The Government concurs with this view and believes the livestock export industry should also receive funding raised under the new statutory arrangements to help maintain its capability and continued viability.

The Government supports the livestock export industry submission that channelling the funds directly to its service delivery body would enable the industry to carry out marketing and R&D activities and improvements to animal welfare practices in a clearly accountable and transparent manner.

However, the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997 currently limits the red meat industry to a single industry marketing body and a single industry research body for purposes of levy or charge funding flows. Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd is the body so determined. This arrangement does not allow disbursement of compulsory levies and charges to any other body.

The Bill amends the Act to allow the Minister to determine more than one red meat industry organisation to be a marketing body and a research body and to receive revenue derived from compulsory levies and charges. This will allow for a livestock export marketing body and a livestock export research body to be so determined.

The intention of the Act, whereby Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd (MLA) is the industry research body and the industry marketing body for the whole of the red meat industry, remains.

The Government will continue its dollar for dollar matching of payments to the industry research body, that is, to MLA ,in respect of industry research expenditure. This way, as was envisaged by the Government under the restructuring arrangements introduced in 1998, the change preserves the incentive for the provision of research services to be provided by the industry research body, while allowing for the live export industry sector to have ownership and control over its own R&D funds.

The Bill does not change the Act's broader intentions of viewing the red meat industry as one industry while providing for autonomy and self-determination for the sectors within and for revenue disbursement arrangements.

Rather it responds to the specific needs of the livestock export industry and the criticisms that have raised concerns about the continued viability of the industry.

The Bill is aligned with other amendments to the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997 and the Export Control Act 1982 (as put to this house in this sitting as the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment (Export Control) Bill 2004), which relate to licensing issues that will introduce tighter regulation across all aspects of the livestock export trade.

Together these two Bills represent an important step in the Government's reform of the livestock export industry. They are part of a range of initiatives aimed at overcoming current deficiencies and facilitating improvements in the livestock export system and animal welfare practices.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ludwig) adjourned.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.