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Senate focus shifts from alcopops to IR -

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Reporter: Hayden Cooper

ELEANOR HALL: To Canberra - and it's lost its fight to get its tax on alcoholic drinks through the
Senate, but the Federal Government says it won't take no for an answer on workplace relations.

The Senate is preparing to debate the Fair Work Bill which the Government says will consign the
Howard government's WorkChoices policy to history. But once again Labor is in a stand-off with the
cross-bench senators.

In Canberra, Hayden Cooper reports.

HAYDEN COOPER: Early this morning Senator Steve Fielding joined some of his parliamentary
colleagues for some exercise.

STEVE FIELDING: That was a game of soccer without the alcopops so...

HAYDEN COOPER: But when he left the field the workout stepped up a gear thanks to an excitable
bunch of journos.

JOURNALIST: But in the end you've achieved nothing, haven't you Senator Fielding?

STEVE FIELDING: No, we have achieved a lot actually. We've broken the back a fair bit but we've got
to go further...

(Journalists interrupting, speaking at the same time)

JOURNALIST: How can you be claiming that?

STEVE FIELDING: We have made sure that...

JOURNALIST: But what have you done?

STEVE FIELDING: ...that Government stops hiding behind a blatant tax grab.

JOURNALIST: But how has that helped binge drinking?

STEVE FIELDING: Well I've just explained to you...

JOURNALIST: How has that brought down binge drinking?

STEVE FIELDING: ...that we're having, we're now...

JOURNALIST: Was it worth?

STEVE FIELDING: We're now having a debate, where we should have had a debate about what are the
best measures to tackle binge drinking. Obviously that is the debate that should have been had but
unfortunately the Rudd Government hijacked that debate and turned it into a tax problem...

JOURNALIST: Senator the distillers this morning are saying they're relieved...

STEVE FIELDING: Now, hold on, hold on, for the Government...

JOURNALIST: That's hardly the position of an industry with its back broken...

STEVE FIELDING: I'll pick that up. For the Government to say that we're going to hand the money
back to the industry is ludicrous.

HAYDEN COOPER: Even Senator Fielding's cross-bench colleague Nick Xenophon has joined the
criticism, accusing him of over-reaching.

NICK XENOPHON: You know, there's that old Kenny Rogers saying, 'You've got to know when to hold
'em, you've got to know when to fold 'em,' And I think Steve Fielding should have folded yesterday
and taken a very comprehensive package of measures that would have shifted the culture of binge
drinking and my plea to Steve Fielding is to reconsider his position.

HAYDEN COOPER: That's unlikely. Senator Fielding shows no signs of changing his mind. His rhetoric
indicates anything but.

STEVE FIELDING: Can I assure you, what Family First has done has actually broken the back of the
alcohol hold on Australia. We have broken the back. The Government will still put measures in
place...

(People interrupt, speaking at once)

To be frank with you...

MALE: How can you honestly justify something like that? That's ridiculous!

HAYDEN COOPER: In short the Senate vote means premixed alcoholic drinks will become a lot cheaper
and the Health Minister Nicola Roxon says she has no plans to reintroduce the bill and try again.

NICOLA ROXON: No well look it's been voted against in the Senate. That's the end of this bill. It's
been opposed. Of course there's opportunities for the Government in the future to try to take these
steps again but we've been having a debate for a long time. This measure has been in place for
nearly a year. The Liberal Party have refused to support it and have just adopted the position of
the distillers.

HAYDEN COOPER: Nicola Roxon won't let anyone forget that Steve Fielding didn't scuttle the bill all
by himself. The Coalition did its bit too. But the Opposition leader says there's no need to hand
the money back.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The only reason this money will be going back to the distillers is because the
Government refuses to accept our invitation to cooperate with us to direct it to health awareness,
alcohol awareness programs to reduce binge drinking.

HAYDEN COOPER: In the Senate chamber the debate is shifting to the Fair Work Bill, and it's no
certainty either.

Steve Fielding:

STEVE FIELDING: We'll have to wait and see it unfold. We're still in discussions, still in
negotiations.

HAYDEN COOPER: The negotiations have been stalled on the question of just how small business should
be defined under the unfair dismissal laws.

The Government wants to set a limit at 15 employees so in a business below that level workers won't
be allowed to make an unfair dismissal claim until they've been employed for a year.

Nick Xenophon and Steve Fielding want the limit lifted to 20 workers and it's understood Senator
Xenophon has even proposed a compromise, suggesting the limit be dropped back to 15 in two years'
time to help small business through the worst of the financial crisis.

But the Minister won't budge.

JULIA GILLARD: Why did we pick the number fewer than 15? That's not just something that we plucked
out of the air. That is the number for redundancy law in this country. For a long period of time,
businesses with fewer than 15 people have not been obligated by the award system to pay redundancy
pay.

So we want clear, simple arrangements for small businesses where you could stand up in a community
meeting with small businesses and you could say everybody in this room who employs fewer than 15 on
a head count, these are your unfair dismissal arrangements, these are your redundancy arrangements.
Everybody 15 and above, this is what applies to you.

If you move the numbers test for unfair dismissal, you make that conversation unbelievably
confusing, two different tests, no rhyme or reason as to why they should be different.

HAYDEN COOPER: That's the impasse. Overcoming it in the next 24 hours is the challenge. Everyone's
expecting a late night and maybe even a long day tomorrow.

NICK XENOPHON: I'm looking forward to having further discussions this morning, this afternoon,
tonight, in the early hours of the morning tomorrow if need be.

JULIA GILLARD: We will be here as long as it take, as late as it takes, working as hard as
necessary to get this bill. I'm not contemplating any other outcome.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard ending that report from Hayden Cooper.