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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20141

Mr GEORGIOU (3:02 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Would the minister inform the House how the ACTU's latest redundancy test case could cost jobs, particularly in small business? Are there any alternative policies?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Kooyong for his question and I appreciate his interest in boosting employment, particularly in small business. This government believes in paying people more to keep their jobs; it does not believe in paying people more to lose their jobs. This government believes in encouraging people to employ rather than in encouraging people to retrench.

The ACTU does have a test case currently before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. The test case seeks to increase the standard redundancy entitlement to 16 weeks, and it seeks to extend redundancy payments to casual workers for the first time. For the first time, it seeks to require small business to pay redundancy costs. If granted, this test case will cost small business an additional $6,100 every time it needs to let someone go. If this test case application is successful, my department estimates that a small business with seven longstanding employees will face an immediate contingent liability of nearly $50,000. If there is anything that is likely to crush the spirit of small business—and to cause the member for Hunter's legendary small business constituency even more problems—it is this kind of test case application from the ACTU.

When the Queensland Council of Unions launched a similar test case, the Queensland Labor government, to its credit, strongly opposed the extension of redundancy entitlements to small business. But we know where the Queensland Labor government stands; where does the federal Labor opposition stand? When the member for Werriwa was on the back bench, he was a fierce critic of the economic irresponsibility of the ACTU. He said, `Trade unionism in this country is in crisis. How can unions survive if they fail to appeal to people in newly created enterprises and workplaces?' He said, `Given a choice between two Scotsmen, we need to follow Adam Smith, not Doug Cameron.' The member for Werriwa has a serious credibility problem. How can he preach responsibility on the back bench, when he is not actually responsible for anything, and completely forget about it when he goes onto the front bench? Can the member for Werriwa point to a single Labor policy which has moved from economic irresponsibility to responsibility since he has become the shadow Treasurer? Here is a simple test for the member for Werriwa—

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to answer the question that has been posed by the Leader of the House.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa is making mischief of the standing orders. He will resume his seat.

Mr ABBOTT —I have a simple test for the member for Werriwa. If he wants to demonstrate his credentials for economic responsibility, he should persuade the Labor Party to oppose the ACTU's job-destroying redundancy test case claim and say no to this $1.6 billion a year tax on jobs.