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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29408

Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Small Business and Tourism) (4:15 PM) —The member for Rankin should perhaps read the standing orders. I know he is not one that complies with rules. I was intrigued, in this debate, to hear the response of the member for Rankin just then.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Rankin would have realised I did my utmost to have him heard in silence. I would expect the same respect now, thank you.

Mr HOCKEY —Given that the member for Rankin has declared—correct me if I am wrong—the COSBOA dinner a public meeting, because he used those words—

Dr Emerson —Effectively.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Rankin!

Mr HOCKEY —He says `effectively'. Let Hansard know he says `effectively'. A member of my staff was there, who I am told identified himself upfront—

Dr Emerson —Yes, that's right.

Mr HOCKEY —which the member for Rankin acknowledges, and therefore it was a public meeting. Given that the member for Rankin has now come into this place and denied that he uttered the words which are alleged—he nods his head—and given that he has talked about some of the discussions in that meeting, the Chatham House rule no longer applies.

Dr Emerson —It never applied.

Mr HOCKEY —It never applied, he says.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Rankin seems to not understand the standing orders so I will read the relevant standing order to him. Standing order 55 says:

When a Member is speaking, no Member may converse aloud or make any noise or disturbance to interrupt the Member.

If the member for Rankin cannot abide by that, I will use standing order 304A.

Mr HOCKEY —I want to place on the record that the member for Rankin has agreed with me that a meeting held by COSBOA, attended by the member for Rankin and a number of other individuals on Tuesday night, was in his view a public meeting. He says that, because there was a member of my staff invited to the meeting by the President of COSBOA and he was in attendance. The member for Rankin nods his head.

It goes one step further. Even though the Chatham House rule was applied to the meeting, the member for Rankin accepts now that it no longer applies because he is the one that in this place disclosed some of the conversations at that meeting last Tuesday night. That is the fundamental point of the debate. The member for Rankin now accepts that it is fine for the people that attended the meeting to disclose their recollections of what the member for Rankin said at that meeting about the unfair dismissal laws and obviously about other issues that were raised in the course of that meeting—specifically, his own previous business experiences and the question of whether he was dissuaded from employing an extra person on his staff because of the unfair dismissal laws. We will put that to one side for the moment.

This matter has some way to go because there are a number of different recollections of the content of the meeting. Why are we so interested in this? We are interested in this because time and again we hear reports from small business people and people right across the business community that Labor Party frontbenchers go into meetings and give them a wink and a nod that everything will be okay should the Labor Party be elected to government.

It is the same Labor Party that on 40 sepa-rate occasions in this parliament has voted down legislation amending the unfair dismissal laws, despite the best endeavours of the minister for workplace relations and his predecessors to try to free 1.1 million small businesses from the very heavy burden of the unfair dismissal laws. The parliament has voted the legislation down only because of the opposition of the Labor Party, the Democrats and the Greens in the Senate. Yet, if there is a smidgin of evidence that the man who leads the charge for the Labor Party in opposing our changes to the unfair dismissal laws recognises that it is having some impact on employment—and it did have an impact on employment in his own case—then it says everything about the Labor Party's hypocrisy. It also says everything about our position on unfair dismissals—that we are right, that we are here batting for small business people and that we are batting for employment growth.

It is interesting that, when he came into this place this morning to deny the contents of the article in the Australian, the member for Rankin said:

A story in the Australian today reports claims that I told a small business meeting that I had not employed extra staff for the small business I ran before entering parliament because of fears about the unfair dismissal laws. Having been told last night by a representative of COSBOA—

today that representative became `a spokesperson', but okay—

that I made no such statement at the meeting, the journalist persisted with the story. The truth is that our small business did employ an extra staff member and had no difficulty terminating the employment. This fact, reported in the same story, completely refutes the claim.

That is a very cute way of saying, `COSBOA denied that I said it.'

Dr Emerson —I deny I said it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Rankin has denied that he said it.

Mr HOCKEY —It has taken until this afternoon for the member for Rankin, under the pressures of the parliament and knowing full well that there are others out there that contradict his recollections, to deny that he ever said that. I suppose in the fullness of time we will know whether he really did. In the fullness of time we will wonder whether others are prepared to put their names on the record—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Rankin should read 304A. I have warned him that I would use it.

Mr HOCKEY —and state their recollections of the words of the member for Rankin on Tuesday night in the same way that they are prepared to do it off the record. Of course, from time to time small business groups fear retribution. There is no doubt about that. In this case some of the small business people at the table on Tuesday night were closely associated with the CFMEU and a number of other organisations. We accept that.

Dr Emerson —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I regard that as offensive. That is an inference that members of the CFMEU would intimidate members of COSBOA—that is absolutely outrageous.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.

Mr HOCKEY —We also recognise that there were some members at the table at the dinner on Tuesday night who might not recollect the statement. But it goes one step further for people to deny outright that the words were ever uttered, because that assumes that they were listening to every word that the member for Rankin said. I do not think even we could manage that task, even under the duress from time to time of this parliament.

The simple fact is that the Labor Party has a history of saying one thing in the boardrooms and another thing to the public. It is a long history. The member for Rankin is adept at it. He did it in relation to the portability of long service leave. On the floor of the Labor Party national conference he moved an amendment to ensure that there was going to be portability of long service leave and he then comes into this place and denies that it is Labor Party policy. He moved the amendment on the floor of the Labor Party national conference and then denied it. What a surprise! In relation to casuals, redundancy and unfair dismissal the Labor Party has a poor record.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Member for Rankin, how many times do I have to warn you!

Mr HOCKEY —Out of all this, the fundamental point for the member for Rankin is this: we are on to you. The member for Rankin should be aware that we are following his every word. When he sells one message to small business people and comes back into this place and pulls the rug out from under them we are going to be on to him. (Time expired)