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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29411

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (4:25 PM) —I must have been somewhat confused when I read the subject of the matter of public importance this afternoon, because it refers to the urgent need for reforming the unfair dismissal laws. All we have heard from the minister today is an attempt to undermine the credibility of the member for Rankin and assert things that are clearly not the case, as confirmed by independent witnesses. He fails to instead turn his mind to the important matters that go to small business and work and family policies that Labor wish to put in place if elected to government. If the minister and the member for Indi had any concerns about public policy and important issues then they would have addressed those matters that would have gone to the unfair dismissal laws. But clearly even now they find it very difficult to cogently argue in favour of their position.

There are not many opportunities for a backbencher, and certainly for a government backbencher, to raise a matter of public importance. You would have thought that, if the member for Indi had one opportunity in this parliamentary term, she may have looked to address the outrageously low bulk-billing rate in Indi. The electorate of Indi has one of the lowest rates, if not the lowest rate, for bulk-billing of any electorate in Australia. She had the opportunity this afternoon to raise that issue in this place on behalf of all constituents of Wodonga, Yarrawonga and many other cities and towns in that electorate and to look after those people that are finding it very difficult to find doctors that bulk bill. That electorate has one of the lowest bulk-billing rates—and yet she has brought nothing about that to the attention of this House and clearly instead wants to involve herself in a simple, pathetic stunt to waste the parliament's time.

Labor believe that we can find an efficient way to deal with matters that go to unfair dismissal. We believe that working people deserve recourse if they have been unfairly dismissed, but we believe there are ways in which we can make things more efficient and expedite matters before a court or tribunal. We do not believe that you should be able to convert an effectively permanent employee into a casual employee purely because they are employed by a business with fewer than 20 employees. We do not consider it fair for an employee not to have any right of redress if they are unfairly terminated. It is unfair for the government to say otherwise.

One of the reasons this bill comes up again and again is because this government will go down as fitting small business up for GST—this government will go down as converting all small business proprietors into tax collectors. That is what this government has left as a legacy for small business. To distract the attention of the public away from the fact that it has imposed such a difficult constraint upon small business, it continually argues that Australian workers who work in a small business have no rights of recourse, no right of redress, if they have been unfairly dealt with.

This MPI has been a stunt. The member for Indi should have been focusing on bulk-billing rates in her electorate—the lowest bulk-billing rates in the country. The minister, if he was concerned about these matters, would have been providing his solutions to the issue of the balance of work and family. He would have been talking about how we can make sure that we have prosperous companies but at the same time ensure that there are decent and fair employment rights for all employees of this country.