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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31673

Mr TICEHURST (2:08 PM) —I again thank the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations for introducing this important legislation to parliament. The Workplace Relations Amendment (Protecting Small Business Employment) Bill 2004 seeks to protect small business people in my electorate of Dobell from an increase in the cost of running their businesses—a cost they and the Central Coast economy cannot afford. This bill proposes to amend the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to maintain the exemption for small business from redundancy pay by overturning a recent decision of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to impose redundancy pay obligations on small business.

Government members interjecting—

Mr TICEHURST —This is important, fellows—you need to listen. If this bill is not passed, hundreds of small businesses in my electorate will be required to make redundancy payments to their employees. Statistics show that more than 70 per cent of all new jobs are created by small business. In my electorate of Dobell, with unemployment in Wyong shire well above the New South Wales average of 5.5 per cent, job creation is a key issue being addressed by local, state and federal governments. This decision by the AIRC to make small business liable for redundancy pay will cost many permanent jobs on the Central Coast. It will add a huge burden to the thousands of small businesses that can create new jobs. It will make the lives of small business people unnecessarily harder and will make them more reluctant to give new apprentices and disadvantaged groups like unemployed people the opportunity to work.

The Australian Labor Party does not understand this. The Labor Party that is beholden to union bosses does not understand that most small business people are ordinary, everyday people who have gone out on a limb to try and make a decent living for themselves and their families. Small businesses need greater flexibility, because they do not have the same access to financial and human resources as larger businesses do. Unplanned expenses can threaten the viability of businesses and, importantly, the jobs of those working in those businesses. The commission's decision is not about equity, not by any means.

The editorial in the Australian on 5 April depicted the inequity clearly. It said:

Unlike industrial relations fat cats, small business people operate in a highly competitive environment, so the new AIRC ruling is essentially a $190 million tax on the restructuring they need to undertake regularly just to survive.

The editorial went on to say:

Australia has prospered though two decades of international economic vicissitude by reforming the way it does business, including with a more flexible labour market. This makes it all the more disturbing that a regulatory body charged with resolving industrial disputes can impose a new cost burden on the largely non-unionised small business sector at the behest of the ACTU.

The Australian Labor Party simply cannot purport to support permanent jobs and then oppose this important legislation—and, in doing so, oppose much of the significant workplace relations reform that has taken place over the last decade. It is a highly ironic move by the ACTU to make small businesses liable for redundancy pay when this will only lead to an increase in the casualisation of the work force that the unions, and of course the Labor Party, are constantly complaining about. The casualisation of the work force is a national trend and is of concern to me and my electorate of Dobell. The AIRC decision will most definitely exacerbate the problem.

The Labor Party does not really care about the challenges small businesses face and the potential for the increased casualisation of the work force. The truth is that the ALP is indifferent to small businesses and job creation. Why else did the Labor Party decide earlier this year to increase the AIRC's powers? Big companies, big governments, big unions—that is the ALP mantra. Labor never seems to make decisions that will help small businesses. Most frustrating for small business people have been Labor's unfair dismissal laws that restrict job creation by discouraging employers from employing people, in case they face the risk of an unfair dismissal claim. Many Labor MPs have never had a real job. They joined a union at university, they pushed the Labor line for a job in the union movement and then they aspired to a place in parliament as a reward. What do they contribute to the Australian nation? Absolutely nothing. Former Whitlam minister Barry Cohen was right when he said that current Labor MPs have no real world experience and no real hope of creating good, workable policies.

With a background in small business I understand what the AIRC ruling means for small businesses in Dobell. I know that there are businesses in my electorate that are struggling to make it from day to day—businesses operating with minimal profitability, if that. Then there are the many businesspeople who have been forced to use their family home and assets as a guarantee to their banks. I had to do the same when I was operating a small business. I also had to live through Labor's 17 per cent home mortgage rates and 23 per cent business overdrafts. Forcing small businesses to make redundancy payments will only serve to push these businesses into insolvency. The Howard government is the only government that is committed to helping small business grow and develop—the only government that recognises that you cannot make a one size fits all approach with small business, because each small business is so different. (Quorum formed)

Last weekend, at Mingara Recreation Club in my electorate, I held a small business forum with the Hon. Kevin Andrews, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, to meet with local businesspeople face to face to gauge their concerns and to discuss how the operation of their businesses on the Central Coast can be made more efficient and more competitive. One of the main concerns small business people raised at the forum was that Labor will not support the government's effort to protect small business from redundancy payments under federal awards. Small business people simply cannot afford this potential increase in the cost of running their businesses and, as a result, the Central Coast's economy will suffer.

Reforms to the workplace relations system since the Howard government came into office in 1996 have assisted in the creation of more than 1.3 million jobs and an increase in real wages of more than 13 per cent for ordinary Australians. Reforms to the workplace relations system have not only created more jobs for Australians; they have resulted in fewer strikes, lower inflation, higher productivity and lower interest rates.

If the Australian Labor Party are serious about wanting to govern Australia, they need to understand what small Australian businesses need—and what they need are laws that support them. Labor must support this legislation and put jobs in my electorate first, particularly permanent jobs. When we look at the number of ALP members in parliament who belong to unions, it is understandable if they do not. That stands at 71 per cent; 71 per cent of Labor members of parliament have union links. That is absolutely scandalous when we consider that union coverage in private industry is 17 per cent—absolutely scandalous. Once again I encourage members opposite to judge our arguments on their merits and not let politics get in the way of this important bill. I commend this bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Ross Cameron) adjourned.