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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2137

Mr TUCKEY (7:12 PM) —Now the member for Rankin has finished his contribution on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Dismissal) Bill 2004, I bet he does not stay around to get a little history on labour law during the member for Hotham's ascendancy as the president of the ACTU. If the member for Rankin had been around as an employer back in the seventies, he would have discovered that every award had a restriction. Union written awards had a restriction on the number of apprentices an employer could employ. The wording was quite clear. It was all about protecting the jobs of union members, because you could not get an apprentice to join a union.

That was pretty good. Then he lectured us on training, but he forgot that a previous member of this House, who is not unknown to me, called John Dawkins, brought in a training levy—another form of payroll tax—when he was Treasurer. He did not bother to remind small businesses—many of which have a casual work force because they need a lot of employees on Friday night or something of that nature—that under a Labor government they are going to be subject to a payroll tax. It will not be your gross payroll as applies in the states. It is going to be related to how many people you employ. You might be a small tavern operator. You and your wife might run it during the week, but if you put on a band, a musician or something on Friday and Saturday nights you will be over 20 employees in a matter of minutes.

What is this bloke up to? Why does he not explain to people what things were like? He talked about his idea of a new tax system. What do we call it? The ratio method. We used to have a ratio method for provisional tax, then the tax man introduced the uplift factor. You signed off one year at five per cent, and he wrote you a letter the next year that said: `Your business must have improved, therefore I've applied an uplift factor, and you will pay tax at six per cent.' It is all a matter of history.

I just wonder how much this fellow realises about how his mates, including the member for Hotham, dealt with the small business community in the past. I remember it, both as a small business person and as a member of this House. I have stood here and watched it. I have watched all the truck drivers being told there would be no tax increases under l-a-w; the next thing was that their fuel tax went up by 3c or 4c a litre—and that is a lot when you are running a truck as a subcontractor.

The member for Rankin has lectured us on skills shortages. Time and time again in this place statistics have been quoted on how many more apprenticeships there are now. But have they ever gone back to their union mates and said, `Look, if someone chooses academic studies, they are no cost to the employer until they're a graduate.' The employer of the creme de la creme has no financial obligation until somebody turns up in response to an advertisement and says, `Here's my graduate certificate.' But what do we do with apprentices? On the day they start work they are paid wages but they are never there. Historically they learnt their trade on the job and they were of some worth to the employer. Today, as the employer will tell you, most of the time they are not there and their wages escalate to full tradesman's wages at a speed which is just beyond people's capacity to pay.

Ms George —What rubbish!

Mr TUCKEY —It is not rubbish. A fool says it is rubbish. It is a fact; it is what happens. I can tell you because, unlike the interjector, I have actually employed people. Schoolteachers are great advisers to the small business sector; we know all about them. And we know who runs the ACTU today—not the Federated Storemen and Packers Union.

Mr TUCKEY —Yes, that is great too. The member apparently does not know that the last two presidents of the ACTU have both been schoolteachers. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations constantly reminds us that in the private sector there is only 17 per cent trade unionism. It is about time someone did the analysis on how many of that 17 per cent are there to buy a job—no ticket, no start. They find the ticket easier to get than a clip behind the ear from Tom Domican or the likes of him.

Ms George —What's this got to do with—

Mr TUCKEY —Of course it has plenty to do with it. You should have been in here, listening to your speaker. He ran off the rails and spoke about everything that you could think of relating to small business—and I am quite happy to follow that trend. If the member wants to talk about my contribution, she had better demonstrate that she has been out there at least working in a McDonald's when she was a kid—although I doubt we had McDonald's when she was a kid.

Ms George —No; we had Franklins.

Mr TUCKEY —Right—and you went out and counted stock, did you? I am pleased to hear it. The reality is that the great argument of the member for Rankin is: this law does not really have any effect; it does not hurt anyone. If that is the case, why do we have it? If it is so ineffective and it is so loved by the small business community—I believe their belief is that you do not sack people unfairly and you value good staff—why do we need the law? Why do we need it in the first place? If 30 per cent—as he asserts—say, `We have a commitment,' they do not need the law, do they?

We have the constant parading in this place that small business proprietors have a habit of getting up in the morning and asking themselves: `Who can I sack today? Who can I get to sit in front of me so I can break their heart?' What a load of rubbish. The only time that a small business employer chooses to retrench someone is typically when they cannot afford to keep them, or—and quite properly so—when they do not fit into that business. Some are lazy, some are disruptive and some are incapable. I have employed thousands of people and have had to make instant assessments of them on occasions.

You talk about training? There was not an apprenticeship for chefs when I first entered the hotel industry. Within 12 months of that opportunity being opened up, I put on two. To the best of my knowledge, both of those kids—in fact, middle aged men now—are still employed in that category. But then we started getting letters telling us how their wages were going to escalate. It was not that we did not want to go on training people and have them available within the work force; we just had to sit down and ask, `Well, do our kids eat? Is there enough money left?' We could not sack the chef—we had to have a chef—so we ceased employing them. We had kids queuing up. We could not manage as they escalated the cost. That is just a fact. It was not that we did not think it was a good idea and that we did not have a commitment. But here we go today with all this lecturing about training. The training record of the previous government by comparison with this government was disastrous. But go back to those awards. The awards limited the number of apprenticeships that an employer could have, when we had this wonderful totally regulated system, where you could not look sideways. As the minister has described, they even told you the size of the toilet and which way the door had to swing. How silly can that be.

This is the 43rd introduction of a fair dismissal bill. I am reminded by the second reading speech that there is plenty of protection for workers. The bill would not exclude employees of small businesses from the unlawful termination provisions of the Workplace Relations Act. It will remain unlawful for any business in Australia, regardless of its size, to dismiss any employee for a discriminatory reason—for example, because of their age, gender or religion. In addition, all businesses in Australia will continue to be required to give employees appropriate notice of termination. In other words, there has been a law there for a long time to deal with the fundamental issues. But the member for Rankin said, `It doesn't matter. You can deal with people who steal from you.'

I happened to be in Alice Springs, staying at a motel, and got into conversation with the proprietor. Something came up about overseas travel and he said, `I've just got back from my proposed extended holiday.' He and his wife had done well in their business and they wanted to go overseas for two or three months, so they appointed a manager. This fellow seemed to be doing the job, so off they went. Then they got a frantic call from one of their loyal staff, saying, `You'd better come home. You'd better have a look at the books.' In fact, I am not sure if it was a loyal staff member; it might have been the bank manager, because nothing was going into the bank—from a big motel in Alice Springs. They got home and they were $40,000 short. They sacked the bloke, and he took them to court on unfair dismissal charges and won because the police investigations had not been concluded. That is not myth. That is not rewriting history. That is a fact. How do people feel about that small business?

We had another discourse from the member for Rankin where he said that the laws do not stop people employing people. Well, why have we got this massive rate of casual employment? One of the reasons is that it suits employers, depending on their demand for labour, and employees, depending on their need for employment. A hell of a lot of married women want that flexibility, to name just one category. The other reason is that a small business can keep an informal, casual arrangement going and not sack anybody; they just do not ring them up again. Is that good for workers? Does that give them reliability? There are people who consciously will not keep even reasonably qualified and capable workers on their payroll for too long for fear that if they were obliged to retrench them in a business downturn they will be taken up on these issues.

We are told that it is only the ambulance chasers that pursue people for unfair dismissal cases. You might want to go and see how many times those people are represented by the union, maybe sometimes properly. But to suggest that the trade union movement are not ambulance chasers in this area is patently ridiculous.

Half of the member for Rankin's speech was about why this legislation was ineffective. So I say: why do we want to keep it? Why don't we just go back to the times when people dealt with their staff as best they could?

It has been pointed out that there are difficulties getting apprentices. That is true. Business is desperate in many cases to get more, and they are not there. Why? Because we have got high levels of employment and kids are maybe looking at other options. Even then, if you put on an apprentice and you are a self-employed plumber or electrician, what do you do when suddenly there is a downturn in the industry? What do you do—pull the kids out of school because you have an obligation to an employee? People are entitled to make a profit, if only to keep their family.

We have this silly law, and we have had a discourse that says, `It really doesn't hurt or affect anyone anyway—and people love it.' Well, they do not love it; they are frightened of it—and there is no need for it, because unfair dismissal is either covered under the Workplace Relations Act or it is not unfair. It is this old union scare tactic, `We'll save you,' when in fact they do not.

I thought it was pretty interesting to note these factors, because it was very interesting to hear the member for Rankin trying to calm the masses. The opposition have done it across their whole industrial relations argument: `It's all right. New South Wales is going all right, mate, therefore it will be all right.' It does not have to be all right; there has to be a need—it is a funny thing about the work force!

I well remember a great controversy in the north, in the Pilbara, when an excavator had to have two people squeezed into the seat. It was probably an occupational health and safety danger, because the seat was only designed for one person, but they had to have two. The crib for a train driver going out to the mine and back in a day to bring in a load of iron ore included a side of lamb. I do not know how many chops he ate on the trip, or where he managed to cook them, but you know what happened: the crib went straight home and mum handed him over some sandwiches for the trip.

That is where we were at. When Copeman and others moved in and the Western Australian government gave people the opportunity to do their own deal with the boss and get vastly improved wages in return for higher productivity, that was the result of picketing and all sorts of things. While that controversy was going on, people used to ring me up and say, `For God's sake, get these unions out of our hair. We want to do a deal with the boss. We're going to get more money. We're not frightened of him; we know how to deal with him. We've been to school. We are not kids being sent down the mines in Wales.'

Ms George —What's that got to do with the bill?

Mr TUCKEY —Mr Speaker, that is of some interest. She thinks we are talking about a bill other than the unfair dismissal bill.

Ms George —Why don't you talk about it?

Mr TUCKEY —What are you embarrassed about?

The SPEAKER —If the member for Throsby has a point of order, I will hear her.

Mr TUCKEY —The point is that she is getting angry because she does not like history repeating and, as I said, I will repeat a bit of history in this place. When training became an issue under Labor, the first thing they did was put a payroll tax on workers. We had the training levy of two per cent. Remember that? That was a great help! It did not help anyone; it just went into the coffers.

Debate interrupted.