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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4732

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (11:16): I rise to speak on this motion and it is a pleasure to follow the member for Moncrieff's words and caution the government about what this will do to small businesses around the country. In a motion of this nature, once again we see the government undermining confidence in our economy by fruitlessly proposing unnecessary legislation in this parliament to do nothing for our economy except damage the confidence of our businesses. I think the shadow Treasurer put it best when he cited CEDA, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, on the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook results. He said: 'The competitiveness result is the worst result for Australia in 17 years. The rankings this year show that in labour productivity growth, Australia has dropped from number 26 in the world to number 51 of the 60 countries surveyed.' Former Labor Speaker of this House and one of your predecessors, Madam Deputy Speaker, CEDA Chief Executive Professor the Hon. Stephen Martin, could not have been clearer when he said:

The key issue is that we are seeing other countries … rapidly improve this measure of economic efficiency.

While they are not at our levels yet, they are catching up at a rapid pace and we need to look at productivity-enhancing reforms now rather than when we fall behind.

It is too late. We heard the member for Parramatta talking about industrial relations policy. I say to the member for Parramatta: unemployment in her electorate is at 7.2 per cent—higher than the national average. In Western Sydney, where my electorate is, youth unemployment is at 17 per cent. The member for Greenway is in the chamber—what is her plan to fix youth unemployment in Western Sydney? It certainly will not be helped by this legislating of inflexible things into modern awards. In fact, we take the view that we do not need legislation for all of these features of modern awards—we do not need to legislate the details. We do not need to legislate to take away flexibility.

We are very surprised to see that, once again, the unions have had the final say here. This amendment was not suggested by the Fair Work Review Panel that the government is proposing. This motion that we are debating today was not proposed by the Fair Work Review Panel Who did propose it? All of this has been proposed by Mr Dave Oliver, Secretary of the ACTU. Surprise, surprise! The member for Greenway has gone very silent.

Of course, we on this side want to see harmonious, productive, smart workplaces but I want it known out there that there are calls from industry and other sectors to explain what is going on with penalty rates in today's world. We have heard the restaurant and catering industry say that 10,000 new jobs could be created if they had more flexibility in their businesses—10,000 new jobs straightaway! Mr John Hardy is right about that: flexibility means more jobs. There are no wages for anybody when a business does not open on the weekend. The member for Moncrieff outlined that compellingly. cites a cafe and its cost of doing business from Monday to Friday compared to Sunday. The total cost, including superannuation, on a weekday with two wait staff, one dishwasher, one cook and one manager: $644—that is the cost of opening their cafe on a Monday to Friday. On a Sunday the cost of opening the cafe—Oli and Levi, a small family business—with the same number of staff: $1,239—almost double. The cafe's owner, Lloyd Smith—says if your labour costs are 50 per cent to 70 per cent more expensive on a weekend then it is not worth opening and is too risky. He then goes on to say, 'My staff are crying out for more hours and I'd love to be able to open on weekends, but I can't justify the expense.' That is the experience of the small business sector all around this country at the moment. That is what they are telling government, unions and this parliament: they need more flexibility, not less.

We may not be able to do anything about penalty rates; and we may not want to, because they are an enshrined part of our workplace relations system. But we do need to do more to have flexibility in our workplaces. We do not need fake motions from the government to create an issue for their re-election strategy, and motions which undermine confidence. We see that competitiveness is falling. We see that productivity is now at rock-bottom levels. If we are to have wage increases and legislate this sort of thing, we have to work on productivity increases. The flexibility of our labour market is vital.

We certainly see at the moment a government addicted to the unions. Labor is on track to have given about 160 special rights to unions. Unions now represent only about 13 per cent of workers in the private sector. Why should the unions get 160 special privileges? This motion is faked for the government's electoral advantage and we should vote it down.