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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 61

Mr CHAMPION (3:43 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy. Will the minister advise the House on the government’s unfair dismissal system for small businesses and any reaction to it? Are there any obstacles to the system’s implementation?

Dr EMERSON (Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy and Minister Assisting the Finance Minister on Deregulation) —I thank the member for Wakefield for his question. The Rudd government believes that good workers should not be dismissed on the spot for no reason and with no remedy. At the same time, the government recognises the special circumstances of small businesses. They have no human resource management departments. They cannot easily redeploy their staff to other divisions or to other workplaces. They do not have the time for drawn-out processes and cannot pay expensive legal bills. Compared with larger businesses, small businesses will benefit under our unfair dismissal system from a doubling of the qualifying period from six months to 12 months, during which time no claim for an unfair dismissal can be made. Small businesses will also benefit from a simple, six-paragraph Fair Dismissal Code, which, if followed by a small business owner, enables the employer to dismiss an employee fairly.

I want to thank the members of the Small Business Working Group and the union working group, who worked so hard and so cooperatively with the government in developing this simple but fair system. In working together, we have shown that you do not have to make a choice between fairness and efficiency.

I am asked by the member for Wakefield as to the reaction that we have received to the announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister of the government’s arrangements for unfair dismissals for small businesses. I am very pleased to be able to report that the National Farmers Federation has indicated its support for the regime and it has said:

Farmers sign off on Govt’s ‘Fair Dismissal Code’

THE National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) today endorsed the Australian Government’s Fair Dismissal Code … as “striking a sensible, practical balance for employers and employees”.

There has also been reaction from the Council of Small Business of Australia, COSBOA, headed ‘Fair dismissal code acceptance’:

Small business can be pleased with the outcome as this tool provides a simple checklist to follow which ensures employers can be protected from fraudulent unfair dismissal claims.

And the Australian Industry Group has said that the fair dismissal code for small business will be short and easily applied. So there you go, Mr Speaker—endorsements from small business representative organisations.

But I was asked about obstacles to the passage of this legislation. Well, senior coalition frontbenchers have indicated their opposition to providing protection against unfair dismissal for the employees of small businesses. Just a little earlier this month, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, now the shadow Treasurer, confirmed that the opposition would adhere to three core principles, including a small business unfair dismissal exemption. So there is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition saying that the coalition will support an ongoing exemption—that is, oppose our fair dismissal arrangements. Also, the shadow small business minister said, earlier in the year, that any attempt by Labor to apply unfair dismissal laws to small business will receive his absolute and confirmed opposition.

So what happened a couple of weeks ago to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the shadow small business minister under the new leadership of the Liberal Party and the opposition? They were both promoted. They were both promoted because the Leader of the Opposition is opposed to providing basic protections for the employees of small businesses. The Leader of the Opposition is saying that four million Australians who work in small businesses should be able to be sacked on the spot with no explanation and no remedy.

The truth is, under the new Leader of the Opposition, the Liberal Party is still the party of Work Choices. No matter if there is a change in the leadership; the Leader of the Opposition is leading the party of Work Choices. I would urge the Leader of the Opposition, here and now, to repudiate his deputy leader, to repudiate his shadow small business spokesman and to pledge his support for the government’s fair dismissal system. But he will not, because the Liberal Party was, is and always will be the party of Work Choices.

There is a pretty clear pattern here, and the pattern is that the Leader of the Opposition does not support the vulnerable in this country but supports the powerful in this country. We have seen that in relation to the budget measures and the behaviour of the Leader of the Opposition and his party in the Senate. What has happened? Increasing the threshold of the Medicare surcharge would have provided much needed relief for people earning between $50,000 and $100,000—opposed. They were opposing that tax cut for these people in the Senate. What are they doing in relation to the Commonwealth dental scheme? They are opposing our ability to restore the Commonwealth dental scheme.

Mr Ciobo —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. How is this possibly relevant to the question?

The SPEAKER —The question was rather broad, but the member will address the question and bring his answer to a close.

Dr EMERSON —I will indeed, Mr Speaker. While they are opposing these measures for vulnerable people, they are also opposing a condensate tax increase that would have affected some of the wealthiest companies in this country. If they got their way, it would ensure that those companies would keep more of their earnings. They were opposing a luxury car tax—

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will bring his answer to a close.

Mr Ciobo —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order, again on relevance. The coalition will oppose Labor’s $20 million tax grab at every step.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Moncrieff knows that that is not a point of order.

Dr EMERSON —I saw on television today the actor Michael Douglas doing some very important work with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and it reminded me of the Leader of the Opposition.

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will bring his response to a close.

Dr EMERSON —The Leader of the Opposition is the Gordon Gekko of Australian politics. You are the Gordon Gekko of Australian politics!

The SPEAKER —Order! the minister will resume his seat. I call the member for O’Connor.