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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 890

Senator JACK EVANS —My question is directed to Senator Button either in his capacity as the Minister for Industry and Commerce or as the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Does the Minister acknowledge that, in the vast majority of cases, small businesses do not retrench employees for reasons of malice or cynical financial gain but do so only in order to prevent the collapse of the businesses and the resulting loss of many more jobs; that when so many small businesses are close to closure and are fighting for survival, the redundancy conditions set by the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission will cause business closures and job losses; and that the redundancy provisions are inappropriate for small businesses? Is the Minister willing to give an assurance that the Government will act to exempt or protect small businesses from the drastic effects of the Commission's redundancy conditions?

Senator BUTTON —Senator Jack Evans in the early part of his question asked me to acknowledge certain facts about small business. I acknowledge those facts about the importance of small business, the virile nature of many small business sectors in Australia and the importance of small business to the Australian economy. I also acknowledge the facts which he suggested about the number of employees they engage. He then went on to ask me about the decision of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in relation to redundancy payments. Let me say first of all that that decision was the subject of long deliberation by the Commission in which all parties involved had an opportunity to put their points of view. The Commission's decision on redundancy payments was to provide a standard set of rules for businesses across Australia-rules which I might say do not in any way exceed the sorts of norm operating, for example, in many European countries. I fully appreciate that any change in conditions of employment and the conditions of termination of employment in this society is regarded as anathema to some sections of the community. We cannot change anything without causing some degree of apprehension. Undoubtedly considerable apprehension has been caused in the small business sector by the decision of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Nonetheless, I believe that it is an important decision in the history of industrial relations in this country and that given time its importance will be seen not in the pejorative terms that the question implies but in terms of benefit by way of the continuity and consistency of practices in business in the circumstances described in the question.

I will not give an undertaking in the way in which I am invited that the Government will act in respect of a decision concerning a certain sector of the business community. There would be enormous problems if one did not approach this question with equity across businesses. Whatever the Government's attitude, and whatever the attitude of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission might be, it would be untenable for the Government to entertain the sort of suggestion which Senator Jack Evans has made, and we would not do so. I remind Senator Evans that the terms of the Arbitration Commission's decision on redundancy payments and the orders that will be made consequent upon that decision are currently subject to negotiation. That matter of course is still subject to further discussion.