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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 15564

Dr SOUTHCOTT (3:19 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Minister, what is the government doing to protect the entitlements of workers whose employers become insolvent and are unable to pay their entitlements? What is the government's response to any alternative plans that have been proposed in relation to this issue?

Mr REITH (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Boothby for his question. He will be pleased to hear that the government is progressing at putting in place an administrative scheme to support employees who have lost their entitlements as a result of employer insolvency. This is a significant extension to the safety net available to workers. In fact, for the whole 13 years that Labor was in government not one minister, not one cabinet, not one backbencher, was ever prepared to stand up and say that something ought to be done to protect workers in the situation of their company going insolvent.

This government is prepared to act. We have a very fair scheme, which we are putting in place, and that will be available for workers as soon as we have completed a proper assessment of each and every one of those circumstances that has been brought to our notice. Over 190 workers have lodged applications, and no-one in the Labor Party—not one of them—is prepared to stand up and support those workers for their entitlements. Over 60 companies have gone insolvent and left employees without their entitlements, and the Labor Party is not prepared to stand up and lift a finger to help any of those employees. What is the Labor Party's alternative position? It has three different policies—two are from the backbench, and they are both from the member for Prospect.

Mrs Crosio —Do you want me to spell it out completely for you?

Mr REITH —In her press release of 12 March 2000, she advocates trust funds and does not mention insurance. In the bill that she has before the parliament, she has an insurance scheme. Back in February, the frontbench announced their policy, which was an insurance scheme based on a premium through the superannuation guarantee levy and with funding through superannuation funds. Do they have a policy? No.

Mrs Crosio —Where's your legislation?

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The member for Prospect!

Mr REITH —The fact is that they have three policies because they have never been prepared to have a policy to support workers. Furthermore, to show you the hypocrisy of these Labor people, now we have the Queensland Premier and the New South Wales Labor Premier who are both publicly opposed to helping workers in their own jurisdictions. What response, what leadership, do we get from the Leader of the Opposition? Not one word uttered in defence of those workers who have lost their entitlements.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr REITH —Ah, this hurts because this just demonstrates that when it comes to helping workers these people are not prepared to do a thing. The fact is that this is a classic consequence of weak leadership. Here you have two of your own. Bob Carr was prepared to put in money for blokes at National Textiles but he is not prepared to help workers up the road at Scone Meatworks. What do we expect of the leader of the Labor Party? He ought to exercise some leadership. He ought to tell Bob Carr and Peter Beattie that the Labor Party supports workers in these situations. It is a national disgrace for the Labor Party that it is not prepared to match the federal coalition on a dollar for dollar basis to help workers. I say to the backbench of the Labor Party: it is about time you put a bit of pressure on this weak, vacillating leader and did something for workers for just once in your lives.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.