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Monday, 5 March 2001
Page: 24993


Mr LINDSAY (9:48 PM) —I guess the people of Australia have a clear choice when it comes to looking at the policies espoused by the government and by the opposition. It is a very stark choice. It is good to see there is healthy debate in the country but the government stands now on five years of record in industrial relations. It does not stand on what might or might not happen; it stands on facts. One of the stark facts is to compare the government's record in terms of employment to that of the Australian Labor Party. In the last five years of the Australian Labor Party's rule, 27,000 new jobs were created. In the last five years under the coalition 371,000 new jobs have been created. That does not sound to me like we want to have laws that cause people to lose their jobs. I think it stands in stark contrast to the performance of the Australian Labor Party.

It puzzles me to hear arguments, as we have just heard from the member for Barton, about the casualisation of the workforce. It puzzles me to hear him argue that bringing in these unfair dismissals laws would result in employers employing more casuals and not a number of permanents. That is the situation at the moment, without changing the law. Many small businesses do not employ full-time employees. They employ casuals because they are afraid of the consequences of the current legislation. It is an enigma on which the Labor Party is trying to have a both ways bet but you cannot do that. You must stand on the facts of the matter and the facts are that currently most small businesses will tell you, as you move about the electorate, that they do not want to employ an additional person because of the possible legal consequences. It is sad to see the Labor Party arguing both ways. I believe, having moved very widely in the small business community that, indeed, the situation is that if the Workplace Relations Amendment (Unfair Dismissals) Bill 1998 were passed through the chamber, we would get a lot more full-time employment, and a lot more permanent full-time employment.

I also point to the wonderful results from the other changes in industrial relations that this government has brought in, for example, the success of the Australian workplace agreements. The success is there because not only does the employer get a better deal but the employee gets a better deal. It is a win-win situation. In most of the cases that I know, employees end up taking more money home. They end up working the hours they want to work, the employer gets the productivity when the employer wants the productivity, and so on. There is such flexibility there that both parties win.

There is something else we have to be mindful of. Yesterday in the Clean Up Australia program that I was involved in I was with the general manager of Jupiters casino and hotel in Townsville. As we were picking up all the rubbish, I was pleased to see that there was less rubbish this year than last year. Australians are getting cleaner, and that is a wonderful result. We were talking about industrial relations laws and how they affect his particular operation. That operation depends on having a large casual work force because you do not know how many banquets you might have each week or whatever. The unions are trying to come in and say, `Well, we shouldn't have a casual work force.' What they do not understand is that many employees actually like to be casuals. It suits them. It suits their lifestyle, it suits their family circumstances. They want to be able to work casually. Yet we have the Australian Labor Party trying to tell employees that they should not be working that way, that they know better. They do not know better. The employee knows how they want to work. I guess what we discussed yesterday was a classic example of how the Australian Labor Party do not understand that we need to be mindful of the needs of both employers and employees.

So here we are debating this bill again. We as a government will continue to put this bill up because we believe that it is right for both employers and employees. I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that no employer who has a good employee will ever sack that employee unreasonably, because employees are your best asset. That is the first rule of business: if you have a good employee, you keep the employee, because they are your best way of operating a strong and successful business. Barring the odd shark or two out there, and they will always be out there, most employers are decent people and they understand that if you get a good employee you will continue to employ that person, so there is no danger of that person unreasonably or improperly losing their job. I am pleased to see that the government continues to put this bill to the parliament to have it debated, to allow the opportunity for the Australian public to understand what it is that we are trying to do and to listen to the debate on both sides. From my experience, the unfair dismissal legislation certainly militates very much against employing more people in this country. Heaven only knows, we need to employ more people. The government intends to continue to do everything it can to get more employment in the country, and this is one of the mechanisms by which we can do it.

This bill reflects the Howard government's policy that we took to the electorate in 1996 and again in 1998. There is no misunderstanding about the government's position. It has been endorsed by the Australian public on two occasions, yet the opposition continues to oppose it. The aim of the bill is simply to provide more jobs and to give relief to small businesses which sometimes can be faced with very difficult situations. I am led to believe that this bill has the power to create some 50,000 new jobs. I know that has been challenged, but I believe that could happen. I can assure the House that this bill will be welcomed in my electorate. To drive unemployment down further, we need to continue reform in the workplace relations system. The government has a strong record in that respect.

Defence of an unfair dismissal claim, however groundless, is especially burdensome for small business. Unlike large corporations and businesses, small businesses did not have the resources, the time or the money to put into hiring and termination processes. The measures in this bill protect small business and protect current employees. Employers retain rights in respect of unlawful dismissal, such as discrimination based dismissals, for all employees, new and current, including those in small business.

I have spoken previously on this bill, as a number of members have. I remain rock solid in my conviction that this legislation will result in significantly more employment in the country and will not cause the problems that the opposition is suggesting that it might. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the bill tonight and I thoroughly endorse it.