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Tuesday, 7 August 2001
Page: 29283

Mrs DRAPER (2:05 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Would the minister inform the House of new protections for South Australian workers whose employers become insolvent? How are South Australian workers better protected than workers living in other states? Are there any alternative policies in this area?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Makin for her question and I appreciate her deep concern to protect the entitlements of workers in her electorate. Let me say that this government is deadset against strikes which cause tens of thousands of Australians to be denied their right to work. But we are also absolutely committed to ensuring that Australian workers get their due, that Australian workers get their entitlements. That is why this is the first government in Australian history to put in place a government scheme to protect workers' entitlements. No state Labor government has ever put a scheme in place. The former federal Labor government, in which the Leader of the Opposition served as a minister for 13 years, did not put a scheme of entitlements in place, even though tens of thousands of workers lost their entitlements when the Leader of the Opposition was a minister in a government.

Thanks to this government's scheme, when businesses close down and cannot pay their employees their entitlements, the federal government is there to help. So far under the government's scheme some $9 million has been paid out to some 4½ thousand workers who have lost their entitlements. Unlike any other scheme that has been proposed, this scheme, the federal government's scheme, is not a tax on jobs. There is nothing at all wrong with the federal government's scheme except that, so far, states have not been prepared to pay their fair share under it. But I am delighted to say that, as of today, the South Australian government has announced that it is joining the federal scheme. What that means is that workers in South Australia whose employers cannot pay their entitlements will get twice as much as workers in Labor states. I do not want that to be the case and there is a simple way for this anomaly to be fixed, and that is for the Labor states to join the federal government's scheme.

Ever since the federal government announced its scheme, Labor has been playing catch-up politics. I accept that the federal government's scheme is not Labor's preferred model; I accept that it is not what they would like. But it is the only scheme in place and it is helping workers now. Just because it was not Labor that thought of it first is no reason for Labor to continue to deny workers their maximum entitlements under the federal government's scheme. I ask members opposite, in the interests of workers in need, to tell their state Labor colleagues to support the federal government's scheme.