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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 29433


Mr HARDGRAVE (2:29 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Would the minister inform the House of what measures the government is pursuing to cut red tape in relation to unfair dismissal laws to make the system fairer? How will these measures create real jobs, particularly in small business, and are there any alternative policies in this particular area?


Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Moreton for his question. No-one in this House is more concerned about protecting the interests of small business than the member for Moreton, and I congratulate him. For almost a decade, federal unfair dismissal laws have been a serious obstacle to employment growth in this country. To put it at its most simple and most plain, if it is expensive to let people go, it is hard to take people on. That is the problem with the former government's unfair dismissal laws. Thanks to those laws, Australian business has routinely been paying thousands of dollars to departing employees over and above their entitlements, even in cases of illegality or gross negligence.

This government changed the unfair dismissal laws in 1996, but unfortunately that has not stopped a small mercenary group of ambulance chasing lawyers and unscrupulous union officials from bringing nuisance unfair dismissal applications in ways that amount to the legal harassment of small business. I am delighted to tell the member for Moreton and the House that significant relief is now at hand. This morning the Senate passed the government's termination bill. That bill imposes penalties on lawyers and other advisers who encourage speculative and unmeritorious unfair dismissal claims. It requires the disclosure of `no win, no fee' arrangements by lawyers and other advisers; it allows the Industrial Relations Commission to exclude unmeritorious claims after just one conciliation hearing; and, most importantly, it establishes a standard, three-month probationary period for all new employees, during which the unfair dismissal laws will not apply.

This is a very serious and significant breakthrough for small business. I thank the Minister for Small Business for his untiring efforts in bringing the concerns of small business before the government and before the cabinet. I thank the Senate, particularly Senator Murray and the Australian Democrats, for adopting such a constructive attitude to the government's bill. This is a sign of this government's unflagging determination to boost employment in this country, and it is a sign of our determination to let small business create more jobs.