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Tuesday, 28 August 2001
Page: 30371

Ms GAMBARO (3:08 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Would the minister inform the House of recent employment data from Queensland? Why is the unemployment rate in Queensland worse than in any other mainland state? How have Queensland's industrial relations changes hurt employment and small business in my state, and what is the Howard government doing to solve the unemployment problem in Queensland?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Petrie for her question, and I thank her for her strong support for the workers and job seekers in her electorate and surrounding areas. I can tell the House that since March 1996 unemployment in Queensland has dropped from 8.7 per cent to 8.1 per cent. In March 1996 unemployment in Queensland was about the national average. I am afraid to say that now Queensland has the highest unemployment of any mainland state because of the industrial relations roll-back practised by the Beattie government. The Beattie government's workplace relations legislation allows strike pay, it virtually abolishes Queensland's workplace agreements, it stops award simplification, it abolishes the Queensland Employment Advocate, it removes the exemption from the unfair dismissal provisions for small business and it allows the Queensland Industrial Commission to declare contractors to be employees.

Mr Speaker, what would you expect from a government completely under the thumb of the Australian Workers Union, which last year gave the Labor Party no less than $653,000—a classic case of cash for policy. This is just a foretaste of the kind of industrial relations roll-back that Australia would experience if the Leader of the Opposition were ever to form a government. The Leader of the Opposition would actually go further than Premier Beattie. He would force Australia's one million small businesses to enter compulsory union bargaining, which would mean that, every time there is a knock on the door of small business, it could be the union heavies demanding their right of entry and chorusing, `Have we got a good-faith bargain for you.'

The Queensland experience proves that roll-back costs jobs. While the Queensland government is punishing small business, the Howard government is getting on with providing job seekers in Queensland with the world's best employment services. In the electorate of Dickson, for instance, this government has put in place some 44 Work for the Dole projects over last the three years, which have provided viable work experience to nearly 2,000 young Queenslanders. When members opposite were in power, there were just two CES offices in the electorate of Dickson; now Job Network sites are in double figures. But what would the member for Dickson know, because she is the ultimate absentee political landlord. From the deck of the Gold Coast high-rise where she lives—

Ms Kernot —That is not true.

Mr ABBOTT —Oh, it is not true, is it? She says that it is not true.

Mr SPEAKER —The minister will not respond to interjections. The minister will respond to the question.

Mr ABBOTT —I am sorry, Mr Speaker. From the deck of the Gold Coast high-rise—

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Dickson!

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Dickson!

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Dickson is defying the chair.

Mr McMullan —I rise on a point of order that obviously goes to relevance, Mr Speaker. Even though the information is inaccurate, whether it is accurate or not, the residence of the member for Dickson is not relevant to any matter that relates to the question nor to any ministerial responsibility of the minister.

Mr SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat!

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Dickson is doing nothing to enhance her case by defying the chair. The minister's response to this question is doing nothing to elevate the dignity of the chamber. I asked him to confine his remarks.

Mr ABBOTT —I am simply pointing out—

Mr SPEAKER —And neither is the action of the member for Melbourne Ports, as he must be well aware!

Mr ABBOTT —that, from the deck of a high-rise on the Gold Coast, you can just about see Dickson on a good day!

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It is quite clear that the minister is defying your very proper ruling, and I ask you to deal with him accordingly.

Mr SPEAKER —As any impartial observer would have been aware, I was fairly or unfairly dealing with the member for Melbourne Ports when the minister made that statement. I did not hear what he said. I will listen to his remarks. I ask him to come back to the question.

Mr ABBOTT —I have been asked about what the Howard government is doing to help boost employment in Queensland, and we are doing a lot more than the member for Dickson, who does not live in her electorate and who has never lived in her electorate. Last year she even said that she was about to live in the Gold Coast.

Ms Kernot —That is not true, Mr Speaker, yet you let him say it every time.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The minister will come back to the question without reference to the member for Dickson, or resume his seat.

Mr ABBOTT —Let me simply conclude that, unlike the Queensland Labor government, we are interested in producing more jobs for Queenslanders, and the last thing that Queenslanders need is industrial relations roll-back.

Mr Reith —On a point of order, Mr Speaker, as a matter of clarification—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the House is waiting, as the Leader of the Opposition was waiting, for the call. I call the Leader of the House.

Mr Reith —On a point of clarification, it seems an odd ruling that a member should not be able to refer to a member on the other side, and I ask you whether or not that is your intention—

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the House will resume his seat. For the information of all members, and I am sure that it is self-evident to all, there is no intention to restrict the opportunity for members to say anything within the standing orders. However, it was patently obvious that what the minister was saying was doing nothing to enhance the dignity of the House, and for that reason I obliged him to resume his seat.