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Tuesday, 25 September 2001
Page: 31379

Mrs HULL (4:16 PM) —This MPI today, being the failure of the government to adequately protect jobs of Australian workers and to provide a secure future for all Australians, is indeed ironic. It is a wide-reaching, ambitious statement. Obviously, it is a goal that the opposition wants the people of Australia to think that Labor can achieve. Let us reminisce. This year the Treasurer, the Hon. Peter Costello, announced the coalition government's fifth consecutive budget surplus—a cash surplus of $1.5 billion after the repayment of nearly $60 billion of Labor's $80 billion debt. Back in 1995 the Keating government spent the same amount on interest payments as it did on schools and hospitals. Due to the competition with home buyers and business to borrow money, Labor's debt caused interest rates to soar, which forced many small businesses to close and unemployment to hit a record high. Yes indeed, unemployment hit a record high. During the Hawke-Keating Labor rule, my small business paid interest rates of 25 per cent. The Hawke-Keating Labor government tore the heart out of regional Australia. This government is all about putting the heart back into regional Australia.

Small business is the greatest employer of Australians, and this government's sound fiscal policy has delivered the lowest small business interest rates in 30 years. I have a major commitment to the survival of small business. As I have said many times before in this House, small businesses are very important to my electorate of Riverina. This government has allocated an additional $5 million to the Small Business Incubator Program, which assists small businesses to establish themselves by providing premises, advice, services and support in the crucial early stages of business development. This program has been successful in reducing the failure rate of new businesses, particularly in rural and regional Australia. In recognising small business's contribution to employment, this government has offered significant incentives to assist employers to take on new apprentices, with almost $2 billion being provided over the next four years for the highly successful New Apprenticeships initiative. A significant contribution has also been made to develop and enhance the business skills of many small business owners by funding projects that provide access to mentoring, information services and skills development through the Small Business Enterprise Culture Program. This program has proven extremely beneficial, as it caters for small business people who require access to skills development courses but do not have time to attend TAFE or university. That will ultimately benefit us by introducing new employment opportunities.

What of the unfair dismissal legislation? Who introduced that tax on jobs? This government introduced legislation to amend the impact on employment that was imposed upon us by a former Labor government in regard to unfair dismissal. The amendment to the bill was introduced into the House on 12 November 1998 and passed by the House on 2 December 1998, and was rejected by the Democrats and Labor senators on 14 August 2000. That clearly demonstrated a lack of knowledge of how employment really works in this country. The amendment to the unfair dismissal legislation was the subject of an almost unprecedented degree of political obstructionism. In less than four years, the changes were voted down in one form or another on eight occasions by the Labor Party and on five occasions by the Australian Democrats. Labor does not even acknowledge the evidence linking the impact of unfair dismissal laws and the hiring intentions of employers. Labor does not recognise that there is the perception in the business community that unfair dismissal legislation impacts on the employment intentions of business.

What did the Labor opposition do to encourage employment opportunities and stability? It did nothing—not one thing. In fact, it opposes every attempt to generate employment stability. The inference of the member for Bass on the Prime Minister's approach to assistance for distressed employees is absolutely obscene and it should be condemned. It is worth noting that the retail sector has been performing very strongly since the introduction of the GST, with retail turnover increasing. Employment in the retail sector has increased by over 60,000 in the 12 months to August 2001. What of the government's first home buyers grant of $7,000 and the subsequent $14,000 first home buyers grant for those who are building or buying a new home? What does the opposition think that the first home buyers grant does for employment? It has generated huge employment opportunities in the building industry, which is absolutely booming under this government's initiative. Where would we be in the current world crisis without this government's sound financial management, with the repayment of $60 billion of Labor's debt and the lifting of taxes off exports, which have created and sustained jobs across the nation?

Waterfront reforms have established and sustained employment not only in my electorate but also in electorates right across this nation, including Labor electorates. Small business incentives have cemented employment. Long-term unemployment has fallen by 46,600 since this government came to office. This government has delivered to the Australian people sound economic management, solid long-term economic growth and a low inflation and wages growth environment. This government has delivered strong nation-building leadership. It has been willing to take the hard decisions to reform taxation, workplace relations and employment services so that more Australians can access employment now and into the future.

We are currently confronted by a crisis for employees of Ansett and, more significant for the people in the electorate of Riverina, for the employees of Kendell Airlines. I cannot begin to thank the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. John Anderson, for his tireless work in his attempts to secure the employment of the people I represent and, more importantly, the people I feel part of and am part of. Around 200 employees in Wagga Wagga are depending on the Minister for Transport and Regional Services to show heartfelt empathy with their position and to continue to pursue the administrator of this private enterprise company to use all its powers to get our people back into their jobs.

I do not appreciate the political muckraking and opportunism that the opposition has demonstrated by trying to capitalise on this issue and position Labor in the impending election at the expense of the great employees of Ansett Australia. Instead of standing up here and blaming the government, one should stand up here and be proud of this government's efforts to ensure that those people are back in the air and flying and back on the ground and working in maintenance terminals, baggage handling and reservations. Accolades should be flying for the amount of effort that this government has put into ensuring the continuing ongoing employment of great Australian people.

Strong leadership will create and sustain employment in Australia, not flip-flopping all over the place as we have seen here today; not discussing what a plane ticket was worth before this tragic event and what it is worth after it—and, unbelievably, not recognising that that is why these things happen in industry. The lack of understanding of business on the opposition side of the House absolutely staggers me. The Leader of the Opposition flip-flops on these issues. It is strong leadership that is being provided.

Mr Slipper —He flip-flops on everything.

Mrs HULL —He does, on everything. I have heard some of his comments of late. He said that the government could keep Ansett operational for $200 million, but—wait for it!—after Ansett's $2 billion debt is removed. Exactly who is going to remove the $2 billion debt? Does the Leader of the Opposition have the capacity to explain to us who is going to remove the $2 billion debt that currently surrounds Ansett so that we can go forward with a $200 million rescue package? Let us get on with it, Leader of the Opposition. I heard another comment: `We should pay the entitlements of staff out of the sale of Sydney airport.' But—wait for it—in the same interview he said we should not sell Sydney airport yet; we should postpone the sale because this event will bring less money into the sale.

In this discussion of a matter of public importance, it must be recognised that this government is strong in leadership and in determination. This government provides a future for all Australians. This government has provided a future for the people in Labor electorates and it has provided a future for people in coalition electorates. Without fear or favour and without any ado, this government has provided for all people of Australia. We should be thankful for the sound economic management, the continuing perseverance of this government, and for somebody who has the leadership, the heart and the soul, and who can demonstrate to the people that they are leaders— (Time expired)

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The discussion has concluded.