Monday, 11 September 2023
Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023. The Flynn electorate is a large blue-collar electorate consisting of diverse industries such as the mining and resources sector, the agricultural sector, heavy industry and the many small businesses that support these major industries. This proposed bill is incredibly complex and it is an attack on the hardworking family businesses in my electorate. It provides too much uncertainty. It adds additional costs to businesses, especially small businesses. It makes Australians pay more in a cost-of-living crisis. It does nothing to increase productivity. It does nothing to enhance competition. Most worryingly, it risks the jobs of a lot of casual employees. The Albanese Labor government's so-called 'closing loopholes' bill will make life tougher for small businesses by increasing costs, complexity and red tape, and it will likely lead to job losses.
The changes will cost employers up to $9 billion in extra wages over the next decade, according to the government's own estimates. Detailed Department of Employment and Workplace Relations costings tabled recently show the changes would cost employers up to $510 million annually, assuming just 66,446 labour hire employees would be covered by the new Fair Work Commission orders. The department also estimated the cost of minimum pay standards for digital platform workers would be $4 billion over the next decade. The department said small businesses would likely be able to pass on extra costs through higher prices for consumers or third-party businesses.
The Minerals Council claims the $5 billion labour hire estimate is much lower than what actual costs would be for businesses because the economic impact fails to take into account hundreds of thousands of service contractors and workers in related entity businesses captured by this legislation. According to the Queensland Resources Council, in the 2021-22 year, the total economic contribution of the mining and resources sector in my electorate of Flynn produced $17.7 billion of gross regional product. This supports over 50,000 local jobs and produces $9 billion in royalties, which help fund education, roads, health and law and order. We have Australia's largest coal reserves, and 12 operating mines are in the central highlands alone. Mining is the largest employer in the central highlands with a direct workforce exceeding 6,000 people.
According to Master Builders Australia, the Flynn electorate has almost 4,000 small building and construction businesses, the largest number of any electorate across Australia. What will this legislation mean for the people employed in these jobs? Will there be job losses? The Labor government has not explained what will happen. It has no answers. The reality is the changes proposed by this bill are far from 'very modest', as Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations describes them. This is a radical re-ordering of Australian workplace law, and every business organisation in the country has pleaded with the government not to go ahead with it. Minister Burke does not care that the job creators of Australia are telling him that it will be harder to keep people in jobs. This sort of complexity and the costs associated with it will be impossible for small businesses to deal with. This will only add to Australia's cost-of-living crisis.
The government has failed to demonstrate how these new laws will make it easier for businesses to employ people, increase productivity, create higher-skilled workforces or raise the standard of living. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has admitted that the new laws will increase costs for consumers for everyday services that they have come to rely on, right in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. We want all Australians to have safe, higher-wage, sustainable jobs and to be rewarded for their hard work and experience. But the employment minister admitted in his speech at the National Press Club that this bill will add complexity to an already unduly complex system and consumer prices will go up. Our workplace relations system is far too complex. Even his 'closing loopholes' tagline is completely disingenuous. It is about reversing decades of history in which Australia has moved away from centralised wage-fixing pay and conditions that are based on productivity and reward for effort. It is about eroding the choice and flexibility of individuals who want to work in their own time on their own terms. It's about putting significant constraints on businesses and employers wanting to expand, construct new projects and infrastructure or simply manage their operations in a way that suits them best. Millions of Australians are already suffering the crippling cost-of-living crisis, and this is of the government's making.
We are not going to support reforms which will weaken our economy, continue a bad situation and make it worse for Australians and small businesses. Industrial relations reform is without a doubt one of the most important of all economic reforms required to make Australia a more productive and competitive place. The focus of any industrial relations reforms should be to make us more productive and create more jobs. The link with productivity is the key. The more productive we are, the more Australians can be sustainably compensated. Enterprise bargaining should be the cornerstone of our workplace relations system if we are to grow pay packets, improve job security and bolster the flexibility that our employees demand and boost productivity. Australia needs a modern workplace relations system that delivers a safety net for workers, recognises the shared interests of managers and workers in an enterprise success and gives all enterprises the agility they need to compete and succeed. Time is going to cut me off, so I will finish my contribution here and declare that I oppose this bill. It is with grave fear that I say that I think that this legislation will be far, far too complicated for small and medium-sized businesses in my electorate of Flynn.