House debates

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Questions without Notice

Workplace Relations

2:20 pm

Photo of Kim BeazleyKim Beazley (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the exchange last night on the ABC’s Lateline program when the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, in response to the question, ‘But, if you don’t like them, if you find them abrasive, you can sack them,’ said, ‘That’s right.’ Isn’t this just further confirmation that from yesterday, under your extreme industrial relations changes, Australian employees can be sacked unfairly for any reason or no reason and have no remedy?

Photo of John HowardJohn Howard (Bennelong, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

The answer to that question is no. Let me remind the House and the Leader of the Opposition that, as from the coming into operation of the law, the former unfair dismissal measures—which, I remind the parliament, were only introduced into the law of Australia in 1994 as a result of a deal made secretly between the ACTU and the then Keating government: they do not date back to Magna Carta or to Federation; they were only introduced in 1994—have been repealed in relation to firms that employ fewer than 100 people. We make no bones about that. We have been very up front about that change. It is a change that we believe will remove a disincentive that existed under the former law in relation to smaller firms in particular when taking on new staff.

But can I remind the Leader of the Opposition, given the breadth of his question, that there are matters and grounds on which employment must not be terminated. I think that, in the light of what he has said and what many other people have said, it is worth going through these. It is worth reminding the parliament that you cannot have your employment terminated because of temporary absence from work because of illness or injury. You cannot have your employment terminated by reason of trade union membership or participation in trade union activities. Equally, you cannot have your employment terminated for non-membership of a trade union or for seeking office or acting or having acted in the capacity of a representative of employees, or for filing a complaint or participation in proceedings against an employer on the grounds of race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status or family responsibilities.

I mention that specifically in relation to the quite misleading advertisement run by the ACTU which clearly implies that a mother is being threatened with the sack because she cannot go to work because her child is ill. That is unlawful. It was unlawful under the former law and it is unlawful under the current law. The advertisement by the ACTU is an absolute disgrace. If you really have the interests of working people at heart—every time I see Mr Combet on the television he talks about his concern for working people—you do not demonstrate your concern for working people by scaring them with dishonest advertisements. You represent your concern for working people by arguing legitimately. You cannot be sacked for refusing to negotiate, make, sign, extend, vary or terminate an AWA. You cannot be sacked for absence from work during maternity leave or other parental leave or for temporary absence from work because of the carrying out of a voluntary emergency management activity.

In addition, the government has included an additional protection in section 615 which makes it unlawful for an employer to dismiss or threaten to dismiss an employee for reasonably refusing to work on public holidays. To claim unlawful termination—and I ask the opposition to listen to this carefully—an employee need only make the allegation that he or she was terminated for an unlawful reason—

Photo of Lindsay TannerLindsay Tanner (Melbourne, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Tanner interjecting

Photo of David HawkerDavid Hawker (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Melbourne is warned!

Photo of John HowardJohn Howard (Bennelong, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

and the burden of proof then rests on the employer to disprove the claim. In other words, we have restored balance to these laws, and it is a balance that is going to result in increased job opportunities and great additional benefits and opportunities for Australian small business.