Thursday, 16 August 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Prime Minister and follows the inability of the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations to answer my earlier questions. I refer to the Prime Minister’s statement of 4 May that those administering the misnamed fairness test for AWAs under his Work Choices laws will ‘apply a bit of Australian common sense and people experienced in this area can make a judgement as to whether fair compensation has been given’. Given that the temps dealing with the test have only six days training and are not experienced, and in some cases they are not even Australian, does the Prime Minister stand by this statement?
I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for reminding me of my having said in May of this year that we ought to apply a bit of Australian common sense. Let me apply a bit of Australian common sense and say that the question of whether somebody is applying Australian values or making a contribution to this country does not depend upon their place of birth. As somebody who represents an electorate where something like 35 per cent or more of people were born outside this country, I find the question quite offensive. Speaking on behalf of my constituents, let me say that I find any attempt to divide people according to where they were born quite offensive.
Opposition members interjecting—
I know the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is trying to appeal to the fact that we have these terrible foreigners here. That is what she is getting at—it really is—and I do not really think that should come into it.
Moving on from the application of Australian common sense to which I referred a moment ago, if you have a proposition which says that you cannot lose your penalty rates or your overtime unless you receive compensation in return for it, that sounds like a lot of Australian common sense to me. It is Australian common sense that you would normally measure that compensation in monetary terms, but if the substitute for monetary terms is adequate, clear and visible you may in fact accept that in return. You may accept enhanced childcare facilities. You may accept particularly flexible working arrangements, depending upon the circumstances of the individual. I think these are common sense principles. They are principles that are understood by Australians.
The real contribution that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has made to the industrial relations debate in Australia is not any one of the questions she has asked me or any of the questions she has asked the minister but the interview she gave on Radio National this morning, when she reminded the small business community of Australia—those 1.9 million men and women in this country who are small business entrepreneurs—that if Labor wins the next election those old unfair dismissal laws will be back. They will be back without any conditions. They will be back in a way that will discourage small business from taking on more staff.
We have seen a spectacular fall in unemployment. We have had a 29 per cent fall in the level of the long-term unemployed in this country over the last year. A major contribution to that has been the removal of Labor’s old unfair dismissal laws. What has happened is that small businesses have said, ‘Okay, I can now take on four or five new people and if one of them doesn’t work out I can let that person go without facing a lawsuit and being told by some commission or bureaucrat to pay that person $30,000 or $40,000 a year to go away.’ That is what used to happen before and that is what the member for Lalor wants to bring back.