Thursday, 4 April 2019
Corporations Amendment (Strengthening Protections for Employee Entitlements) Bill 2018; Consideration of Senate Message
I apologise for getting up to speak too early, but I am very keen because of course the amendments that are returned to this House are amendments that have been suggested to the government by the opposition, and I want to thank the government for supporting the amendments. I think they make it a better bill.
I think the intent behind the bill is absolutely right. We need to ensure that we don't have corporations gaming the arrangements for providing protection for workers who are unfortunately victims of corporate collapse or bankruptcy. We do have circumstances where we have had corporations gaming arrangements where they have literally deliberately forced their own company to receivership and then have expected the taxpayers to underwrite all the costs, and I think the government has quite rightly sought to remedy that.
Not all of the amendments that we have suggested to the government have been accepted, but predominantly they have been. We thank the government for that. We thank the minister for that.
The reforms in this bill are sensible and, in some cases, adopt, as I say, announced Labor policy. Labor is pleased to see that this bill has come back to the House with amendments. Labor thanks the government for their cooperation, for example, in moving amendments to give unions standing to represent workers to assist them in obtaining compensation for loss of entitlements.
In fact, on Christmas Eve last year I had the misfortune of having to speak to 200 workers in my electorate who had been sacked by a company that had closed down. Some of those workers are now working for a company that has a family relationship with the company that was closed down. They have not been provided with all their entitlements. That company's under investigation for seeking the FEG to provide the money for these workers. There are some real questions around that. I addressed over 100 workers on Christmas Eve, some of whom had worked for that company for 20 years. They have not received the annual leave that was owed to them. They have not received redundancy. They have had their superannuation ripped off. At the same time, that same company was seeking to have the Commonwealth—this current government—pay for those workers' liabilities.
Rightly, of course, the FEG is there to look after those workers, but we have to ensure that if there are companies that are doing the wrong thing they are brought to account. This bill helps that. The government moved the amendments in the Senate. I thank the government and the minister for that. We didn't agree on all the matters—there was one amendment that the minister and the government chose not to support—but I think the amendments strengthen the bill. This is a good bill. This is the way the parliament should operate. The government has come up with a good idea. We'd hoped to make it better. The government has been gracious enough to support the amendments, which I think strengthen the bill. The intent behind the bill was always good. It's just better now because of the passing of these amendments by the Senate and, hopefully, by this House.
Since my colleague opposite has decided to speak on this, I might just thank him and the opposition for agreeing to the government's bill. It is very important that workers' entitlements are protected. That is what the government is doing. It's quite wrong when the Australian taxpayer is asked to pick up the tab because of a deliberate structural decision made by unscrupulous employers who are seeking to shift their responsibilities to someone else. We will not stand for that. We have noticed that there has been an explosion in claims under the FEG scheme. We will not stand for it. We will not see the Australian taxpayer ripped off and we will not see workers ripped off.
I'd like to thank those opposite for the constructive manner in which they have looked at this bill. Where the amendments of the opposition will do no harm, we will not stand in the way of those amendments. We have made some improvements to the bill, and I thank those opposite for their cooperation in relation to those matters. As a result, we can come together, stand together and say that this is indeed a bill that will improve the lives of many millions of Australians.
Question agreed to.