House debates

Thursday, 24 November 2022

Matters of Public Importance

Workplace Relations

3:13 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Bradfield proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government's determination to impose union controls upon small businesses.

I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

Australian small and family businesses are the backbone our economy. Small businesses makes up over 97 per cent of all businesses. They employ over 4.7 million people and 41 per cent of the business workforce, making them, collectively, Australia's biggest employer. The data shows an upward trend in the proportion of women small-business owners and managers over the last 20 years, and an increase in the number of both full-time and part-time women small-business owners and managers. Indeed, as of July 2020, almost 715,000 women were business owners or managers, including 381,000 part-time and almost 334,000 full-time.

On this side of the House, we are consistent friends and supporters of small business. We don't just say it; we back it. In government, we reduced small business taxes, we introduced tax concessions to help small businesses generate investment, we backed small businesses to get through the pandemic and we helped small businesses as they recovered.

By contrast—and the contrast could not be more stark—the Labor government, the Albanese government, is taking a sledgehammer to small business. We are seeing the biggest changes proposed to industrial relations law in decades. This government of union officials now at the second stage of their career, this government is recklessly imposing union control and inviting—indeed, encouraging—militant union officials to come into the offices and premises of hardworking Australians, small and family businesses, all across the country. How are they doing that? They are doing it through damaging, union-driven imposts on businesses, such as imposing compulsory multi-employer bargaining enabling businesses to be covered under bargaining without their consent; by giving unions new powers, including forcing an employer to bargain for a replacement agreement, even if the employer and the majority of its employees do not wish to bargain; and vetoing an agreement reached by an employer and the majority of its employees to remove themselves by coverage of an agreement. These are powers this bill gives to the unions, the Labor government's paymasters.

A consequence of this bill that is extraordinarily troubling for small businesses all around Australia is that this bill, should it pass into law, will require small business owners—and let's remember, they almost always work in the business themselves—to spend substantial amounts of time away from their work, away from serving customers so that they can negotiate a joint bargaining position with other employers—many of which will have fundamentally different businesses—and then they will need to negotiate with employees and union representatives, who will have significantly more time to dedicate to this process than will those small business proprietors.

At the end of all of that exercise and provision of time and money and effort and stress all taking that small business owner away from dealing with their customers, serving their customers, that small business will be forced into a multi-employer agreement which will undoubtedly take on a one-size-fits-all approach and which will not be relevant to the specific conditions of that business.

I look at my colleagues on this side of the House, many of whom have worked in small businesses for years, have built up small businesses, have provided employment, have served their community, have served their customers. They and the small business people they have worked with around Australia know what a serious threat this bill presents to small business.

This bill introduced by this government is dancing to the tune of their union pay masters, marching and inviting unionists through the doors of small businesses all around this country. This is a not-so-subtle effort by this government to increase trade union membership under the guise of sustainable wage growth. This is a bill which implements a union agenda to increase the powers and the reach of unions, including into small businesses across the country.

What did the Franchise Council of Australia say to the Senate inquiry? It said: 'We would suggest union involvement in small businesses—ultimately it may undermine the sustainability or viability of many small businesses, which undermines the viability of jobs …' That is the consequence of a bill which is going to give unions a foothold in small businesses, as those small businesses are compulsorily roped into a bargaining process they had not asked for, they did not seek, and face the consequence of adverse terms and conditions being imposed upon them.

We have seen a very limited exemption from this government in this bill, with the definition of 'small business' as one being one with fewer than 15 employees. But when you look at the details, if you have a cafe that has a significant number of people, often young people working one shift on a Saturday or Sunday, you can very readily get to 15, because it is not 15 full-time equivalent; it is 15.

We on this side proposed an amendment to deal with this. We proposed an increase to 100 full-time equivalent employees, which was rejected out of hand by the government, and they were quickly on the phone to the ACTU to check out what their instructions were. They were: 'No, we're not having it'—the modern equivalent to the faceless men of the 1960s. That is the way this Albanese Labor government is working. It is implementing the agenda of the union movement for thugs and the criminals in the CFMEU. They are now on the speed dial of ministers in this government.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Manager of Opposition Business! There's a point of order I'm taking from the minister.

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Small Business) Share this | | Hansard source

The shadow minister should withdraw those comments. They're unparliamentary.

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Excuse me, I am listening very carefully to this debate—and you are sailing close, so I'm listening carefully to you.

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm simply making reference to the numerous federal court judges who have made very similar comments about the many members of the CFMEU who appeared before them because they appear to regard that as simply a part of their professional duties. The insistence of the Albanese Labor government and the union movement on having a broad range of employers bargain together is particularly troubling for small and medium businesses. It is no surprise that small business representatives have lined up to express their very grave concern. National employer associations, including the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, are very clear in saying that the expansion of multi-employer bargaining, and the provision in this bill, 'fails to articulate clear parameters around where multi-employer bargaining would be available in either the supported bargaining or single-interest streams; and undermines the system of enterprise bargaining that has delivered many significant benefits to Australia over several decades'.

When the Minister for Small Business was asked in question time today about whether it was the case that small businesses that found themselves in a shopping centre together with a large business, such as one of the large supermarkets, would be captured by the common interest test in the legislation, which specifically talks about a shared, a common, geographical location, she asserted that they would not, which flies in the face of everything that has been said about these provisions at every stage of this process. This bill has been rushed. The whole process has been highly unsatisfactory.

What the government has admitted in the regulatory impact statement is that a typical small-to-medium business could face charges of between $14,000 and $75,000. Now, it could indeed be more than that because the source for this estimate is the author of an article on a website called, Benjamin J Harvey, described on his website as 'a cross between business strategist, modern-day spiritual healer and self-development expert'. It says:

… Benjamin J Harvey is as comfortable working with Shamans to Strategists, Psychics to Sales Reps, Healers to Home Makers, Buddhists to Businessmen and Meditators to Mediators.

This is the rigor with which this government prepared these cost estimates. They've done a bit of googling. They've come up with a man who describes himself as a 'modern-day spiritual healer', and they've said, 'Right, we'll whack that number in.' Why have they done that? Because they don't really give a rat's. They really do not care how much small business is going to have to pay. They're not troubled about it at all.

The reality is that small businesses around this country face very significant costs and very significant burdens of time and of distraction. They are being taken away from what is their passion, which is serving their customers. They're being taken away from their passion, which is providing stable and secure employment for their employees who have often been with them for decades and are regarded as family members. This is an extremely disappointing expansion of union power into small businesses across Australia.

3:23 pm

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Small Business) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I say, after that speaker, what a load of rubbish his speech was—absolute rubbish. We are concerned about small businesses. We are concerned that small businesses have had a tough time coming out of the global pandemic and dealing with natural disasters. We are concerned that they're having to deal with rising energy costs. We are concerned that they are dealing with inflation and supply chain issues, as well as the staff shortages that I talked about earlier. We are concerned, and that is why we're supporting them. That is why we are making sure that small businesses are getting the support they need—because we know that, when small businesses are doing well, the Australian economy is doing well and the Australian people are doing well. We've taken action to deliver support for small businesses to become more resilient and more competitive, and we're doing it in many ways and we're delivering on many of our election commitments as we do so. We've updated the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, which will mean small businesses get a bigger slice of the $70 billion in contracts—

Ms Bell interjecting

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Moncrieff will be dealt with.

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Small Business) Share this | | Hansard source

that the Australian government spends every year with a 20 per cent target. It's something that those opposite failed to do during their nine years in government.

We've also passed legislation to make unfair contract terms illegal, so small businesses can negotiate fairer agreements with big businesses. Again, it was something those opposite talked about for years but did not deliver on in the entire time that they were in office. They were in office nine years and they didn't deliver on it.

As part of the budget, we also committed to provide $15 million for small business owners across Australia to access free mental health and financial counselling support. And, as I said today, there's the Small Business Debt Helpline support money that was in the budget. That is a program that those opposite, in their budget earlier in the year, had ending on 31 December, but we made sure that those businesses are getting the support they need in tough times. That is what we are doing.

We know how important these programs are for small businesses. I spoke to a small business owner in my electorate, Claire. She told me how important it was. She told me about how difficult it was for her when her pharmacy flooded. She told me how important that type of critical support can be when you are waiting for supply chains and having to deal with trying to get your business back up off the ground. She is a pharmacist. At that particular time she was doing mass immunisations to try and support the local community. She had to close her pharmacy. She made sure that those immunisations that were scheduled did take place.

We make sure that the programs that are required are there. That's why we are also delivering $62.6 million in energy efficient grants to eligible small and medium businesses to help with rising costs. We know that they need some support in terms of adapting and getting more energy efficient appliances and systems into their small businesses.

This week, we introduced bills into the House to implement the Skills and Training Boost and the Technology Investment Boost. These are incentives that will help small businesses to train and upskill their employees and improve their digital capacity. These are worth more than $1.5 billion. The measures are backdated to 29 March to make sure small business owners receive the full benefits.

I will also be meeting with state and territory business ministers next month—again, another thing that those opposite failed to do for almost a decade. You would've thought it would make sense to get the state ministers in the room with the federal ministers to talk about how we work together to remove some of that burden on small businesses, but, no, they couldn't do that.

As I said, we do know that small businesses have been doing it tough. We also have new funding for measures already put in place by our government, including $18.6 million to help small businesses adapt and build resilience through digital technology. They sit alongside our other wider agenda that will benefit small businesses. For instance, small businesses, as I said today, will benefit from our increase in skilled migration to assist with staff shortages. We will provide a one-off income credit to older Australians to give them the opportunity to work and keep more of their money, immediately boosting the number of jobseekers. Again, small businesses will be able to benefit from this. We will accelerate the delivery of 465,000 additional fee-free TAFE places with 180,000 to be delivered in 2023. This will help get more skilled workers into the job market more quickly.

Of course, our cheaper child care and our expanded paid parental leave will mean that it will be easier for families. It will also increase workforce participation, meaning that more people will be able to work in small businesses to help with the staff shortages that they are experiencing.

Yes, we are making changes to industrial relations. It is a system that the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia has described as 'inaccessible' and 'intimidating' for small businesses. We are making these changes because we believe in modernising the workplace bargaining system and in getting wages moving. We are doing it because we know that small businesses will benefit from the productivity gains of negotiating directly with their employees. Everybody wins in that situation.

We have put in safeguards. We have an exemption in there for more than two million small businesses—those with 15 or fewer employees—to make sure that we are not putting an additional burden on very small businesses. And, of course, we've had an inquiry into that legislation. The Senate committee has made eight recommendations, and one of those is for us to look at increasing that threshold from 15 to 20; we have said we will look at that and continue negotiating and talking. We have had a lot of discussion with small businesses, workers in small businesses and peak organisations about this bill.

Yesterday we had the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who also happens to be the shadow minister for women, say the whole bill is terrible—the entire thing! We need to remind those opposite, as the Prime Minister did today, that it's designed to help close the gender pay gap. You would have thought those opposite learned something, with all these teals over here! You've got the shadow minister for women saying it's terrible. You would have thought she'd want to ensure the work of women no longer remains undervalued, underpaid and insecure, because that's what the bill fixes. It also has pay equity provisions for the Fair Work Act to strengthen access to flexible work arrangements, again benefiting those workers that have caring responsibilities—many of them women; they are predominantly women.

Importantly, the bill will implement recommendation 28 of the Respect@Work report, aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. For the shadow minister for women to go out and say the whole bill is terrible, when it contains implementing that recommendation, says a lot about what is happening on the other side of the House. Our bill will send a clear message to every worker in every workplace that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. I would've thought it's something those opposite would have supported, but apparently not. According to their deputy leader, the whole bill is terrible. There are changes I would've wanted to see when I was working in my first full-time job, in a small business. We want to make workplaces safer for women. I remember my first experience, and, can I say, it's about time modern workplaces caught up. That's all I want to say about it in this place, but I remember it. It's a pity the shadow minister over there thinks these provisions are just terrible.

We've heard a lot of noise from those opposite this week—there's been a wall of noise coming over every day. If only they'd used that energy when they were in government to deliver more for small businesses. If only they had actually done what they said they would do. But, no, it took our government to do things like legislate unfair-contract terms. It took our government to increase support for critical programs that provide mental health support and for the debt hotline for small businesses. It took our government to add to the Commonwealth Procurement Rules so that small businesses get a better share. Many of these things weren't delivered by those opposite because, of course, we know they were far too busy with a whole range of other things. But we know small businesses are at the heart of communities. We support them, and we are going to continue to provide support for small businesses. We want to make sure every small business in every community right across Australia continues to prosper. We are going to make sure that every decision we make has small businesses at the heart of it, just like we have the entire six months we've been in government so far. I look forward to delivering for small businesses right across the country.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Moncrieff, I just want to advise how disorderly it is to make an interjection when you are leaving the House, as you just did. I would like to give you the call and an opportunity to respond.

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw the comment.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much. I appreciate it; it assists the House greatly.

3:33 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad my good friends the member for Macquarie and the member for Richmond are in the chamber, because when I was the small-business minister I visited the member for Macquarie's seat and the member for Richmond's seat, conducting small-business round tables. They were very productive. Indeed, there were other Labor members too: the member for Braddon, when the seat was held by Labor; the member for McEwen; the member for Batman, when the seat was called Batman; the member for Lindsay; and there were many, many others.

Government Member:

A government member interjecting

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I would've! I would've visited others, too, but you weren't in the parliament at that time. I made sure that all of the seats that I represented, the businesses that we represent in this place, that others represent in this place, could use me as a conduit to what needed to happen for small business.

The small business minister currently asks what we did in 10 years for small business. Well, I'll give her a hint: it's about tax relief. It's about lowering the tax rate to the lowest point since around World War II. It dropped to 27½ per cent and is now 25 per cent, the lowest rate for small business. Do you know what that enables small-business people to do? It enables them to—

Thank you—I heard 'workers'. It means they can employ more workers. Isn't that fantastic? They can employ more workers. They can give more people the opportunity.

Those opposite talk a big game when they talk about small business. Sometimes the definition of a 'small business' was a large business when a coalition government was in government, and now that's been turned into a small business under those opposite. They've never seen a small business they wouldn't want to run a picket line out the front of. They've never seen a small business they wouldn't want to tax more. That's what we stand for: lower taxes. That is why the small business tax rate is the lowest it's been for more than three-quarters of a century, because of the policies of the coalition government, because of how we operate when we're in government.

I come to this debate with a bit of experience and knowledge, because I've run a small business, like the member for New England, and the members behind me. The member for Forrest ran a dairy farm for many years with her husband. This is what the small business community is all about. It's about having the experience of people who've taken that risk, put their life savings on the line, mortgaged their house and put themselves into debt up to their eyeballs and worked day and night to make that small business succeed and to get that small bit of advantage so they can employ more people. When a small-business person gets a little bit of tax relief, they don't put it in their own pockets, they don't take the holiday they deserve or want. They employ more people; they reinvest it in their small business. But those opposite wouldn't understand that, because most of them have never run a small business. Yes, they've worked for an ALP member. Yes, they've worked for a union. In the main, they are union apparatchiks when they come to this place, but we come from a business background.

Government members interjecting

Well, I appreciate that there are probably one or two aberrations but, in the main, most of them are union apparatchiks.

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention) Share this | | Hansard source

Tell us more. Tell us more.

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

I've been a union member for 21 years, so you can wave your arms is all you like. I've been a member. I bet you there are not many members opposite who've been in a union for longer than two decades, are there? No. I have. I've been a member of a union for more than two decades. You might laugh, but I have, so I understand there is a balance. But the balance doesn't mean that we get unions running the show. The balance doesn't mean that we get unions, as in the industrial relations legislation, running small businesses into the ground. But don't just take my word for it. Andrew Mackellar, of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the revelations from the hearing into the IR laws confirmed what we've known all along, that 'this bill has been rushed and is, at best, half baked'. I think he's probably underselling it! It has been rushed. It has been half-baked.

There are many others. We saw the NFF warn that the government's IR changes will lead to increased industrial action in the agriculture sector, which could cripple supply chains and lead to food shortages. We don't need that. We're already under enough pressure. Communities and families and businesses are already under enough pressure without the warnings that are coming loud and clear but that those opposite chose not to heed.

3:38 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

Two big things happened in 1987. The first was that Western Australian, in Fremantle, hosted the America's Cup. That was a wonderful thing for Western Australia and this whole nation. The second thing that happened in 1987 was that Labor appointed a minister for small business. It didn't happen under the great hero Menzies. It didn't happen under Fraser. It didn't happen under Treasurer Howard. It was Labor that appointed the first minister for small business, because we have been an ongoing supporter of small business across this country, and we've acted time and time again. And then we get to the great lie of the Liberal Party. I'm not talking about the great lie of 'back in black' but the other great lie: that side say that they always back small business.

Well, let's look at what the so-called friends of small business actually do when they're in government. Firstly, they lie to small business about who is actually the Treasurer of the nation. They give small business secret ministries—secret ministries in resources. They leave small businesses of Australia, who pay tax, with $1 trillion of debt to pay back. Let's look at what they do for small businesses in the car industry. When they were last in office they closed the car industry, closing down small businesses who are reliant on the car industry. Then think about our small businesses who have to trade with our Pacific neighbours. That side chose to elect a leader who jokes about the Pacific Islands drowning. The list goes on. You won't be surprised. When it comes to people who are in small business who need to put their children into child care, they have to pay 41 per cent more because of the incompetence of the other side. When it comes to wasting money and restricting the way people can actually spend their money, they forced thousands of people onto cashless welfare, meaning that these people couldn't spend their money in small businesses—wasted $170 million.

But the waste goes on. For small business, many of them digital in this day and age—not the fax-machine side over there but those digital businesses we're trying to build—what sort of an NBN did they get from those opposite? They got tens of thousands of miles of copper, $128 billion wasted on the NBN—small businesses waiting to get more workers, a million people on the visa backlog, and small businesses with a secret 20 per cent energy price increase. And they changed the law to keep it secret until after the election. They wasted $100 million on sports rorts, shifting money from small businesses that could have been building sports infrastructure to marginal Liberal seats on colour coded spreadsheets. They wasted $20 billion on JobKeeper. And then when it came to the choice, when they were faced with the choice in Western Australia—do they back Western Australian small businesses or do they back Clive Palmer?—who did they choose? They chose Clive Palmer! Then, after they gave up on supporting Clive Palmer, what did they choose to do? They chose to write a million-dollar cheque—again, not a million-dollar cheque to the small businesses of Western Australia, no, but a million-dollar cheque to Clive Palmer to pay Clive Palmer's legal bills. But I shouldn't be that surprised. This is the same WA Liberal Party who tried to privatise Western Power, sending up power bills.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order from the member for New England?

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I think it's one on relevance and one on misleading the House. There was no cheque written by the coalition to Clive Palmer.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not believe that the issue of relevance is a matter here. And I'm not sure of the detail—whether cheques where or were not exchanged. But I am happy to ask the assistant minister if he needs to withdraw the word 'cheque' in that conversation.

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm always happy to take a lecture from the member for New England on accuracy and relevance. In this case I will say that however the money was passed to Clive Palmer to cover his legal bills from the Australian government, when it was led by those opposite, they did it and that was money they could have given to small businesses and instead chose to pay Clive Palmer's legal bills. I'll leave it there, even though I lost some time. (Time expired)

3:43 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Like my colleagues on this side of the House, I am genuinely and personally concerned for the thousands of small businesses that will be affected by Labor's industrial relations laws. We are genuinely concerned. They are our heart and soul. It's absolutely clear to us on the side that the Albanese Labor government will hit those same small businesses hard. They will be dragged into this by the sheer scale and scope of these laws—the impacts on small businesses and those small manufacturers.

I will tell you what concerned me today, and the two members involved are in this House right now. We heard from the minister himself that farmers are the key targets. We heard in a response to a question today in question time that farmers are a key target of the industrial relations laws. If we look at our agricultural sector, whether it is the dairy sector, cattle or feedlots, horticulture and viticultures, who provides the food, the fibre and who feeds 60 million people around the world, as well as what we do here in Australia—25 million here and 60 million in total? We heard today that these producers are the targets for Labor's industrial relations laws.

Many of those same businesses, I recall, are the same ones who started farming at the same time that my husband and I bought our first property on the day we got married. In those days, interest rates went from 17 to 23 per cent and it was tough going. These are the same businesses that Labor is now targeting, so I am very seriously concerned for those businesses, including those who are focused day in and day out on their bottom line. That is what they do and, often, those small-business owners can't afford to take a wage themselves. They pay the people who work for them first, they value those people and they have a really great relationship with those same people. These are often small mum-and-dad business owners working their hearts out. Rural, regional and remote businesses, really diverse, could be swept up in this, no matter where they are in Australia.

A part of what we hear from the other side is that the bill does provide the unions an open door into those small businesses for the first time. So those businesses will be roped into a bargaining process that they don't want to have. They may have terms and conditions forced on them, whether or not they can afford it. That's the harsh reality: whether or not they can afford it. Jennifer Westacott has said that compliance costs for small- and medium-sized businesses are set to explode. So how do you go when you're looking at your bottom line and this is what you're facing?

The Albanese Labor government's own regional impact statement has said that this will cost small businesses $14,600 in bargaining costs, including consultancy fees. Well, they actually don't have their own HR department, so, yes, they are going to have to pay.

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order, there is no such document attached to this bill called 'A Regional Impact Statement' that the member just referred to.

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I will correct that. The Regulation Impact Statement, the RIS, is what I'm referring to. The costs, though, haven't changed, Member opposite. For a medium-sized business, the cost could be more than $75,000. So businesses out there, the small- to medium-sized businesses, but small ones in particular, really, will be affected by this. They will be forced to pay more anyway because, even if they happen to fall below that threshold, the same sector is being forced to pay more. How do they attract workers when the businesses around them, maybe in the same town, have to pay more for the same workforce? That is what is going it happen if they have 20 electricians. If there is a business in the same town employing two people, how will they attract those same workers and keep them when someone around them has been forced to pay more than they can afford to pay? This is the harsh reality of what is going to happen through the changes that we see. Whether someone is an electrician, or owns a restaurant or a cafe, that's what is ahead. It ignores the great complexities and differences as well between a business in the same field that is in perhaps a small town like Nannup or Augusta and one that is in a major centre or a major city. The relationship between businesses and their employees that will be affected concerns me.

3:49 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I listen to this debate as a small business owner, as someone who, for 25 years, ran my own business. What's more, I'm one of those people who grew up in small business, in a mum-and-dad small business that those opposite so often like to talk about. But what they are saying and what they are doing is simply raising fear amongst businesses, which is the last thing those businesses deserve right now. We know that they are coping with increased costs, like everybody is. They know their workers are coping with increased costs of living. We all recognise it. It's no time to sit there and say, 'Let's do nothing.' That's what those opposite did for nearly a decade. They said: 'Let's just not do anything. Let's just kind of see what happens. Let's just make sure that big businesses continue to roll in big profits by not paying their workers what is so justly deserved. Let's just kind of ignore small business and keep telling them that we're their friends.' Small business, quite frankly, is so busy, they don't have time really to listen to anyone saying anything. What they do is they live their businesses. I think it's really underhand of those opposite. They should be ashamed of their fear-mongering. I recognise they are scrabbling for relevance, but, please, do not use small business to try to score some sort of political point.

We know, on this side, that businesses have dealt with a lot for nearly the last decade. In my electorate, they've dealt with fire, the biggest fire from a single ignition point that the world has ever seen. Businesses suffered, not because they caught on fire, not because they burnt, but because smoke kept the customers away. We then faced floods. Flood after flood after flood. Some people call it six floods, but, in essence, we've had three natural disasters declared for our flooding. So, in 2½ years, that's four natural disasters.

You can bet that small businesses are not saying, 'Hey, these are the best days of our lives!' I'm someone who grew up in business, someone who ran a business for 25 years. I admit I didn't get close to the threshold that those opposite often want to ascribe to small business, which is $50 million turnover a year. I didn't quite get to that! I got to a few million dollars turnover a year, but I didn't make it to 50! I employed women who then went on to set up their own businesses, and I supported them and helped them to build their own businesses. There are incredible small businesses out there now who have been able, once I moved out of it, to take over where I left off. These are the people that those opposite are scarring. It is completely unnecessary.

We've heard today that one of the biggest letdowns for small business was the decision that those opposite made on NBN to turn it from something that was going to provide universal access to fibre for nearly everyone and nearly every small business into this hodgepodge. Personally, for my business, that totally took away the possibility of growing the way I had hoped to from my base in the Blue Mountains. I've had offices in the Sydney CBD in King Street and in the Sydney CBD sector for many, many, many years, but I thought, 'Okay, this is going to allow my business to have the power of being in the city, but with the ability to work from a peri-urban area.' Quite frankly, had I still been in business, those opposite would have taken away that opportunity from me, because of their appalling rollout of NBN.

Those opposite talk about us on this side, with some sort of thinking that we don't speak to small businesses, and we have never been small businesses. You are completely uninformed. Mr Deputy Speaker, their understanding of those of us who represent our communities here is completely uninformed.

We know that COSBOA has said the system is too complex. The major problem we have in IR is complexity. What we want to do is give small business access to the things that big business already has access to. We want to make their lives easier. We want to give them the power to determine their future.

3:54 pm

Keith Wolahan (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I often get asked at schools, by friends, by family and even by members opposite, when we've chatted, 'Why did you join the Liberal Party?' It is a question I enjoy answering, because, like most of us—

Tania Lawrence (Hasluck, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Why did you?

Keith Wolahan (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, I'm going to tell you the answer! The first reason I joined the Liberal Party was small business. My father ran a small business that did well and then was driven into the ground by policies enforced by a Labor government. I've seen what Labor does to small businesses firsthand. We saw what it did to families, particularly in my state of Victoria. Victoria was devastated in the 1990s.

When I spoke during the second reading debate for the IR bill earlier this month, I went to a fable. Sometimes fables are quite instructive. I spoke about the scorpion and the frog. How the scorpion, wanting to cross the river, thought they would do a bargain with the frog. The frog, not trusting the scorpion, said: 'Why would I give you a lift? You'll sting me and kill us both halfway across the river.' But the clever scorpion asked: 'Why would I do that? We would both die and that wouldn't make any sense.' Accepting that logic, the frog said, 'Jump on board and let's go.' Halfway across, the scorpion stings and they both sink and they both die. As he's dying, the frog said, 'Why did you do that?' And the scorpion said: 'I can't help myself. It's in my nature.' And I made the point to the Labor Party, when it comes to attacking small business, that this is in your nature; you cannot help yourselves.

But I didn't get the fable quite right because there's another way to tell it, there's a better way to tell it. It wasn't a frog. There's another fable where an elephant is crossing the river and it also gets asked for a lift by a scorpion. The elephant asks the same question as the frog: 'Why would I trust you? You will sting me and we will both die and we will both be doomed.' Again the scorpion says: 'Of course I won't do that. That doesn't make any sense.' The elephant agrees and the scorpion jumps on board. He moves from the back to the trunk because the elephant's quite heavy and sinks in the water. At the tip of the trunk, halfway across, the elephant flicks the scorpion off. And the scorpion says, 'Why did you do that?' And the elephant says, 'Because I heard about you and the frog.'

We remember what the Labor Party do to small business, and small business won't forget. It doesn't matter how far back you have to go; we will judge you on what you do, not what you say. Small business are ready to give you the flick, and you have given them every reason to do that. And just like the scorpion, they won't trust you not to act on your instincts, not to act on your nature.

The member for Perth spoke about the 1980s. We all know of lots of cultural icons of the 1980s. And while members opposite might like to say they've got experience in small business, and maybe even channel Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan, we're not talking about the 1980s. We're talking about those opposite taking us back to 1970s. It's not Thatcher or Ronald Reagan; it's Ron Burgundy. That's where you want to take this country: to big cars, big flares, big unions and big inflation. That's the country you want to see. It's not a progressive, modern country that's flexible and looking to the future, interested in science and data; it is an old country, decades old, and we can do so much better than that.

In this IR act, the unions want to introduce bargaining fees for union members when negotiating enterprise agreements. They even call workers who aren't union members 'free riders'—'free riders' despite the fact that union membership is now less than 10 per cent of the private sector workforce. So at a time when unions are less than 10 per cent of the private sector workforce, we're seeing a case where they're putting pressure on the Albanese government to legislate their relevance, and that is what is happening here. But don't just trust me, trust so many others who are critical of this bill, including the Reserve Bank governor who earlier this week said, 'We need, at this time more than ever, to put flexibility back into our workplace agreements.' So if you don't want to listen to us, please listen to the Reserve Bank governor because he knows something about managing inflation in this country.

I'm more than happy to do that! I conclude with this: instead of focusing on delivering cost-of-living relief to Australians before Christmas, the government is only focused on giving unions— (Time expired)

3:59 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me give a bit of a lecture to the previous speaker. During Senate estimates on 29 May 2006, when right-wing rubbish was rampant under John Howard and Peter Costello, the head of the Office of the Employment Advocate detailed that in a sample of four per cent, or 250, of the 6,263 Australian workplace agreements lodged during April 2006—after Work Choices was introduced—100 per cent removed at least one protected award condition. Sixty-four per cent removed annual leave loading, 63 per cent stripped out penalty rates, 52 per cent cut shift loadings, 40 per cent dropped gazetted public holidays, and 16 per cent slashed award conditions. That's what happened when it was a free-for-all under the coalition. That's their tory commitment to the market.

Don't give us lectures here, saying you're going to increase wages and it might have happened in the 10th year of that government under Abbott and Turnbull and the member for Cook. Don't give us lectures about that, because, if you ever get control of the Senate and get a chance to bring in Work Choices, you'll do it again. Those are the facts. That's your unlimited, unbridled Adam Smith type market. So don't give us and the workers of this country lectures, because this is an opposition that, when it was in government, brought in the Australian Building and Construction Commission to prosecute and persecute workers and workplaces and to drive down wages, as the former finance minister said. It was their design feature. They're about keeping wages low. Wages as a percentage of GDP have never been lower than they are now. We need to improve wages outcomes for workers. Those opposite are like Chicken Little. Honestly! Seriously! From the ridiculous, nonsensical rubbish attitudes we've seen, you'd think that somehow Vladimir Lenin sits over this side. That's the way they go on. Some of the statements the member for Longman has made about communism and socialism are just rubbish.

I'll tell you what we did. We supported people in the aged-care sector. We put in a submission to the Fair Work Commission to actually make sure that people who worked in the feminised industries, including low-paid workers in aged care, got a pay rise—a 15 per cent increase. I'll tell you what those opposite did when they sat over here: $1.2 million taken out of workforce supplements—a wage cut, effectively, for those in the aged-care sector. So Labor governments support wage increases. Those opposite mouth platitudes. It's simply rubbish the way they go on about it. They mouth platitudes: somehow the market will magically and mysteriously lift it up. They've had nine years in government to increase wages. There wasn't a MYEFO or a budget where the subsequent wages outcome was at least level with or better than in the Treasury papers. Wages were always lower. Those opposite come in here and introduce matters of public importance like this one today, when they've got no answers and had no answers for nine years, except the unbridled market.

I ran a business for 20 years. I built it up from virtually nothing. I had dozens and dozens of workers working with me and for me. I know that small and medium-sized businesses like the one I ran, which I was a shareholder and a director in, work in a cooperative, collegiate way, and they work together many times with their workers' representatives, with the unions who represent those workers. I have to tell you that union members are Australians as well. I've heard those opposite disparage them. They're Australians as well, and they're entitled to be represented by the people they choose. We live in a democracy. We believe in democracy here. How about democracy also in the workplace, where people have a right to decide how they bargain and deal with their employers? There are plenty of people on this side of the chamber who have been employers and have dealt with unions and with employees in the workplace to get good outcomes.

This matter of public importance is simply an opposition looking for relevance, not able to find their feet. We see it in question time every day. If they had answers, during this particular discussion they would have given them. Not one person from those opposite gave us one answer except the unbridled market. They failed in government and they've failed in opposition. (Time expired)

4:04 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today was an excellent day. We passed the legislation through this chamber for the National Anti-Corruption Commission. I'm sure the Senate will pass it next week, and that will mean there will be a body to look at corruption and the way in which money is used, potentially, to inappropriately influence our political system. One of the worst examples, which I hope they look at at the first opportunity, is the correlation between union movement financial donations to the Labor Party and decisions that are made, from a policy point of view, in exchange for that financial interference, that financial support.

The bill that has gone through this chamber without my support or the support of the opposition and that will go to the Senate and may or may not pass—and we don't speculate on what could happen up there—is a bill to reform our industrial relations system. It is something that was never, ever spoken about, in its detail, in the recent election campaign. This is such a great reform—that will be so popular and that the people of this country want, apparently—that the fundamentals of it were never campaigned on by the Labor Party in the election six months ago. That's how great this policy is. That's how popular it is. That's how good it is for workers, apparently. That's how good it is for small business. It's so fantastic that the Labor Party didn't talk about it once—not once—in the recent election campaign.

Why would that be? Why would it be that, upon coming into government, upon winning an election, the priority of the new government was to do something that had nothing to do with the election commitments they took to the election in May? Why would that be? Could it have something to do with $100 million of donations from the union movement over the previous decade or so? Could it be the need for the new government to pay the piper, to give the union movement a return on that investment, that $100 million of political donations? If it had any political benefit, if it were a good thing for the people of Australia, you'd proudly campaign on it and you'd take it to the election and you'd say, 'Vote for us, and these are the great things we'll do to the industrial relations system in Australia.' If it were something that you thought the people wanted, you'd take it to an election.

If it were something that you had to do in exchange for tens of millions of dollars of donations from the union movement and that wasn't good for the people of Australia, then, yes, you wouldn't mention it in an election campaign. You wouldn't go to the election and say, 'We're going to change the Fair Work Act and put all these new measures in place.' Instead, you would take the union movement's money and you would say, 'I need this money to win an election, so I'd better take that money from you, and then, when we get in, you'll be very, very happy with the things that we're going to do that will be good for the union movement in the changes that we'll make to the industrial relations system.' You can't campaign on this, and you can't talk about it before the election, because it's not going to be popular. Small businesses will be frightened by these sorts of changes. Economic leaders will be frightened by these sorts of changes, because they're not about the interests of workers and they're not about the interests of businesses; they're about the union movement. They're about propping up a dying concept. ABS statistics recently showed that there was 14.1 per cent union membership amongst the workforce. In the private sector, I think, less than 10 per cent of workers are members of the union movement.

So the union movement need to use the funds they've got and they need to support people into power to dramatically fix this crisis they've got about their very existence. So what you could do to help the union movement is make massive changes to our industrial relations system, to reignite warfare within the workplaces of this nation. In doing so, in the view of the union movement, you will increase their membership and, in doing so, you will dramatically increase industrial disputes in our economy, increase unemployment and cause dramatic economic carnage. All those things are not good for Australia, but they are good for the union movement. And, if they give you $100 million in donations, there has got to be a fair return on that investment.

4:09 pm

Jerome Laxale (Bennelong, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There's a great myth in Australian politics. We on this side of the House know it, the people of Bennelong know it and the people of Australia know it. It is of course the claim by those opposite that the Liberals are better economic managers. What a joke! They've left office with $1 trillion worth of debt and nothing to show for it, yet they claim to be better economic managers. They've wasted billions of dollars—famously, $5 billion on submarines that didn't even buy a canoe—yet they claim to be economic managers. And now we have a second great emerging myth in Australian politics, and that is that those opposite believe they're the party for small business. Those corporate wannabes over there feign that they understand small business, feign outrage about small business and feign that they care about small business. But, as with their attempts to claim that they're better economic managers, the Australian public are seeing straight through them.

Where were they when the small businesses in Bennelong were crying out for help in the early days of the pandemic? Months passed before the former Prime Minister was dragged kicking and screaming to provide a wage subsidy to support small businesses and our economy. Then, when they finally got the message, their design of JobKeeper deliberately left out industries dominated by smaller businesses and sole traders, all while funnelling our money—$20 billion of it—into businesses that had rising revenue. Small businesses were excluded; big businesses were oversubsidised. And they claim to be a party for small businesses. What a joke.

Where were they when small businesses were screaming for staff? Where were their investments in skills and training when businesses were saying there was a skills shortage? Where was their determination to fix our broken immigration system, to process visas for skilled workers? Where was their plan to increase skilled migration numbers once borders opened? There was no plan by the former government to address these issues, and they have no plan now. They are not better economic managers and they are no party for small business. I know this because this is the feedback I've been receiving from small businesses in my electorate and their employees in my 10 years in representative politics. I know this because I've run a small business my entire life—the one that my father started, the one that I grew, the one that's still employing 10 Australians today.

And I know that my dad's business is exempt from the provisions under this bill, as it should be. Labor understands that small businesses need flexibility, which is why two million small businesses will be exempt under the current definition within this legislation. And we know that these provisions are, as are many others, up for negotiation, and I welcome that news.

But back to those opposite, whipping out their tired lines about unionism and Labor being anti business. My electorate knows that those opposite aren't the party for small business. What the government is trying to do with these laws is promote job security, help close the gender pay gap, modernise the workplace bargaining system and get wages moving, and that is exactly what we were elected to do. They know that since our election in May we have provided and will continue to provide small business with the support they need to grow and to navigate the challenges that exist in our economy.

Here's a list of what we've done and what we're doing in just six months: free access to mental health and financial counselling for small business; $4 million for a small business debt helpline; energy efficiency grants to eligible small business; help for small businesses to adapt and build resilience through digital technology; a 20 per cent bonus tax deduction for employees who incur costs training and upskilling their employees; and a bonus tax deduction for small businesses who invest in technology and digital operation—that's a $1 billion investment into small businesses, backdated to 29 March and available until June. They're no economic managers. They're not the party for small business.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has now concluded.