Thursday, 30 March 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Can the minister confirm that nearly four million Australian workers can now be sacked unfairly for any reason or for no reason at all and will not be able to do anything about it? Isn’t it also the case that all Australian workers—not just those in businesses with fewer than 100 employees—will lose their unfair dismissal protection if they are dismissed for so-called operational reasons? Can the minister confirm that if an employee loses their job for so-called operational reasons they may not be entitled to a redundancy payment? Doesn’t this show that the government has torn up the job security and protections of all Australian workers?
Very briefly, in relation to job security for our fellow Australians, can I just remind the honourable senator that when her government had control over the levers of the economy over one million of our fellow Australians were on the social scrapheap of unemployment. Today, from a high of over 10 per cent, we have halved that figure. The Australians who have benefited from our policies fully understand that the reason they have a job and job security today is because of our policies.
In relation to the specifics of the matter raised by the honourable senator, can I just remind her that every week 40,000 people change their jobs in this country; 12,000 of them do so on an involuntary basis. That was the way it was under the regime that Mr Beazley embraced. When the Australian Labor Party and the ACTU trot out the odd example—as they have done and will continue to do—of people being dismissed, it is just part and parcel of those 12,000 who were being dismissed in any event on a weekly basis for a whole range of reasons—such as because business was not going well, because people were closing down their businesses or because people were unsatisfactory in the workplace, thus prejudicing not only the workplace but also the other employees’ job security in that workplace. Sometimes these tough decisions have to be made.
In relation to job security, I would invite those opposite to also think and talk about jobs growth. There is no doubt, from survey after survey and study after study, that if we got rid of these unfair dismissal laws we would see a growth in employment. That is most welcomed by those who still want to enter the workforce and are unable to do so—or were unable to do so because of the jobs block of the unfair dismissal laws.
Mr President, I would like to ask a supplementary question. Why does the government believe Australian workers should not be entitled to redundancy pay? Is the minister aware that redundancy pay has been a general entitlement for all Australian workers since 1984? Does the minister know that basic redundancy pay was established to give workers and their families some financial security after losing their job while they looked for other work? Why is the government now taking this basic right away from Australian workers and their families?
As the honourable senator well knows, Work Choices legislated for the first time in a number of areas to in fact protect workers. What I would invite honourable senators and every Australian to do is look at the totality of the Work Choices package. If you look at the totality of the Work Choices package, you will see and understand why it is such a good package. This is the same sort of stunt that the Labor opposition used to do to my good colleague Senator Kemp in relation to the GST. They would try to pick out one little area of the tax reform and then try to blow it up, and try to distract people from the main game. Of course, even the Labor Party have now rolled over on roll-back and accepted GST. They ought to do the same on Work Choices.
My question is to Senator Abetz, the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Has the minister seen comments today which condone workplace sabotage? What is the government’s response to such comments?
Unfortunately, I can confirm to Senator Ferris and the Senate that I am aware of these most concerning comments made this morning—comments that condone the use of workplace sabotage as a method of protest. Let me quote from news.com.au online today:
I worked for a long time in this country in the ‘50s and ‘60s and there was a lot of sabotage that went on in the workplace ... What concerns me is the sort of relationship that’s now been established in the workplace is going to encourage that sabotage to take place again. I don’t mean in a serious sense, but little things, like a screw being left out ... I don’t advocate it, I just accept reality.
‘I don’t advocate it; I just accept reality,’ said Senator George Campbell today. No amount of weasel words from those opposite can change the clear import of those words. With a wink wink, nudge nudge, Senator George Campbell is accepting workplace sabotage. Need I point out to honourable senators opposite the serious consequences of such action? We are talking about action that potentially puts somebody’s life at risk by deliberately leaving a screw out of an item, and those opposite think it is a matter of hilarity. Mr President, you have really got to ask and wonder where the screw has been left out—and I think we know where it has been.
Free speech and the right to protest against laws you do not agree with is a fundamental right in this country. We support it, and we hold it dear. Yes, we do understand that there are some in the community opposed to Work Choices but, unlike Senator George Campbell, the government do not condone potentially deadly lawlessness as a method of protest. We on this side remember too well the violent demonstration in 1996 against our so-called policy before we had even introduced our first budget, Labor and the unions were there demonstrating against our budget, causing tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage all in the name, as Senator Ferris would recall, of allegedly protecting the battlers. The history is that, since that demonstration 10 years ago, those battlers have continued to support the Howard government, because they know who the true friend of the battler is. The true friend of the battler is not somebody who will deliberately leave a screw out of a product with potentially lethal consequences for one of his or her fellow citizens. This foolhardy intervention by Senator George Campbell in this current debate does provide Mr Beazley with yet another opportunity to show some leadership by repudiating the comments of Senator George Campbell and by repudiating industrial sabotage. We will wait to see Mr Beazley’s response.