Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023
8 Sep | '2023
The reality is that the Australian people must understand that the changes proposed by this bill are far from very modest, as the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations describes them. This is a radical re-ordering of Australian workplace law, which every business organisation in Australia has pleaded with this government not to go ahead with. But it falls on deaf ears. The minister doesn’t care. He has no interest that the job creators of Australia are telling him that it will be harder to keep people in jobs. That means the people who employ other people will not be able to employ them under this regime, and the government, again, is not listening to their concerns. This sort of complexity and the costs associated with it will be impossible for small business and medium business with more than 15 employees to deal with.
In my electorate on the Gold Coast—everybody enjoys Surfers Paradise; they enjoy the central Gold Coast—there are 32,000 small and family businesses who could be impacted by this regime. There are 72,000 small and family businesses on the Gold Coast. Medium businesses—I don’t have a number for you, Deputy Speaker—will definitely be affected by this legislation, and so will the local economy when it comes to job losses as a consequence. Once again the Labor Party seeks to erode the choice and flexibility of individuals who want to work in their own time, on their own terms. This is an affront to liberalism. Choice and flexibility are the bedrock of the Liberal Party of Australia, and they’re the bedrock of entrepreneurialism, which is the bedrock of the Gold Coast. Therefore I see this as an affront to any family or any individual who wants to get ahead on their own terms and build something worthwhile.
It’s an example of big government intervention at the behest, of course, of their union masters, moving the dial so that unions have access to a whole new marketplace of membership fees. That is what it blatantly is; let’s be clear. It’s about putting significant constraints on businesses and employers who wish to expand—in other words, grow—build something and construct new projects and infrastructure or simply manage their own operations in their own way. It is taking away choice, not delivering choice to more Australians. That’s the basic difference between us on this side of the chamber and those on the other side of the chamber, who seek to take away your choice, who seek to tell you what to do, who seek to come into your business and instruct you on what you should be doing behind your business doors. When running a business gets impossibly complex, impossibly hard, impossibly uncertain and costs just too much, what do Australians across our nation understand happens? Businesses close their doors. They don’t employ those Australians any longer. So those families who work in businesses, small and medium, are at risk of being on the unemployment line. But those on the other side don’t seem to understand that as a basic premise—that its job losses; it’s livelihoods that will be lost.
This bill also does nothing to increase productivity. Business groups and employers say that the proposed IR changes will smash productivity, investment and job creation. This is at the very time, as we’ve heard from the shadow Treasurer, that we have entered a per capita recession. Labor puts the brakes on productivity as we’ve entered a per capita recession. It’s unbelievable that they would choose this time in the Australian economic landscape to introduce these changes. Ultimately, it will lead to an economic slow-down that could lead to a full-blown recession. In a cost-of-living crisis, Labor is introducing this. They are slamming it through the parliament quickly at a time when Australians can’t pay their bills, can’t pay their mortgages and can’t pay for their grocery bills. It’s unconscionable. Australians are barely making ends meet. This government is ramming through this legislation to make things more expensive by $9 billion in one decade, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg because those additional costs get passed on to consumers. That adds to inflation.
The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations said that business would likely be able to pass on extra costs through higher prices for consumers or third-party businesses. The minister himself admitted that the new laws will increase costs for consumers for everyday services they have come to rely on—with a smile. You’ve been told that this bill will increase prices to you as an Australian consumer by a minister, with a smile on his face, telling you it’s going to cost more. Let’s be clear. During a cost-of-living crisis for Australia, he’s ramming this legislation through the House, which will cost you more. If you don’t believe my words or you have doubts about my words, you should listen to the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott.
Mr Pearce: What did she have to say?
Ms BELL: A highly regarded and highly experienced business person in Australia, she said: Australians should have safe jobs, well paid jobs and rewarding jobs— we agree with that—but the government’s radical shake-up of the industrial relations system will not deliver that …She said: These changes will create confusion and extra costs for consumers—that’s the $9 billion in wages I just mentioned—make it harder to hire casual workers and create uncertainty for employing anybody. Any government that’s serious about costs of living would not do this. They should not add costs and complexity at a time when people are struggling to pay their bills. If you don’t believe me today, listen to Tania Constable of the Minerals Council of Australia. You saw her this week on your TV screens. Tania very eloquently said: The Albanese Governments latest industrial relations legislation changes are some of the most extreme, interventionist workplace changes that have ever been proposed in Australia. The changes will inflict immense harm to the economy, the weight of which will fall on the shoulders of the most vulnerable Australians who will pay more for groceries, housing, and energy.
I would think that, by now, Australians are sick and tired of paying more and sick and tired of waiting for this Albanese Labor government to deliver cost-of-living relief. It’s just not coming. It’s getting worse. I would also like to outline what Andrew McKellar, the ACCI chief executive, said. He said the legislation:… will be bad for productivity, those wanting to be their own boss—remember entrepreneurialism: the great dream of Australians to build something worthwhile—and consumers struggling with the cost-of-living crisis … The only winners in this are union chiefs—there it is; it’s highlighted—The only loophole this bad legislation is looking to close is that of plummeting union membership—I couldn’t have said it better myself—This is a continuation of a radical industrial relations agenda, and we are again bracing ourselves for further risky changes to our workplace system. The government has not made a case for these changes. It has not been able to outline how this legislation will enhance productivity, lift wages, or make it easier to generate more jobs.
I think they’re pretty believable quotes from well-respected leaders across our nation. We should listen, and so, too, should the Albanese Labor government and the industrial relations minister. They’re pretty scary words for the future of our country. Small and medium business is not a magic pudding. It is not something that the government can put its hands into and rip the guts out of. We on this side will not stand for that. We will not stand for this government ruining, destroying, what Australians have worked their whole life for, for generations. We will not watch you pull it apart and tear it down.
Those on the other side think that small and medium business people are rich and that their money can be accessed and given to others. Well, that is not the case. Australian employers play a crucial role in creating those jobs, and we applaud them for it. The Australian labour market is indeed diverse. It provides various forms of work for people of different circumstances and different needs, and it should be diverse. The Albanese government has no respect for that diversity. They only respect union controlled forms of work.
Under this legislation, a union boss can get a waiver from the Fair Work Commission to give you, as a business owner, 24 hours notice to enter your business if they suspect—not if they have proof, not if they’ve heard it through a complaint—that you have underpaid anybody on your team. To be able to enter a business on a suspicion is not democratic. It’s heading towards socialism, and worse.
Mr Neumann: Communism!
Ms BELL: That’s right. We banned communism in the 1950s. The minister can’t answer the question about what people who are working from home can expect.
An honourable member interjecting—
Ms BELL: He hasn’t. I think there are some members on the other side who’ve actually been members of that party in the past. The minister can stand at the dispatch box and yell all he likes at the coalition, feigning his passion for this bill, but what we know he’s doing is working on behalf of the unions. They are assaulting entrepreneurialism. They are assaulting businesses that have been built over generations. That’s what it’s about. So this so-called closing loopholes legislation equals closing businesses and closing jobs. That’s what it should be called: ‘the closing businesses and closing jobs legislation’. We are not going to support reforms that will weaken our economy and continue to make a bad situation worse for Australian small and medium businesses.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Claydon): The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. If you have some continuation, you’ll be granted leave to do so when the debate is resumed.