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FOR – Business — Consideration of Legislation

Paul Fletcher

I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Small Business Redundancy Exemption) Bill 2023 being called on immediately, and debate on the question that the amendment moved by the Manager of Opposition Business, that the bill be considered immediately, continuing.

What we have seen today is repeated attempts by this government to avoid dealing with bills that have come from the Senate. We have four bills that have come from the Senate. The first of these was the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Small Business Redundancy Exemption) Bill 2023. The opposition believes that this bill ought to be brought on immediately so that it can be debated as quickly as possible and voted upon. The reason we believe that this is necessary is that the matters within this bill are matters that are not contentious. They are agreed. They're certainly supported by the government, as is evident from the fact that they're included in the governments so-called closing loopholes bill. They are supported by the opposition. They are supported, I'm advised, by many of the crossbench, and, of course, they were supported by the Senate, which has moved and passed this bill. There is an opportunity before this House to proceed, bring this matter forward and vote upon it. That is what the opposition believes ought to happen.

We believe that ought to happen for all of the reasons that have been argued by the Leader of the House and by Labor members in various speeches within this place and externally when they've spoken about the importance of this legislation, the small business redundancy exemption bill. We've seen repeated attempts by this government and by the Leader of the House to avoid this House dealing with these bills. We've had a host of explanations from him as to why it's not his responsibility and why he shouldn't have put his hand on the tiller to move that the House deal with this bill. These are matters which could be and should be dealt with by this House immediately. That would be entirely consistent with the bills passed by the Senate, and it would be consistent with what I'd suggest Australians expect people in this House to do where there is agreement between the government, the opposition and crossbenchers—in this case on matters dealing with the circumstances of employees of historically large businesses which by reason of insolvency, under effectively a technical provision as it exists today, fall within the scope of the small business redundancy arrangements. Presently the position under the law is that employers in those circumstances are able to take advantage of a provision which deals with redundancy for employees of smaller businesses. I think it is widely accepted across the parliament that this is a technicality. I think it is widely accepted across the parliament that this is a provision or this is a circumstance in which the ordinary redundancy provisions ought to apply and the small business redundancy exemption, which is there for a particular set of circumstances, ought not to apply.

The critical thing is we could move to deal with this now, and that is what the opposition is seeking to do. We've been given an opportunity by the Senate in relation to this set of bills that have come across to the House. It's transparently and abundantly clear the government does not want to consider these matters quickly. But it is the opposition's view and, as I understand is evident from voting patterns, the view of a number of the crossbenchers as well that this matter should be dealt with quickly, and we have an opportunity to do that. Indeed we believe on the side of the chamber we have a responsibility to act quickly. For these reasons the opposition is moving this suspension of standing orders motion, just as we moved a series of other motions.

We believe the appropriate act for the House would be to support this motion so we can suspend standing orders and resume debate on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Small Business Redundancy Exemption) Bill 2023. We can bring that on immediately, and we can vote on that immediately, before Christmas—for people employed who, as the law presently stands, face the risk that, due to circumstances outside of their control, where they would ordinarily have available redundancy provisions in the general industrial relations legislation, those provisions would not apply, because of the very technical operation of the small business exemption. It's widely accepted that exemption ought not to operate in the specific circumstances where a historically large business, where the normal redundancy provisions would apply, has managed to fall under the small business provisions by virtue of insolvency, so we can act now to deliver that greater certainty to employees around Australia. The government has completely failed to explain why it doesn't want to bring this on now, and this is a chance for the government to do this. It's a chance for the parliament to legislate in a way the Senate already has legislated, to pass this bill, therefore I commend this motion to the House.

Milton Dick

Is there a seconder for the motion?

Kevin Hogan

I second the motion. A lot has been said. We have three precedents for this. So I want to go through a couple of points that the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has made in relation to when we've done this three times prior. He has made points about practices in this chamber, process and procedure in this chamber and standing orders in this chamber. He may or may not be correct about some of the points he's made, but I take the point that this could've been dealt with in different ways. There are different processes and procedures. There are lots of different ways that these bills that have been sent back as private members' bills from the Senate may well have been dealt with. I hear that. I'm sure that's true. When we got into the detail of what the bills were dealing with, he said, 'If you were so passionate about this, why didn't you do it when you were in government?' On the bill relating to people in the Pacific islands that we're looking at, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Small Business Redundancy Exemption) Bill 2023, he said, 'I think those people want the whole omnibus bill passed, not just sections one at a time.' He may or may not be right about that.

Putting all that to one side—forgetting how the different procedures, practices and standing orders of this chamber could have dealt with this, forgetting about what previous governments have or haven't done in relation to this legislation and putting aside whether people who are affected by these four bills that have come back today do or don't want the whole legislation to go through—the one thing that is factual, the one thing we can agree on right now, is that if the government were to support these four individual bills to go through this chamber today they could. That's the bottom line. All the rest, in some ways, is semantics. We could talk about how the chamber dealt with this and what the processes, procedures and standing orders say and what the Manager of Opposition Business should have done. That is all by the by. What previous governments did is by the by. Right now, we have four private members' bills that have come back from the Senate. The government could support those and they could be implemented all but immediately. Those four elements of the larger closing the loopholes omnibus bill could happen right now.

The minister's also previously mentioned that this has been presumptuous because when IR legislation goes to the Senate there are always amendments and references to committees. Do you know what? That chamber has said—as we have in this chamber today—they could move through those four parts of the omnibus bill today with no amendments but exactly how the minister first wrote them up and wanted to legislate them.

Let's put all the processes, procedures and standing orders aside. Yes, there are different ways that this could be treated. But, at the end of the day, the issue is this. The opposition today came into this chamber saying, 'We are willing to debate and to support these four bills and pass them in this chamber today.' These four bills were all drafted by the minister. They have all passed as private members' bills through the Senate. That's happened there. So the minister has four elements of a larger bill that he could take through this chamber today. I've said this before, but I would again say to the minister on this one about a redundancy exemption that ensures that employees do not miss out on redundancy payments merely because of their employer that the people who are affected by this would like the government to pass this today. They don't care how the Manager of Opposition Business introduced it or what's happened with the processes of the parliament. They would like this to pass today.

The people who are affected by the asbestos issue in that particular bill would like it to pass today. Those people who may well be discriminated against in the workplace because of domestic violence would like that specific amendment bill to pass through today. For those who are first responders, that particular bill affects their lives. They are not into what 90 per cent of this debate has been about. They are not into the parliamentary processes, the standing orders or the procedures we are debating here. They are not into that. They are into: 'Okay. Great! The opposition and some crossbenchers have said they're prepared to support four elements of the government's bill, and some of them affect me. That's great. That's going to save six or seven or eight months, and that bill will change my life quicker than it otherwise would be.' And that's why I'm seconding this motion.

Tony Burke

It's not the most effective afternoon in the House, but here we are. To go through it once again, I'll deal with the procedural issues quickly and then I want to say a bit more about the substance.

On the procedural issues: if the opposition wanted to deal with these issues quickly, why did you filibuster this morning? Why? If you actually wanted to deal with these quickly, why did you spend an hour and a half making speeches about when we would debate it? Why? I didn't get to declare the government's position on the amendment, because to declare the government's position—because I was the mover of the motion—would have wound up the debate. I did try to stand up earlier in the debate, and opposition members were still wanting to speak, so I went and sat down, and then they kept going for an hour and a half, and, as a result, that question never got resolved. If you were serious about wanting to deal with this quickly, would you have designed to filibuster and waste as much time as possible, with people giggling about how clever this was?

The opposition have treated this like a game all day. That's what they've done. They haven't done their homework—they haven't bothered—with something happening for the first time this term, on a private members' bill coming through like this.

I can tell you: if there had been a Greens party bill that had made it through, I can guarantee the Greens party would have been onto the right procedures when it reached the House, if a private member's bill that had been moved by one of their senators had made it through. I know they would have, because I've seen them do it.

In opposition, we had occasions where we were in the same situation, and, as I said, Christopher Pyne and I would be jumping to try to see who'd get carriage of it. That's because you want it to be something that you can make sure you give a second reading speech to. You want to be able to do the advocacy.

But if there was any sincerity in wanting to deal with these issues quickly, why was there a filibuster this morning? A whole lot of people in the chamber right now were roped into being part of it. I don't know whose decision it was, but it all happened without there being any response by the government, because I didn't want to be in a situation of closing off debate. Was it a game where people thought it would be funny—'Let's see if we can get him to move that the question be put'? Is that what it was? Was this entire thing just a game, as far as the opposition is concerned? This is an issue that they have never cared about. As to this one in particular that's in front of us right now, this hangs off another provision, because this is about discrimination not occurring, and we don't have any examples of this having occurred yet, but it's about making sure that no-one is discriminated against, in relation to family and domestic violence leave being there.

Now, paid family and domestic violence leave is only law. The call for it had been around for more than a decade, and we'd started, when we were last in office; we hadn't got there. The call had got really loud during the nine years intervening. Those opposite never moved on it. And now we're meant to believe that suddenly they think these provisions are urgent? It's a tiny area of discrimination that hangs off provisions that they held back their entire time in office. Is that what we're meant to believe?

You see, we had a line from the Manager of Opposition Business—and I wrote it down, so it mightn't be quite verbatim, but I think it's pretty close. He said: 'We've seen repeated attempts by the government to prevent these bills from being debated.' The prevention of the bills being debated has been all of his own making, because, if he'd done what the leader of the Greens party had previously done, or if he'd done what I'd tried to do when Christopher Pyne was here, then he would have made sure that the debate could at least occur in the House. But he did none of that. The opposition played, this morning, what can only be described as a game. Then, when given direct instruction from the Speaker about how to make sure that it ended up with debate, they refused to do it and just went to suspensions. That's what they've done. But I think the best evidence—and I don't know who's going to tell Senator Cash what's happened today—

Brian Mitchell

She'll take it well!

Long debate text truncated.

Summary

Date and time: 5:39 PM on 2023-11-13
Allegra Spender's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 61
Total number of "no" votes: 75
Total number of abstentions: 15

Adapted from information made available by theyvoteforyou.org.au

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