SUBJECTS: Unfair dismissal laws.

TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Since the election the backbench members of the Liberal Party have been effectively waiting at the barrier gates. We knew that they were going to end up unleashing the same sorts of forces that we saw following the election in 2004. Because the parallels with 2004 are extraordinary. Once again we've got a Prime Minister who people are saying has extraordinary authority. We have a Senate that looks like being well and truly compliant. And we have a Government backbench that has been itching to get stuck into wages and conditions for Australian workers.

When you consider the economy, the economy is in a situation now where people need more job security and they need better wage growth. But the backbench response we're getting from Liberal backbenchers is to say jobs should be less secure and wage growth needs to be further suppressed. When we need more job security they want to make it easier to fire people. When we need better pay increases they want to put downward pressure on the chance of any worker to get a decent pay rise. What we are seeing in the last couple of days from backbench members of the Liberal Party isn't just some accident of a couple of people being there. We are seeing the true beliefs of the Liberal Party being borne out. And you will see a whole lot of this start to come to fruition as the Attorney-General, the Minister for Industrial Relations, completes his so-called review of industrial relations laws. There's nothing in this for improved rights for workers. For the person who feels that they don't have enough security in the job, there is no extra security coming their way from this conservative Liberal government. For the workers who look at their pay packets going back years and think that they're not getting a decent pay rise that will not improve. Every step of the way, where this government is headed, where this review is headed, and where the backbench already is - is towards making sure that you have fewer rights of work. Plenty of workers are going to end up worse off under Scott Morrison and it won't be because of an accident. It will be because of deliberate decisions. They talk about a broad-ranging review. There's a reason why they only announced it to a meeting of employers. Their plan, their scheme is pretty simple. The backbench will go out on a frolick right now. But then effectively they're speaking notes will end up being photocopied, and they'll come back to us in the form of legislation. WorkChoices mark two is on the way. And the script is being written right now by the Liberal Party backbench.

JOURNALIST: So why shouldn't it be easier for small businesses to get rid of underperforming staff?

BURKE: Unfair dismissal laws don't create a problem if staff members are refusing to work. Unfair dismissal laws for small business are actually much easier to deal with than what they are for big businesses. There's a particular code to make it quite straightforward for small business. But what the Government's proposing isn't just to say make it easier for small business. They're wanting to propose a situation where everyone who loses their job in a small business, it's automatically fair. That's what they want to pretend. So the person who loses their job because they refuse to go on a date with the boss. That's meant to be fair according to these backbench members of the Liberal Party. The person who swears at the employer after the employer throws a bucket of water on them, and swears in response and then gets fired immediately for swearing - that's meant to be fair. What the Liberal backbench is proposing, is it doesn't matter how poorly you are treated it would get a tick from them. So for small business, be in no doubt these issues don't arise for most small businesses. I grew up in a small business family, I know the way the people who work for a small business can effectively be part of the extended family of the business themselves. I know how close those relationships are. The current law doesn't get in the way of that. But when you have an appalling treatment of a worker there needs to be a way that they can say, hang on, the way they were treated wasn't fair. And as far as the Liberal Party is concerned they just think you can go off on the unemployment queue and they're okay with that. Labor's not. And the Australian people understand why unfair treatment should never get a tick.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) underperforming staff for longer because they fear unfair dismissal claims?

BURKE: What happens if someone's underperforming is that they get warned. What happens if someone's underperforming is a code is followed. And if the code is followed then small businesses are already exempt. Now, what the Government's wanting to propose, what Government backbenchers are pushing right now, and what's happening within the Liberal Party right now, is a situation where if someone an employer breaks that code and fires someone unfairly they want that to still be okay. That's what they're talking about. Have a look at the code. I mean let's not forget that the Liberal backbencher will say all the codes are difficult to comply with. Well council regulations are incredibly difficult often to comply with. Tax law can be very difficult for people to comply with. This code says if someone is committing fraud, if somebody has stolen from you, someone's violent, then you can sack them straight away. If it's another sort of performance issue you've got to give them a warning. Give them a chance to respond to see if there's a way that they can improve. Sometimes it will mean they haven't been trained properly. That's what the code says and I think most people who are complaining about the code haven't even read the thing. Thank you guys.


Tony Burke