Labor’s policies are hurting small businesses — Power prices and industrial reform Take Note of Answers

I’d like to go to the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 and the questions asked by Senator Cash, and to rebut some of the assertions made by the minister, particularly around the fact that there were going to be no additional costs passed on.

We have seen in former legislation put forward by this government that the analysis that is done is often done without people who really understand the sector. I’m trying to think of the name of the bill, but it was one where some of the advice was provided by somebody who described himself as a ‘shaman’, amongst other things. People who actually know what they’re talking about in this matter, being small-business people; representatives of the Council of Small Business Organisations, such as Matthew Addison; and people from the Business Council of Australia, such as Jennifer Westacott, their CEO, all highlight the fact that this will incur additional costs for the business sector, including small business.

Small business is a sector that is already running on tight margins. They employ the majority of Australians in this country. The building sector, for example, highlighted that, in their words, ‘the introduction of this radical omnibus industrial relations bill that takes a sledgehammer to the tradies rights across the country’. There are people who we rely on to provide services—whether to small business, to residential homes et cetera—who want to run their own business because they’re aspirational and they don’t want to be a salaried employee. They want to run their own business and build it to the point where they can employ others and they can train young apprentices. This legislation, in the words of the building industry, is going to take a sledgehammer to their ability to survive.

The experts in this field—the people who actually employ people and run businesses—have also highlighted that these costs are not things that should be imposed at a time when both consumers and businesses are facing some of the highest costs in terms of the cost of living and costs to business that we have seen in recent years, particularly around energy prices, which businesses are concerned with. People have highlighted that much of this bill is ideological in nature, and the following comment has been made:

The only loophole this bad legislation is looking to close is that of plummeting union membership.

We’ve seen other ideological positions by this government which are actually pushing up prices. I go to the issue of power, in particular. AEMO put out a statement just recently highlighting that my home state of South Australia can expect blackouts and further price rises. Far from the $275 reduction in power prices that the Australian people were promised by the Albanese government at the last election, we have seen rise upon rise. And AEMO are telling us that we will see further rises. What’s at the heart of that? The heart of that is the ideological position of this government to commit to wind and solar as the only ways that they want to see emissions reduced. They claim that there will be energy security and they claim that there will be—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Ayres?

Senator Ayres: I know Senator Fawcett is running out of things to say about industrial relations, but he does need to confine his comments to the questions that were asked by coalition senators over the course of question time.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Fawcett, just please be mindful to remain relevant. But, having said that, it’s about the answers, and some of the answers were very extensive.

Senator FAWCETT: Deputy President, you have astutely noted that the answers were very broad and ranged far and wide. Particularly, they rebutted the fact that costs were a pressure coming out of this legislation. I’m merely pointing out this government’s ill-thought-through ideological opposition, not only to this bill but to other bills, such as on energy, is actually making things worse.

I want to go to a point in an interview recorded last week and reported in the Australian, where the energy minister from Ontario in Canada had a question put to him about Minister Bowen’s assertions that wind and solar are the cheapest. He said, ‘Our government’—that is, the Canadian government—’moved on wind and solar in a big way, and it’s created some serious problems for our systems operator.’ That sounds like the statement from AEMO. He then said that they have gone in favour of nuclear power, because it’s a more viable path to renewables, it’s not emitting, and you’re talking about a very small area of land. On price, he said they are producing power through their nuclear power stations for about 10c a kilowatt, whereas Australian households currently pay between 20c and 40c per kilowatt. So, we are seeing this industrial relations legislation, like industry policy, unnecessarily driving up prices, purely because of ideology.