I'm not sure that the claims by the member for Kingsford Smith can be realised. Having regard to the budget that has just been released to the Australian people, it says that real wages in the next three years will diminish because of the inflation rate across this nation. I'm not sure that the claims by the member for Higgins, as strong as they were, can be realised by this bill.
The government members that have spoken today and spoken passionately about this bill have said that this bill is the panacea for all of the bills of the nation. Well, it's not. It's not. Some of us have been around long enough to see these changes to legislation that come through.
Government members interjecting—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Georganas): Order! The member will be heard in silence.
Mr BROADBENT: Oh, I'm happy to have them interact with me! It's actually a great pleasure. I haven't said anything for a long time that has caused anybody any distress, so if I'm doing it now then we're getting somewhere, Deputy Speaker!
The more important part of this is that I don't like to go to the Australian people and say, 'This bill is going to fix every problem in our workplace.' That's because they never do. If you think you're going to fix the wage disparity by just this one bill—that it will all be fixed tomorrow—then it's as the member for Kingsford Smith said, 'In time, we will address some of this.' In time—not tomorrow and not next week, but in time.
If this bill does go towards wage parity between men and women, and does make a difference, it will have my wholehearted support. I'm speaking to those people now who are listening to this debate and getting a view that this, as I said, is the panacea for all ills in every industrial relations area—every business. It's not! Parts of this bill will actually cause businesses like the one I used to own a real problem when they start to say, 'Well, that similar business over there, which is a very, very large one,' perhaps it's a Coles-Myer, 'can afford to pay at a certain rate.' My business, which was totally different, may not have been able to afford that. Did we pay the award? Yes. Did we pay over the award to every employee? Yes—mainly because I didn't want to get into trouble! But we paid over the award—always paid over the award.
Were we flexible? Most of my staff were female and they had children, so we had to be flexible otherwise they wouldn't work with me. Some had to come after they dropped their kids off at school, some had to leave before they came home from school and some chose to work at night so that their partner was home. Of course we were flexible, because we wanted the staff! The most valuable thing for any small business in this country is their staff. You have to have the product to sell, but the staff who are in that building are crucial to the wellbeing of the business. Their relationships with their customers or their relationships with their suppliers are crucially important to the running of any business.
Now we're getting legislation like this, which has been criticised quite strongly by a number of people in the business community, who have said, 'Well, you'd expect them to do that.' What I'm worried about with legislation like this is not the glowing reports of what this legislation may or may not do, it's the unintended consequences of what you may have put forward. We heard the member for Kingsford Smith say that all we have done today is attack unions. I ask the member for Kingsford Smith to go back over the Hansard and try to find somewhere where I have attacked a union. Try to find one place where I have attacked a union. Try to find—
Mr Perrett: You voted for WorkChoices!
Mr BROADBENT: Yes, I did. I was a great supporter of WorkChoices, and survived that campaign very, very well with my support for WorkChoices! That's because all that was doing was putting flexibility into the market. There was more going on in that election campaign than WorkChoices. But please speak up, because everything I've done, all the way through, has been consistent in my desire for flexibility in the workplace, because that's how I had to live as a business owner. I had to be flexible, I paid high wages and I benefited 23 families every day of my life and their lives while I was in that business. And I'm proud of it.
Mr BROADBENT: What you're doing, member for Moreton is attacking every business owner as the enemy, and they're not. I've seen what they do for their employees and I've seen how they look after their employees. I've seen how they care for their employees, and those are the stories that you never hear because you're not listening. You never listen, and if you're not prepared to listen then you're not going to know what's going on out there in the community. There has been very strong—
Government members interjecting—
Mr BROADBENT: I know they're frustrated and I know that some of them are quite uncomfortable with parts of this legislation. When it leaves this place it's actually going to be split, and the good bits of this legislation will go through and the controversial bits will be held over until next year when they can do some further consideration. It does need closer scrutiny. You all know it needs closer scrutiny and you all know, because of the action in the House yesterday and today, that the bill is being rushed through. In fact, members are not being allowed to take their full time to speak on the bill.
You could say, 'Well, hang on, you were part of a government that crunched a whole lot of bills through very quickly.' I'll admit to that, but I won't take what the member for Kingsford Smith said, and that was that I should be ashamed. I'm not ashamed to put forward another point of view. Isn't that the role of democracy in this House? Isn't there an opportunity for people to stand up and speak their piece and have a say on the legislation? In fact, that's what you are withdrawing from the opposition, putting forward reasonable processes and reasonable discussion and engagement.
Mr BROADBENT: I'm enjoying the engagement of the parliament today. I'd love to hear any of you put forward a proposition where you said—
Mr BROADBENT: No, the member for Moreton is a friend of mine. I would hate for him to leave the chamber on my behalf because I couldn't talk to his family for months.
It is important that all legislation that comes before the House gets reasonable scrutiny. I know this will now go to the Senate and to a Senate committee where it will be reviewed. But the opportunity is now; give the parliament a chance to address some of the issues that have been raised. The No. 1 issue that has been raised is: this bill hasn't been thought through far enough. There will be unintended consequences from this. It will damage small businesses who will be caught up in a net they don't to be caught in. They don't have the HR and all the things that back it. They have organisations. We were part of the Australian Retail Association. They did the negotiations, they set the award, we paid the bills, and we generously paid them. There were other benefits that employees get that are not heard of in this legislation. I admit there are some employers who are totally inappropriate with their staff. They do not pay the appropriate amounts because there are rogues in every area of life. There are people who do not perform in the way they should perform. Having said that, I know the next contribution from this side will be a class act, so I'll stop there to allow the next speaker to make a very good proposal on this matter.