House debates

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Workplace Relations Regulations


9:52 am

Photo of Phillip BarresiPhillip Barresi (Deakin, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

The regulations are claimed to be extraordinarily complex. That, too, is a fraudulent argument. Those on the other side know that the great bulk of the Work Choices legislation and the regulations are very much transition arrangements which need to take place over the next three to five years. The regulations are largely machinery or transitional in nature and are necessary for the effective operation of the Workplace Relations Act. Disallowing these regulations will do nothing to assist employers and employees, and it is absolutely irresponsible of those on the other side to move this motion.

The regulations subject to the disallowance motion fall broadly into two categories. They are machinery regulations made under the Workplace Relations Act—and the Labor Party knows that—and are necessary for the effective ongoing operation of the act. They are also transitional regulations. Despite the hysterical ranting of the Labor Party and the union movement, there is nothing new or earth-shattering in these regulations.

I will go through some of the content of the regulations. They prescribe the relationship between state and territory laws and the Workplace Relations Act. They provide detail on when a workplace agreement provides a more favourable outcome for an employee than the Australian fair pay conditions and when a preserved award term relating to annual, personal or parental leave is more generous than the standard. They clarify the circumstances in which medical certificates are valid. They set out prohibited content for the purposes of workplace agreements. They provide for a trade union membership deduction from an employee’s wages, something which those on the other side should be in agreement with. They confer a right or remedy in relation to unfair dismissal, and they set out procedures for secret ballots on protected industrial action, which has actually been in force since a few days ago. They provide for retention and inspection of employee records and establish a system on infringement notices. They deal with the handling of matters which were part heard in state and federal jurisdictions and with matters before state tribunals. These are some of the things that the regulations cover. And these are the regulations that the ALP are moving to disallow through this motion and, of course, they will fail.

The Labor Party and union campaign is a ridiculous campaign. We have heard from Labor and the unions, and particularly from the Leader of the Opposition, that these measures allow the minister to interfere in every aspect of people’s lives. That is wrong. Currently, under section 43 and 44 of the old Workplace Relations Act, the minister can intervene in proceedings before the Industrial Relations Commission. That responsibility and that right is there now. So there is nothing new there. This power of intervention is replicated in sections 102 and 103 of the act.

But those opposite have not looked at the act; they have not looked at these sections. They are simply mouthing the rhetoric that Combet, Burrow and other members of the union movement have asked them to utter. They can go back to their offices today; they can send an email back to Sussex Street and Lygon Street and say, ‘Hey, we moved a motion today. It got defeated but, listen, we’ve done our bit—so lay off.’ Of course, their language will continue to become more extreme and more xenophobic as the days go on. It is a shame to see the Leader of the Opposition resorting to those sorts of tactics.

The other thing about the union and Labor campaign is that the requirement for the Industrial Relations Commission to provide detailed information to the minister on a range of matters is not new. It broadly reflects section 48A of the previous act and schedule 12 of the previous regulations, which set out detailed reporting requirements for the Industrial Relations Commission. The new regulations provide that the commission and the Office of the Employment Advocate can provide certain information to the minister that is essential, and those elements are replicated from the old system into the new system.

The campaign by the union movement and the ALP has been characterised by untruths, misleading claims and scare tactics. The opponents of the government changes have slandered and maligned employers, labelling them as reactionary scrooges. This self-indulgent rhetoric of the union movement and the Labor Party ignores the reality of the modern workplace, where employers and employees are not pitted against each other in a battle of supremacy but simply want to ensure that individual skills are fully and fairly utilised. They do not like it, but they are proposing to take us back to pre-Keating days, and they say they will rip up the legislation and the regulations. If they take us back to pre-Keating days, let me remind those on the other side of what Mr Keating said in 1993:

Let me describe the model of industrial relations we are working towards. It is a model which places primary emphasis on bargaining at the workplace level within a framework of minimum standards provided by arbitral tribunals.

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Over time the safety net would inevitably become simpler. We would have fewer awards, with fewer clauses.

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We need to find a way of extending the coverage of agreements from being add-ons to awards to being full substitutes for awards.

That is what Paul Keating, the then Prime Minister, said. And what the members on the other side are trying to do now is to take us to before even those days. The statement by Keating that ‘we need to find a way of extending the coverage of agreements from being add-ons to awards to being full substitutes’ is precisely where we are today with this third stage of reforms. We are simply freeing up the marketplace. We are providing the opportunity for individuals and their employers to have greater flexibility and to come to arrangements which suit and fit the needs of both parties.

The Labor Party supported the old system because it gave power to the unions, and the unions, of course, are the ones that provide financial support to the Labor Party. We heard from the minister about the $50 million contribution since 1996. That is a lot of money.


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