House debates

Wednesday, 15 November 2023


Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023; Second Reading

4:39 pm

Photo of Kylea TinkKylea Tink (North Sydney, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Frequently, in any business environment, being able to scale up and down as required can literally make or break your business, and, for this, flexibility is key. Why then make employment of temps, casuals and independent contractors harder across the board, especially if the real issue is something that largely is found in specific industries? Ultimately, there is little evidence in North Sydney of dissatisfaction with the employee-employer relationship. Rather, most people indicated to me that they were happy with the relationship they had with their employer and they appreciated their employer's willingness to offer them reliable, consistent hours on a casual basis so they could juggle personal responsibilities. Some acknowledged the potential for abuse of the labour hire model within some industries, but the resounding, consistent feedback was: 'Why not then simply tackle those industries, rather than assuming a one-size-fits-all solution is the answer?'

Small to medium sized businesses in North Sydney who work with labour hire have been quick to provide me with specific feedback, including the following: 'My business would be worse off.' Another said: 'I would close my business.' Another again said: 'It is not fair for other experienced and loyal workers that labour hire gets the same pay as them.' And another again said: 'Labor hire workers are surge workforce for busy times; they are not as skilled or as invested in my business. They should not earn what my valued permanent employees earn.' And a final one I'll quote said: 'My full-time employees are well looked after and invested in my business, as I am in them. To pay a labour hire person the same as these employees is ridiculous.'

The third point of concern in my community is the observation that the new definition of 'casual employee' creates fear where there was previously confidence, and will result in less reliable and predictable casual employment. In North Sydney, casual workers make up 45 per cent of the workforce in small to medium businesses. Statistically, we know that one in three of them will have regular and predictable working arrangements, because that's what they want. They value casual loading, but they want or need predictability in their hours. It is important that we acknowledge: these employers are not exploiting these individuals. The issue with the new definition of casual employment is that both employers and employees are now concerned that, to maintain their classification of 'casual', they're going to have to forgo predictability.

While the government argues the purpose of this change is to improve job security by replacing the existing definition with a fair and objective definition, when I asked small to medium sized enterprises what effect they felt this new definition would have on their businesses, I received the following responses: 'I would shut down;' and: 'I wouldn't hire casuals any more. It's all about being flexible and responsive to the needs of my customers, especially in child care;' and: 'I really don't see why the government is making it less flexible for employees and businesses to operate;' and finally: 'This change would effectively reduce my casuals' wages by 38 per cent, so I can't see what is in it for them and I can't see them seeking it. I am concerned, however, that a union may choose to get involved and try and create some sort of test case which would ultimately sweep them up, and I don't think that's in anyone's interests, except maybe the union's.'

The fourth concern that my community has is that the risk of getting it wrong is simply not worth it. Under this proposed legislation, the penalty for misrepresenting an employment opportunity as casual is sizeable and may be a significant cause of stress for those employers who are unable to access sophisticated human resource professionals. At a time when we need to focus on boosting productivity, we're instead debating a piece of legislation that threatens to decrease the flexibility in the workplace and harm Australians' capacity to earn additional income in a way that works for them. Add to this an overly complicated award system and the recent employment white paper, and many in my community just don't understand why the government is pursuing legislation they believe will disincentivise employers to hire more staff.

As a fifth point of concern, my community is worried that the right to work as an independent contractor must be protected. The key concern I have heard, time and again, is that this legislation effectively takes this form of service delivery and moves it from contract law into employment law. And the impact of this switch should not be underestimated. Almost 50 per cent of the small to medium sized businesses in North Sydney report they routinely use the services of independent contractors to complete work for them. According to Self Employed Australia, however, the passing of this bill would mean all self-employed independent contractors in Australia who seek to operate through a digital platform would be captured by this legislation and thus would need to be treated as employees, removing their right to be self-employed and to engage freely in commercial transactions through digital platforms.

The sixth and final concern in my community is that any new protections must ultimately support an innovative work environment. As stated before, my community generally supports the Fair Work Commission being given the power to set minimum standards. And we agree: gig workers deserve greater protection. But these protections must be offered in a way that firstly ensures their own employment needs are met in terms of the flexibility, capacity to earn and ease of opting in and out of platforms they wish for, whilst also ensuring we do not cause business innovation to grind to a halt, based on the belief that the employment terms of the 20th century are what 21st century workers want.

In closing, on behalf of the people of north Sydney, I say that, while some of the proposed reforms in this legislation are welcome, we fear the potential good work will, ultimately, be derailed by the fact it is buried in an omnibus of industrial reform which is simply too much too soon. Indeed, a recent Council of Small Business Organisations Australia survey found that 90 per cent of small businesses will be less likely to employ people if this current bill is passed. These are our newsagents, our barbers and hairdressers, our retailers, our post offices, live musicians, community pharmacists, grocers and direct sellers. To be frank, in this context, this bill has become the No. 1 risk to their business due to the uncertainty they now feel in the lead-up to Christmas.

Ultimately, I am committed to working with this government for the betterment of my community. As such I will work overtime to help businesses across my electorate navigate whatever is eventually passed in this place. But I ask the government to note that, while it claims this legislation will have limited impact and strikes a reasonable and balanced middle ground, I don't believe that claim has withstood scrutiny. I call on the government to amend this legislation. Pass those pieces of it that are uncontroversial, but then move forward in renegotiating legislative terms that offer the protections we all agree employees are entitled to, without stymieing innovation and unnecessarily burdening Australian businesses.

4:46 pm

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was going to give the opposition a gift and not talk for very long, but they don't have another speaker here, so I'm giving them fair warning that, if another speaker doesn't appear, I may speak for 15 whole minutes on the bill. I'm perfectly happy—and able—to do so. Having put out that disclaimer, I'm wondering whether one of them is going to run out quickly and find another speaker, in the hope that I'll stop! I do have somewhere else I need to be.

However, I do want to make some remarks on this Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023. It is important. Since coming into government, more than 500,000 jobs have been created already. That's more than any first-term government in Australia's history. And 85 per cent of those jobs are full-time jobs. Wages are now growing at the fastest rate in a decade. That's important in a cost-of-living crisis. I know those opposite don't understand this, and they don't like to hear it, but, in a cost-of-living crisis, it's not just about inflation and the way that prices go up. It's also about the money that comes into workers' bank accounts. It's about money that comes into the family or into the household, and that's why it's so important that we now have a government that has as its policy—as a deliberate design feature of our economic management—seeing wages grow.

But the truth also is that many Australians are not receiving the full benefits of this wages growth because of legal loopholes that allow pay and conditions to be undercut. It's also a shameful fact that, in this country now, a large amount of wages are simply stolen from workers. The McKell Institute analysis, based on Fair Work Commission data and audits, showed that Australian workers were underpaid nearly $850 million a year, ripping $330 million of economic activity out of the country. In my electorate of Bruce alone, estimates are that 8,000 people lost nearly $5 million in wage theft in just one year.

What does this bill do about it? It does four things, in simple terms. First, it makes wage theft illegal. If an employee steals from an employer, it's illegal, but it's not a crime when an employer intentionally steals from their workers. It should be. Second, it stops employers using labour hire agreements to undercut wages. Of course there is a legitimate role for labour hire work in Australia but not when a business uses it to blatantly avoid enterprise rates of pay. This is a loophole that the bill will close.

The third thing it does is improve the situation for casual workers. Many Australians work permanent regular hours, just the same as permanent employees, but they can't get any of the benefits of job security, even if they want to. This bill will simply allow casuals to choose. There'll be a new pathway for eligible employees to change to permanent employment if they want to. I stress that again: it will be the choice of the employee. Nothing in this bill forces casuals to take permanent work. Many casuals want to stay casual; that is absolutely fine. But many casuals workers want the benefits of sick leave and the protections that come with it. We saw that during the pandemic, when millions of workers were suddenly stranded. Although they'd been doing the same thing in the same job year after year, they had no sick leave when disaster struck. This bill will deal with that.

The fourth thing the bill does is set fair minimum standards for employee-like work for gig economy workers in the gig economy. Gig workers have no minimum standards, no minimum pay and no minimum conditions. That's a disgrace. Gig economy workers are exactly the sort of worker whom the Labor Party has always fought for. They need basic workplace standards. This loophole is a rort. It causes serious harm—physical harm, economic harm, social harm—to workers and it's not fair.

But these are not just statistics; they're real people right across Australia. Everyday Australians in every community, as well as vulnerable migrant workers, are being hurt and exploited because of these loopholes. And remember that, when migrant workers are exploited, it doesn't just impact other people; it impacts everyone in Australia because it drags down the pay and conditions of everyone else. I have one example in my electorate of Bruce. The Fair Work Ombudsman sanctioned a waste management company more than $375,000 after five vulnerable migrant workers were underpaid almost $200,000 over just 20 months in 2018-19. Do the maths. That's $2,000 per month per worker. They were employed to sort waste at facilities in Dandenong and Hallam. This example sums up the four main elements of the bill: labour hire loopholes, having their wages stolen, casual workers who actually want permanent regular hours, no minimum rates and minimum standards, and gig economy workers being ripped off.

It is worth reflecting on why these loopholes exist. There's a simple answer. For nearly a decade the Liberals, the former government, simply refused to do anything. They knew that these labour hire loopholes and rorts were growing. They had report after report that they failed to act on. They knew that, with digital technology, the gig economy forms of work were exploding. They had reports, they were told and they did nothing. And they knew that wage theft by unscrupulous employers—a minority of employers of course; most employers don't steal wages from their workers—was out of control. But the Liberals knew perfectly well that a small minority of bottom-feeder employers were doing exactly that, and they stood by and did nothing. It drags down wages for everyone.

I stress again that the McKell Institute analysis showed that the average Australian worker would've been earning $254 more a week if, under that mob in their wasted decade of decay, dysfunction and division, wages growth had simply continued at the same rate it had been at under the Rudd-Gillard government. Under Labor, under Rudd and Gillard, wages grew at 4.6 per cent on average. Under the Libs, it was 2.5 per cent. Real wages actually went backwards in their decade in office. But that was actually no accident. In one of those rare outbreaks of honesty under the former mob, then finance minister Mathias Cormann went on the television—it's still there; you can still google it and watch it—and said that low wages are 'a deliberate design feature of our economic architecture.' It was as though the Liberals thought: 'What's wrong with trying to lower wages?' That was actually their policy.

Again, independent analysis constantly exposes their policies. Liberals are to blame for suppressing wages, including through public sector pay freezes, an increase in the number of visas for temporary migrant workers, inaction on wage theft in the gig economy, failing to press the Fair Work Commission for bigger minimum wage increases and cutting penalty rates. At every turn they tried to cut wages.

I'm going to quote myself. I was having a bit of a google around and a bit of a look, because I knew there was something there in the back of my mind, and I found myself reported in the media. We've been talking about this for years, Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou. I know you've been talking about it through the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. Finally in government, though, we are able to not just talk but do something about it. The media article said:

The Labor MP Julian Hill, a member of the joint standing committee on migration—

with you, Deputy Speaker—

also blames the government's decision—

that was the then government, the Liberals, not us—

to freeze the minimum rate of pay for workers on temporary skilled visas as a factor in wage suppression.

Get the figures. When Kevin Rudd left office in 2013, the temporary skilled migration income threshold—that's the minimum rate of pay that you have to pay a temporary skilled worker if you bring them in on a temporary skilled visa—was $53,900. When the Liberals left office, it was $53,900. They didn't raise it one dollar in a decade. As the article quotes me:

From 2014 onwards every Liberal minister for immigration (initially Scott Morrison)—(Quorum formed)

Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was making the point that for a decade the Liberals left the minimum wage that a temporary skilled migrant needed to be paid stuck at $53,900. What do you think that does in a decade? It pushes wages down, and that was their deliberate policy. This government immediately raised it to $70,000 and we are further reviewing the migration system.

They lost control of the borders. Under the watch of the Leader of the Opposition, that hopeless disgrace of a Minister for Home Affairs, the tough-on-borders guy, nearly 100,000 fake asylum seekers came into this country by plane on a work scam. What does that do? It helps push down wages and exploits people.

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Community Safety, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order, that was a reflection on the opposition leader.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Bruce may wish to retract that reflection on—

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It wasn't a reflection on his character. It was a statement of fact about his tenure as a minister and I'll stand by it.

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Community Safety, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I think he should withdraw.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Will the member for Bruce consider withdrawing for the sake of—

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would go to the Practicethat it's not a reflection on his character. Describing the now Leader of the Opposition as a hopeless Minister for Home Affairs is an entirely fair comment. It doesn't go to his person. It's a description of the job he did as a minister. It's evidence based, and it's discourse that everyone else in the House has used. So, if they want to stop me speaking, that's fine, but I'd ask them to point to where in the Practice that's actually a problem. We've only got a minute to go. We could just finish this.

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Community Safety, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy Speaker, those were different words to what he actually said.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Would it help if I withdrew 'hopeless' and said 'former failed'?

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It would actually assist the House if the member for Bruce would withdraw.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll withdraw 'hopeless' and say 'former failed Minister for Home Affairs'.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Bruce can continue with his remarkable speech.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll close with quotes from the minister, because this implements our election commitments:

The businesses which use these loopholes are able to undercut Australia's best employers in a race to the bottom.

If we want workers to be paid properly we need to close the loopholes.

If we want casuals to have a pathway to secure work we need to close the loopholes.

If we want enterprise agreements to determine minimum rates of pay at a workplace, we need to close the loopholes.

If we want gig workers and those in road transport to have minimum standards, we need to close the loopholes.

The delaying tactics are obvious—the silly little quorum counts, the pathetic tantrums, the fake points of order. Those workers have waited long enough. So today the parliament should pass this bill.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Bruce's time has concluded.

5:01 pm

Photo of Sophie ScampsSophie Scamps (Mackellar, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to address the government's second round of proposed reforms to industrial relations legislation—the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023. At the outset I'd like to acknowledge that reform of workplace relations is typically complex and lengthy, and there are a broad range of competing interests and the potential for unforeseen impacts that have to be thought through and scrutinise carefully. I would like to thank Minister Burke for his consultation with the crossbench on various issues. He's taken the concerns and suggestions of the crossbench into account, none of which he is required to do, and I thank him for it.

Nevertheless, the crossbench again finds itself in a difficult situation—that is, we're being asked to vote on significant changes to industrial relations laws in circumstances where that legislation is far from being finalised. The lower house will vote. The bill will move to the Senate where it has already been determined an inquiry will take place. That inquiry will report in February next year and inevitably recommend a number of changes to the legislation, some perhaps significant, before the bill then comes back to this place for us to vote on again in its amended form. I raise this because I want to make sure that my community understands that my first vote on this legislation will not be my last.

I also want to point out the difficulties involved in being asked to vote on a large number of changes in one block on so-called omnibus legislation. With this legislation the government is trying to introduce many and varied reforms, some I may agree with and some I may not. Some need further scrutiny and debate, while others need to be passed as soon as possible. Regardless, I will be required to vote on an overall package as a whole. This is disappointing in circumstances where the bill could have been split so that important uncontroversial reforms could have been passed easily and quickly implemented for the benefit of all Australians.

I fully supported splitting the bills because silicosis sufferers should not have to wait to have their claims heard, because people who have been the victim of family and domestic violence should not have to wait to be free from discrimination in the workplace, because our first responders, police officers, paramedics and nurses, so frequently traumatised in the course of protecting us, should not have to wait any longer for changes to make it easier for them to make compensation claims.

Despite these issues, over the last several months I have carefully and methodically consulted with both my community and with a wide range of experts and stakeholders about the detail and impact of the proposed changes. I have spoken with local small businesses; employers and employees; and peak industry bodies and industry. In doing so, one of my key concerns has been to ensure that the interests of small businesses, who are doing it incredibly tough at the moment, are protected and balanced fairly against the interests of vulnerable workers. Small business, as we know, employs 6.8 million Australians, just under half of the employed workforce in this country. In New South Wales, 45 per cent of the private sector workforce is employed by small business. It's clear that the success of small business is absolutely vital to the continued prosperity and wellbeing of the Australian community.

As everybody knows only too well, small business has had an incredibly tough few years. If the existential difficulty of the COVID pandemic weren't enough, since then there have been significant interest rate rises, energy price rises, rent increases, supply chain challenges and labour shortages—a perfect storm of hard times which has been happening now for years. Any additional burden in the form of workplace law reform needs to be carefully considered against this backdrop. Changes must help, not hinder, our struggling businesses. At the same time, we know there are groups of vulnerable workers whose interests and conditions very much need protecting. When delivery drivers are dying—12 since 2017—when Qantas illegally sacks 1,700 staff and when 7-11 is able to engage in endemic wage theft from vulnerable, mostly migrant, workers, everyone can agree that something has to change for these people.

That takes me to consideration of the substance of the legislation. I will start with the reforms to the conditions for labour hire workers. This is the change that will allow unions and employees to apply to the Fair Work Commission for orders requiring labour hire workers to be paid the same as what employees at the host company are paid under their enterprise agreement. In approaching this, I'm very aware that in my electorate the backbone of our economy is small business and trade, and that over 20 per cent of people in McKellar are employed in the construction sector. So it is of course a concern of mine to do what I can to limit negative impacts on small business and the construction sector. The minister consulted with the crossbench and listened to our concerns, and it's pleasing to see that the current form of this legislation has incorporated several changes to address these concerns—firstly, to limit labour hire changes to businesses employing over 15 people only, and also only to labour hire contracts for periods over three months. These changes are very welcome—but are they enough?

Do these changes to the legislation ensure the right balance between ensuring labour hire workers are properly paid and that businesses can continue to benefit from the ability to bring in a surge workforce when genuinely needed? What is also particularly unclear in this bill is what 'same pay' in the term 'same pay, same job' actually means. The bill uses the concept of a protected rate of pay. The protected rate of pay is defined as the full rate of pay that would be payable to a labour hire employee if they were covered by the host business's enterprise agreement. The definition of full rate of pay includes any incentive based payments, bonuses, loadings, allowances, overtime and penalty rates, and other separately identifiable amounts. How this will play out in practice is far from clear. One example is where an enterprise agreement in place has been negotiated on terms other than just pay. What if employees at the host company agreed to sacrifice leave for more pay? Again, I look forward to seeing the recommendations of the Senate inquiry into this issue.

The casual workforce is another group of employees affected by the reforms. The government's changes would allow a casual employee, in circumstances where their working arrangements have changed and they no longer meet the definition of a casual, to ask their employer to convert their status to a permanent status. For employees in small business this can be requested after 12 months, and after six months for employees in large businesses.

In the above new legislation, this pathway to permanent employment would occur at the request of the employee. Employers may reject it on reasonable grounds. However, there is already an existing pathway for casuals to convert to permanent work, albeit one initiated by the employer. This extra pathway would mean there would now be three pathways for the casual conversion to permanency, with different rules for small and large businesses and after different lengths of service. It would have been simpler and easier for businesses to implement it if the change had resulted in only one rule under all scenarios. A recurring theme of the business community's response to this bill has been that it adds additional complexity and administrative burden for employers without sufficient corresponding benefits. When it comes to these changes for casuals, I agree with them.

Another of the government's reforms, which has caused much concern for the business community, is one which would allow the Fair Work Commission to set minimum binding standards for employee-like workers using digital platforms, the so-called gig economy changes. An 'employee-like worker' is one who works on a digital platform and either (a) has low bargaining power, (b) has low authority over performance of work or (c) is paid at or below the rate of employees performing comparable work. In effect, the change would require that gig economy workers be given a minimum set of standards that employees enjoy in other forms of work.

On this change, amongst others, I've been lucky enough to engage closely with Mackellar constituent Jordan O'Reilly, who is the co-founder and CEO of company Hireup. Hireup is an online platform connecting Australians with disability with support workers who fit their needs and share their interests. Hireup employs all its 17,000 disability support workers, who all find work through their app. The company's very proud to be proof that you can have the best of both worlds: modern, flexible, efficient technology with full employment rights, including entitlements and protections for workers—something most platform organisers say cannot be done.

Hireup, in its September submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment argued that modern convenience and flexibility is absolutely compatible with the framework of formal employee or employee-like legislation, but that most platform companies will not come to this conclusion on their own. Hireup considers that the gig economy reforms will provide clarity and certainty through uniform regulatory standards, allowing all businesses to operate and innovate on a level playing field while protecting workers rights, entitlements and dignity. They wholeheartedly support what they call the government's attempts to improve the industrial relations system in Australia through these reforms. Remember, this is a gig economy employer, not employee.

The aim of this legislation should be to achieve the best balance possible between the interests of big business, small business and employees in a way that guarantees what we all expect in workplace relations in Australia: fairness and safety, while not stymieing a thriving business sector and economy.

As a final point: if passed, I would like the government to take into consideration that companies will need time and resources to enable them to comply. Again, I thank the minister for his consultation on these reforms and I look forward to examining their final form when they return from the Senate. Thank you.

5:14 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Skills and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023, because this is a very important piece of legislation being proposed by the government and it's consistent with our view before the election to ensure greater security of employment for working people in this country. Indeed, not only does it reflect the commitments we made prior to the election, in some respects some of the provisions of this bill reflect commitments we made years ago, because we wanted to ensure that working people had decent, secure employment and that we did not allow technology to be a justification for changing what have been traditional relationships around minimum conditions of wages in this country, and to some extent that's what's happened.

Of course, we don't expect much from those that were supporters of WorkChoices legislation. We do expect them to oppose any piece of legislation that supports the rights of workers in this country. We do understand, and I happily concede, that I'm sure there are genuine concerns raised by some members of the crossbench in this place and the other place. However, I think they're unfounded, but I do respect there's a sincerity behind some of their concerns. But I have to say I don't at all believe that the opposition, the coalition, the 'noalition' are genuine when they say they're interested in the needs and aspirations and employment conditions of Australian workers, because their record shows otherwise. They have forever sought to diminish the standards of employment for workers in this country.

Yes, WorkChoices was one obvious piece of legislation where they illustrated their enmity towards working people, but, even through the entire time they were in government, the last nine years, they clearly set out to reduce in real terms the conditions and wages of Australian workers. When I was in the portfolio, I do recall the former finance minister Senator Cormann really let the cat out of the bag when he made it clear in an interview that the arrangements that were leading to wage recessions in this country was a deliberate design feature of their economic architecture.

(Quorum formed) I was reminding the House that the previous government had, as its modus operandi, a policy that was ensuring wages were low. In fact, the former Minister for Finance made clear that it was a deliberate design feature of their economic architecture to keep wages low. That's why we saw a decade of wage growth falling in real terms. We saw, in many sectors of our economy, wages going backwards for the entire period of the previous government—for the nine years. It was the worst decade for wage growth in many a decade, because nothing was being done to attend to the problem in workplaces, where workers were not getting their fair share of the dividend.

We need to make sure we have profitable and productive companies, and a profitable, efficient and productive labour market. We also expect that working people get their fair share of that dividend. To do that, we have to make sure that there's some balance and capacity for them to bargain in workplaces, and that there are minimum conditions in this country. We're a relatively wealthy country. If people put in, invest and work hard, they deserve a decent wage and a decent life. That's what the Labor Party has always been about: ensuring that working people and their families have a decent standard of living, a decent quality of life and an opportunity to move forward.

I'm afraid to say that we watched, over the last decade, a deterioration of minimum conditions for too many workers in this country. That's why we made an election commitment to attend to the adverse impact on workers by the previous government by introducing legislation that would attend to those concerns. This bill is, of course, a significant part of our commitment to working people in this country, to ensure that we don't allow arrangements to be put in place to obviate obligations—in other words, to avoid awards or industrial instruments that apply to other workers.

Take, for example, the same work, same pay provision. Of course, if a person has the same skills; similar or the same experience; is undertaking the same work; and is working next to another worker, it is demonstrably unfair that they're receiving a significantly lower wage in that same workplace. It is quite unfair for that to happen. Labour hire was not originally used in that manner. Labour hire was there to supply additional labour during the peaks and troughs of work. For example: the principal employer could not employ people for the entire period because of the seasonal demands of the business or industry, and may well have brought in seasonal labour hire. Or they would bring in labour hire for expertise to meet a particular niche need of the company. But, over time, labour hire started to be used in a way to undermine the enterprise agreement or the industrial instrument—possibly an award—of those workers employed directly by that employer. That was cultivated and supported by the previous government for the entire period. No, they did not introduce WorkChoices again during the last nine years—but they didn't have to, because there were changes afoot within the economy that were allowing exploitation to occur and, provided they did not deal with that in this place, it would continue and get worse. And we have seen that occur in relation to too many workers in this country. The idea that, just because you sell labour over a digital platform, you can now avoid minimum conditions of employment is an anathema to the Labor Party and to this government.

So, as I say, this bill is an election commitment, we are absolutely behind it and we made this commitment. In many respects, we made the commitments that are contained within this bill prior to even the last term. In some cases these commitments were made some years ago. So it is entirely proper that the government seek to undertake the commitments it made to the Australian people to make sure we lift wages and that we improve security of employment where we can in this country, and that we provide opportunities for casuals who have been working for a significant period on a permanent roster to at least be able to request a conversion to permanent employment.

We know that there are casual employees who don't want to convert to permanent, and nor should they have to. But we do think that, if, for example, an employee is working on a casual basis but has a permanent roster, there's a point in time, if they're going on indefinitely, where they should have every right to expect and to seek some level of security of employment. These are people with full-time families and long-term mortgages, and they want to get some guarantee of employment. I believe that's a reasonable thing to be requesting.

We know also that there are casual employees who, because they're not converted to permanent, cannot get mortgages. We know the housing problems at the moment. We know there's a shortage of housing supply in this country, but even in those circumstances, or in better circumstances, casual employers are so often unable to get loans from banks because they are not able to say to a bank that they have a permanent job. In some instances it is people who have been in the same job for years and years and years. We don't believe that's a reasonable approach to the labour market and to the rights of working people in this country, and we want to get the balance right by ensuring a right to request a conversion from casual to permanent, in order to provide a decent standard of living and a decent, secure job for Australians in this country.

This bill is seeking to deal with these loopholes. It's almost by accident that you could find yourself without minimum conditions of employment, just depending on where you work. If you're working in some areas where there's an enterprise agreement in place, you've got conditions of employment. If you're working in some industries there's an award with minimum conditions. If you're in certain occupations, at the very least you're getting the minimum wages in this country set down by the Fair Work Act. But in other areas which are unregulated there are people being paid a third of the minimum wage per hour in some instances. That is just unacceptable. So we want to make sure that we define casual in the way it was always intended, which I think is a balanced approach, both for businesses and for workers.

We want to see two workers with the same experience, the same skills, undertaking the same work and working side by side, getting the same conditions of employment. What is wrong with that proposition? How could anyone disagree with that? We can have all the semantic arguments about, 'We're not sure how this will work and how that will work,' but, ultimately, it's a stalling game by the opposition.

I do accept that the crossbench here and in the other place have some legitimate questions. I'm not suggesting they are motivated in the same way as the opposition.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, they've got questions!

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Skills and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the reality is that they do look at the questions and make decisions based on evidence. I'm sure we will have the capacity to argue compellingly that, ultimately, this bill is something that needs to pass this parliament. Given the record of the coalition, of course they will always oppose any proposed legislation that looks to either increase the security of employment of Australian workers or increase the capacity for them to bargain at their workplace. For that reason, we completely reject their position.

5:29 pm

Photo of Zoe DanielZoe Daniel (Goldstein, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Goldstein is a diverse community—more diverse than some might think. Certainly, it's one of the wealthier electorates in this country, with residents who work in the corporate sector, but it has close to 17,000 small businesses, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Statistics, many of them employing 15 people or less. It also has growing numbers of lower paid professionals, close to 25,000 of them women in the feminised sector—nearly 8,000 of them working in the care economy, servicing hospitals, aged care and early childhood education and care, in and around Goldstein. All of them have a stake in this legislation, and my task is to make sure they benefit, rather than pay a price, should the many measures in it become law. The benchmark for these kinds of legislative decisions, in my view, is: do they deliver benefits for most people?

Several of the measures in this lengthy bill, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023, are uncontroversial—indeed, they are to be applauded. I made it clear to the minister some weeks ago that the uncontroversial elements of the bill should not have been included in omnibus legislation. All governments do it, and it's disrespectful to the parliament, getting in the way of considered discussion of major policy initiatives and changes. None of us is elected by our community to wave through comprehensive changes to legislation without thought and scrutiny.

Among the measures that are uncontroversial and urgent are the proposal to make it easier for AFP officers, paramedics and firefighters to claim for PTSD, and measures to protect victims of domestic violence from being discriminated against in the workplace and to protect redundancy payments for workers who've been working for a larger business that has become only technically defined as a small business due to insolvency. Another priority is the measures to bring silica into line with asbestos under the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. These are all measures that require implementation without delay, and in this I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Jacqui Lambie that, if these elements were separated from the bill, they could be resolved immediately without being subject to what will be a lengthy and complex debate and Senate inquiry, which will result in an undoubtedly markedly different bill by the time it passes into law.

In this, I would again say to the government, as I have previously, that chucking everything, including the kitchen sink, into one piece of legislation is not good practice. It's a political wedge approach—a deliberate habit of the major parties that means either voting for a bill that's in some way flawed or against a bill that has its positives. And, on that, I note that there are several measures in this multipart piece of legislation that are not simple.

I do welcome the extent to which the workplace relations minister has made himself and his staff available to me and other members of the crossbench, both before and after he introduced the legislation. That said, some of the measures in this bill remain easier to deal with than others. Wage theft—or chronic underpayment, if you prefer—for example, has become something of an epidemic, if not an operating principle for some businesses in recent decades, arguably helped by the watering down of union powers which, although disliked by business, may have caught both errors and deliberate rorting. Companies as big and as profitable as Woolworths, the Commonwealth Bank, Bunnings, BHP, Qantas, Domino's and 7-Eleven have all been caught out, as have several of our biggest universities, and, indeed, my old employer, the ABC.

The legislation offers a hierarchy of consequences designed to deal with underpayments, with the most severe penalties reserved for employers who have deliberately and knowingly underpaid staff, with lesser consequences for an employer who was aware of a substantial risk of underpayment but did so anyway, and lesser again for an employer who unknowingly underpaid. This is as it should be. Penalties are proposed to be the higher of the maximum penalty units available, or up to three times the amount of underpayment. They're intended to be sufficiently high to discourage the payment of penalties as a 'cost of doing business', as the department put it in its consultation paper. The department also says that penalties for a criminal offence in relation to record keeping are designed to be high enough:

to ensure it is not "cost effective" for employers to fail to keep records entirely in order to obscure evidence of underpayments.

Previous efforts to create a disincentive to wage theft have failed, and the aim of this legislation is to set that higher bar of deterrence. My residual concern, though, is the impact on small businesses, those without HR departments, which may not have the time or resources to afford the investment in payroll systems as sophisticated as bigger companies, nor have ready access to information on relevant pay scales and the like. The government's now proposing that the Fair Work Ombudsman will develop a voluntary code with small business for small business which would offer those small businesses that sign up and adhere to its terms a complete defence against underpayments in most circumstances. Whether that would be enough to satisfy small business is as yet unclear. Certainly I don't know, because I haven't seen the amendment.

When it comes to large corporates—and this bill is designed to target the likes of Qantas and BHP—I do believe that most people would see it as unreasonable for workers doing exactly the same job to be paid differently. If they're equally experienced, that shouldn't be the case, and yet at Qantas, for example, the evidence is that flight attendants on the one aircraft can be paid at up to eight different rates. Meanwhile, BHP is warning that the same job, same pay provision would cost it $1.3 billion a year in revenue. It could be argued that, by saying that, the big Australian has inadvertently revealed the extent to which it is underpaying workers provided to it by labour hire companies compared with its regular staff.

Short-term surge requirements are one thing, and they're exempted under this legislation; labour hire workers who have the details of a year's work laid out ahead of them are quite another, and that's why I will be proposing an amendment to extend the exception from the requirement to pay the protected rate of pay from three to 12 months. In short, three months is too short. It would affect surge employment. It would potentially inhibit employment. It would potentially inhibit investment. It would slow down projects at a time when we need workers used as efficiently as possible to address the logjam in infrastructure projects in particular.

However, I have outstanding concerns regarding a number of other aspects of this bill. One is the so-called employee-like provision in relation to gig workers; the other is the redefining of casual work and the complexity that introduces at a time when the costs of doing business are so high that it may be easier for businesses to simply avoid hiring.

My biggest concerns relate to provisions for what the minister terms employee-like workers—in other words, the gig economy. In the gig economy, workers may not experience the same level of autonomy to set their prices and bargaining power as traditional independent contractors, and certainly all gig workers deserve minimum standards and protection. Whether this legislation achieves that result or overreaches is the question. The gig economy includes horizontal models, which is marketplace; and vertical models, which is on-demand. Horizontal models allow workers and consumers to connect for a service—for example, Airtasker. Vertical models control the terms of the service provided—for instance, Uber. The minister has insisted that it is vertical services that would impacted, not horizontal. That, however, is not the view of Mable, a company that provides a large number of gig workers for the care sector, including in my electorate of Goldstein. Mable argues that its customers welcome the flexibility its services provide both for the outfits it services and for the workers. Mable's Executive Director, Peter Scutt, argues that the legislation would restrict flexibility because a large number of Mable carer-client relationships extend across six months, relationships that mature with time, and would be inhibited by the provisions of the legislation. On the face of it, this is one section of this bill that requires modification before I could see my way clear to support it.

Young people, food delivery riders and the like do deserve health and safety protections like most of the rest of the workforce. Drive through the Melbourne CBD any lunchtime and you'll see delivery drivers on their bikes and scooters ducking in and out between vehicles, in and out of the bike lane, running red lights. Why? I would suggest because they need to get from job to job as quickly as they can to earn the money that they need. Currently, the legislation requires that a worker must satisfy one of three criteria to be classified as an employee-like person. While young people deserve protection, I believe this is too close to shoehorning the award system over and above gig work. In short, it's too broad.

That's why I will be proposing an amendment that, to be classified as employee like, a worker must satisfy more than one of the criteria, rather than one or more. I believe this should afford the protections that largely young workers deserve without the complexities of the award system. Likewise, I will propose another amendment to modify the minimum pay provision for employee-like workers so that the prescribed minimum rate of pay refers to a base level of pay, not including other award entitlements, penalties, leave and the like. I believe this is sufficient to minimise exploitation without inhibiting the flexibility that attracts gig workers and maintains the business models of the outfits they work for.

Finally, there is the question of casual conversion. It's certainly the case that casual workers who wish for the certainty and benefits of permanency should have a more reliable pathway. Not, however, at the cost of those workers, most of them young, who welcome the casual loading and the flexibility of working only when their other demands allow. We're told that this change to the legislation may actually only be taken up by five per cent of the workforce, so the question is: are we using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut? And there is an important issue that this massive piece of legislation does not address, and that's the impact of irregularity of work patterns for low-paid casual and part-time workers, the majority of them women.

A major study of 6½ thousand retail workers by the University of New South Wales found that one of their biggest concerns was the absence of any reliability of shift patterns. Sixty per cent reported that they had different shifts from week to week, 41 per cent reported unexpected shift changes and 10 per cent reported no regular work days. That may work for some, but for many female workers who need the money but have caring responsibilities, both for children and ageing parents—the sandwich generation, as they have become known—it causes major problems. Because they have no reliable shift patterns or are told of their shifts only days, or sometimes hours, before they're expected to work, they can't access early-learning programs or early childhood education for their kids or make alternative care arrangements for their parents. The study found that only nine per cent were able to use formal care and that 49 per cent had to resort to informal care—including using older children or neighbours to look after their children. These women are the precariat.

Early learning is recognised as having lifelong benefits; those who miss out will never have the economic and other benefits of those who don't. This not only means they suffer, but so does society and the Australian economy. They're likely to be less skilled, affecting both their own and the economy's productivity. They're more likely to exist outside the formal economy, making them more reliant on benefits, at a cost to their opportunities and to the national budget. We must act to give these women, and they're largely women, what has come to be termed 'roster justice': reliable work patterns and timely notice of the shifts they will work so that they have a fighting chance of getting access to the care that their children and, in many cases, their parents deserve.

So that pretty much sums up the bill: some important stuff missing, some very good and urgent stuff—some which may help workers and some which may not—and some which may make life harder for small business. In the end, once the Senate has dealt with it, the bill which returns to the House in a very different form is expected to come down differently to what we're being asked to vote for at this time.

5:42 pm

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023. The reforms contained in this bill are an important set of responses to the loopholes in our employment system that have increased injustice for many workers. That injustice has arisen with the balance of power and income tilting against those trying to make a living in an increasingly precarious economy and labour market. Globalisation, the gig economy and the undermining of institutions have fundamentally changed many of our economic and social relationships. In turn, we have seen income inequality grow dramatically.

The key themes of this bill are criminalising wage theft; properly defining what genuine casual work is; and removing loopholes in labour hire arrangements that undermine wages and conditions. The reforms encapsulated in this bill are not just necessary but long overdue. These are the sorts of measures that the Australian people expect from a Labor government. This is the historical and enduring responsibility of what Labor governments should be doing—to make and unmake social conditions in favour of the least powerful and, often, the most poorly paid workers, many of whom are in my electorate of Calwell.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations is to be congratulated for his stand on behalf of the government against the, at times, hysterical campaigns by powerful employer groups and sections of the media. These are, indeed, modest, yet important, social justice measures. However, the vehemence of the opposition to them—while perhaps unsurprising—is disappointing. It fits well into the predictable pattern of opposition to every measure designed to improve the pay, conditions, security and health and safety of working people. Again, many of them are in my electorate.

This bill seeks to provide guidelines for the Fair Work Commission in determining basic fairness and to provide minimum standards for employee-like wages and conditions. If somebody works like an employee or as an employee, is expected to be on call whenever needed, has been doing so consistently and would actually prefer to be an employee, then let's treat them like an employee, not call them a casual and think there are no further obligations to them.

This bill also strengthens the commission's capacity to deal with disputes in regard to sham arrangements for independent contractors. 'Casual independent contractor' is often a convenient label that can be used to avoid the proper responsibility to provide fair conditions, pay and security for workers. Further, the bill strengthens the workplace ombudsman's powers to examine underpayments.

Most significantly, however, the bill criminalises wage theft at a national level. This is another long overdue measure. The deliberate underpayment of workers should be criminalised as a basic fairness measure. We've seen the regular reports of many large companies suddenly discovering that they have underpaid their workers, in some cases for years. This needs to stop. On this side of the House, job fairness and job security are not just empty slogans. They are at the heart of Labor's policies and our commitment to standing up for the interests of working people, which is why I'm very proud of the fact that the Albanese Labor government will legislate to criminalise wage theft.

The figures reflected in recent reports show that the scope and scale of wage theft in Australia is rampant across the board. There is $1.35 billion in underpayment of Australian workers' entitlements every year. I'm particularly concerned about its impact on migrants, who are disproportionately affected, who are likely not to know their rights and who are likely not to be aware of what they are actually entitled to. Again, many of those people are my constituents.

Rather than ignoring this problem and playing political games, the opposition needs to support passing this legislation that establishes criminal penalties for employers deliberately involved in wage theft. This is about compliance and enforcement for intentional underpayments, not honest mistakes. There will be pathways to safe havens for small businesses who have tried to correct mistakes while paying their workers. There will also be avenues to show compliance with the new Voluntary Small Business Wage Compliance Code, to be developed by government in partnership with employer and employee groups.

An opposition that claims to want to gain the confidence of the Australian people, to govern for all Australians, an opposition that wants to claim it speaks for the true believers, cannot oppose policies that defend working people against systemic wage theft. This undercutting of everyday workers, who make the systems we rely on function, seems to prevail across nearly every sector of our economy. Labor hasn't forgotten its core promise to Australians: the promise of job security, better pay and a fairer industrial relations system that is central to Labor's job security plan.

The bill also provides additional protection for first responders—this includes firefighters, police and ambulance workers—from the effects of sustained post-traumatic stress disorder, an increasingly serious and life-changing impact directly attributable to work.

The bill provides a measure of protection for building workers from cancer-causing silica diseases. The people doing these difficult and often dangerous jobs are vital to our economic growth, our health, our safety and our functioning as a society. They absolutely deserve legislated protection from the harm, to as great a degree as we can realistically offer them.

Some employers will, and have already begun to, criticise the bill on the basis of too much complexity and expense. We do not accept that the country can't afford fairness. We can't afford to do nothing to ensure that fairness. We do not accept, on this side of the chamber, that so-called complexities in awards are a valid excuse for underpayments or for denying proper safety and security in employment. Ironically, it would seem that neither complexity nor expense are any problem when it comes to paying huge executive bonuses.

I always consult with my electorate constituents when speaking on bills that I know have a major impact on them and their daily lives and their families. I had an opportunity to talk to Aruna Wijetunga, who is a rideshare driver. He's been a rideshare driver for over 7½ years. Aruna, in particular, spoke about his experiences on the digital platform. He said:

I've done 17,800 trips and my only recognition is a photo of a cake, delivered as an emoji, in the app. Things are getting worse because of the cost of living and fuel prices. We don't have any rights, no access to any claim beyond what's in the app. It's like we are removed from the concept of being a worker.

Another constituent, Chandra, who is also a rideshare driver, shared his experiences with me. He said:

The situation is that with regards to working conditions, we're creating a two-track economy when it comes to workers' rights, and this will have an impact on the entire industrial legislations system. We are second class employees. Everyone knows that we're not really a business, but conveniently hide behind notions of contract work. In any other industry, it wouldn't be accepted. We are letting technology drive us, without understanding its impact on workers and working conditions.

When asked to respond to claims of how they are different to a tradesperson with an ABN, Chandra and Aruna put it quite simply:

An independent contractor can set their own price; they can factor in things such as superannuation contributions and other aspects into their consumer-facing pricing. We don't have any of that capacity at all.

Chandra and Aruna explained that surge pricing is not based on the overall demand on the network; it's defined by location. So, if a driver is in a different location, the idea of penalty rates being substituted through surge pricing isn't the reality. Furthermore, time and kilometre ratios don't apply to rideshare workers. So, example, if they're stuck in traffic, they could be getting only a few cents per minute. Only distance is looked at and not the time that it took to get there. So they could, in effect, be earning less— (Quorum formed)

I was talking about rideshares and the digital platforms. We've seen the recent announcement relating to rideshare companies, Uber and Lyft, who have agreed to a historic settlement totalling $328 million after being accused of withholding wages and benefits, such as mandatory paid sick leave, from their drivers. In a statement announcing the settlement, the New York State Attorney General said:

For years, Uber and Lyft systematically cheated their drivers out of hundreds of millions of dollars in pay and benefits while they worked long hours in challenging conditions. These drivers overwhelmingly come from immigrant communities and rely on these jobs to provide for their families. These settlements will ensure they finally get what they have rightfully earned and are owed under the law.

As our own Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations said in the House the other day:

This government will not say to workers who are being underpaid that their concern is somehow not so controversial, that it's a second-rate concern and something that we would vote to delay. We're not going to say to gig workers, 'You can just wait as long as possible before you have any minimum rates.' We're not going to say to the families of people who have died at work, 'Oh, we'll just delay industrial manslaughter into the never-never.' We're not going to say to people who have their wages stolen deliberately by their employers that it's somehow not urgent or that it's too controversial to make wage theft a crime …

The Fair Work Commissioner will be able to make a decision on fair and enforceable minimum standards, where there is a case put forward, with reference to defined characteristics. And again, as the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations pointed out:

The idea of this reform is effectively to give the Fair Work Commission the same level of flexibility that the platforms have …

It's worth pointing out, considering some of the misinformation out there, that this legislation impacts employee-like workers only, which the commission can make a determination on. What it does not do is impact independent contractors who are not employee-like and/or do not perform work for a digital labour platform.

The growth in the gig economy has provided flexibility and convenience for many of us, but it has also contributed to an undermining of employment conditions, proper remuneration, job security and workplace health and safety for many. As a society, we need to find a balance to ensure that those delivering our goods and services are not exploited due to a complete erosion of conditions, rights and bargaining power. For those who suffer gross job insecurity, there is no bargaining power. And, to many people in my electorate who are members of the gig economy and who rely on the gig economy to make a living for themselves and their families, this legislation will bring them the relief, the justice and the rights that they deserve.

5:58 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 has got to be one of the worst bills that I've seen in my seven years in this place. It is dangerous, it's reckless and it's unnecessary. It is patently clear that this Labor government has entirely abandoned its base of hardworking, everyday Australians. Those opposite portray and claim that they're the workers party. Well, nothing could be further from the truth, because this is an attack on them. It's an attack on mums and dads in suburbs like Baringa, Nirimba and Caloundra West. It's an assault on small and family businesses from Maleny to Mooloolaba and from Conondale to Coochin Creek. Not one Australian is better off if Labor gets its way with this shonky offering to do its unions' bidding.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order, the member for Fisher, I want to remind you that you'll be speaking on the amendments only, as you've already spoken on this bill before. If you can confine your comments to the amendment, then that should be in order.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I've now been speaking for a minute and a half, so I should be provided some allowance of context.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Member for Fisher, it's just been brought to my attention that you have spoken on this bill before, so just confine your comments to the amendments if that's—

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will do that, Mr Deputy Speaker. Those members opposite can continuously portray themselves to be these great pretenders—

Government members interjecting

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Fisher will be heard in silence.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There you go. That's much better! The great pretenders of the workers—but we know, and I know, when you look at the damage that—

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The honourable Chief Government Whip.

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Under standing order 69, the member for Fisher has spoken on the legislation previously, and I would ask the member for Fisher to contain himself to a discussion on the amendments.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This bill—

Government members interjecting

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Fisher will be heard in silence.

Government members interjecting

Order! If members want to talk, they can talk outside the chamber, and I'm happy to eject anyone that does want to. The member for Fisher has the call. He will be heard in silence.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Government members interjecting

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The Chief Opposition Whip.

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If it assists the House and those opposite—who I know are having a bit of fun with this—the member for Fisher hasn't spoken on the substantive legislation. He spoke on the Senate amendments the other day. It's a completely different thing. So he hasn't spoken on this and he's free to speak.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the Chief Opposition Whip, but I have been told that he has spoken on the bill on 6 September—unless the Clerk has spoken differently. I will give the member for Fisher the call, and he will be heard in silence.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The amendment that's before the House is concerning the industrial legislative landscape as one that is already complex and difficult for small-business employers to navigate. Construction industry workers across this country—

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I know the member for Moreton's voice, so you will be warned.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The construction sector across this country is already dealing with a very difficult legislative and regulatory environment. In fact, it is one of the most overregulated industries in this country. Every time this government introduces legislation and regulation, it makes builders' and subcontractors'—the same subcontractors who this government wants to drag in, by virtue of this legislation, and take away their true independence as independent contractors—lives more and more difficult, because of the regulatory burdens that this government is trying to introduce.

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The amendments!

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm speaking on the amendment, member for Moreton. Every time this government tries to introduce legislation, what it's doing by overregulation is making the lives of small-business people in this country more and more difficult. Do you know what it does?

Do you know what it does, the member for Banks? It increases the cost of living. It increases the cost of living for Australians. This lot on the other side of the chamber—

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Sorry, the member for Fisher will pause, and I call the honourable member for Wills.

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The entire conduct of the member for Fisher has brought the House into disorder. He's obstructing the proper working of the House.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Wills is warned, and the member for Fisher will be heard is silence.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Those members opposite can try and shut me down, but I am here in this chamber to hold this hopeless, hapless government to account. For you, it's all a game. But let me tell you: Australians are hurting badly because of your economic policies, because of this government's economic policies. To you it's all a big joke, but Australians are hurting. Their mortgages have increased. Their rents have increased. Their rates have gone higher. Their electricity has gone hire. Their fuel has gone higher. Australians are doing a tougher because this government is driving up inflation. But why is it driving up inflation? It's driving up inflation because of its regulatory conduct. It is increasing—

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I again draw your attention to the main conduct and concept that is being delivered by the member opposite. We are at the point in time when we have allocated time in the House to hear an explanation of and support for the amendments that have been put forward by the crossbench.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member. The member for Fisher will confine his comments and his speech to the amendments.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is exactly what I am doing. If those members opposite care to read the first paragraph of the amendment, that is exactly what I am doing.

An honourable member: You should read it. You should read it again.

I've already done it; I've already read it.

I enjoy the opportunity to stand here and defend workers' rights in this country. Your government, the federal government, is making the lives of workers in this country very, very difficult. What you're also doing is increasing and driving up the cost of living for everyday Australians. And we're seeing that every day; the proof is in the pudding. Look at what has happened over the last 18 months, or is that a big joke? Is it a big joke that Australians are out there hurting? They are hurting because of this government's reckless regulatory policies, which are driving up the cost of doing business.

Every time a business has to pay more money, do you know what? That means that the end users, the customers, have to pay more money. Ultimately, customers, everyday working Australians, are bearing the brunt of this government's regulation, this government's absolute insistence on ensuring that it is constantly in the back pockets of every business in this country. Australians want this government out of their lives as quickly as possible. This opposition, on this side of the House, will be doing everything we possibly can to make sure that this term of government is as absolutely short as humanly possible.

I've had an opportunity to talk briefly about some of the pains that this government is forcing upon Australians, but I want to talk specifically about the building and construction sector. Those members opposite might know I was a chippie and a builder by trade for a number of years.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You should go back to it!

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I take that interjection by the member for Bruce. It's almost encouraging today, but there you go! The construction sector in this country is built on independent contractors. I'll say that again: the construction sector in this country is built on the backs of independent contractors. And what this government wants to do is, effectively, to overhaul the way that independent contractors and subcontractors are dealt with, under this legislation. What that's going to is to make it very, very difficult for small businesses—like the small businesses that are operating in my electorate on the Sunshine Coast.

Now, independent contractors choose to be independent contractors because they want flexibility. They want to be able to take holidays when they like. They want to be able to choose who they work for and when they work. But this government wants to continuously regulate. And why? Because they don't like independent contractors. They don't like subbies. They don't like tradies. They want everybody who works in the building industry to be members of the unions, so that they—

An honourable member interjecting

I'll take the interjection—that those members opposite don't think that independent contractors don't want to be members of the union, because—

An honourable member interjecting

Independent contractors do not want to become members of unions, by and large. They do not want to be members of unions. They want to get on and do their own business. They want to be able to get on and do their own work. They want the opportunity to be able to do the work that they're engaged to do.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Fisher will confine his speech to the member for Mayo's and the member for Fowler's amendments.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And that is exactly what I am doing, Mr Deputy Speaker. This government continues to make life difficult, through its regulations, through this particular bill. It is trying its level best to overregulate industries like the building industry. What it is going to do, through its overregulation, is to have a significant impact on the cost of living of everyday Australians, because, ultimately, it's everyday Australians that pay the price for this government's overreach and overregulation. And everyday Australians will hold this government to account at the next election.

6:13 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to rise for the very first time to speak on this bill—

An honourable member: Are you sure?

I'm positive! The focus of any workplace relations change should be to add more certainty for workers, to streamline processes, to be easily understood by business owners and employees alike, and, ultimately, to create more jobs and higher productivity. In my view, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023, in its current form, places additional cost and complexity on small business and it will only add to the cost of living. In fact, it doesn't reward—it devalues—tenure and experienced workers in many jobs in my electorate. It doesn't foster productivity. It doesn't enhance competitiveness or agility in the market. And it risks the very jobs that this government claims to be protecting.

I should note, however, that there are portions of the bill that we generally agree on. We saw that on Monday, when those four bills came before the House. Those four bills related to supporting first responders with PTSD, the application of charges related to silica diseases, discrimination against people suffering from family and domestic violence and ensuring that employees do not miss out on redundancy payments. I'm reminded of the words of the former New South Wales Premier Mike Baird, who asked, 'What does a good day in parliament look like?' Is it cheap political pointscoring over your opposition, or is it getting something done? What happened in this place on Monday, in terms of those four bills returned from the Senate, was simply this government getting cheap political pointscores. What they could have done with elements of their own bill which were unchanged was to pass them through this parliament. Instead, they decided to oppose their own words. That delayed these important measures in an attempt to get cheap political points. So when they sit across there and say, 'We care about the workers,' why didn't they pass that on Monday? Why didn't they do that?

I can imagine speaking to a taxpayer in my part of the world, in my electorate, and if he or she asks what happened on Monday I'll say: 'The government had a bill that had some really good parts in there. And it had some bad parts, so the coalition opposed it. But it went to the Senate and a couple of senators managed to extract the good parts from the government's bill and sent them back down to the House of Representatives. But the government, in an attempt to somehow embarrass us or get cheap political points, decided to vote against them and therefore delay their own bill.' I can assure everyone that the taxpayer would be scratching his or her head and wondering exactly what we're doing. In any event, we're still here and we're still talking about this bill.

I've been—at least, I was—in business for almost two decades, so I feel that I can adequately represent people from my electorate as an employer and manager of a team of professionals. I feel justified in being able to do that through my own lived experience. In my electorate of Cowper, small businesses are quite literally the backbone of our local economy. Locally owned and locally run enterprises make up the majority of employers in my region, from tourism to tax consultants, farmers to fashion retailers, health services and construction companies. Similarly, that's where the majority of the employment opportunities are for those of working age. Small businesses in my electorate are often family run, with many being handed down through generations of hardworking business owners. They work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, managing staff levels, stock, pricing, BAS, insurance updates—you name it. Currently—and both sides of the floor know this—they're walking a tightrope of increasing outgoing costs which are forcing them to drive up prices to consumers, who are also doing it tough. It's a very thin rope. Push prices up too far and you lose sales. Keep them as they are and your margins erode to the point of being unable to pay yourself a wage or keep people employed.

As the parliament, we should be making things easier for these businesses, and yet this legislation seeks to add a mind-bending amount of complexity to an already-changing system. Just take the definition of a casual worker. The definition alone is three pages long and includes 15 factors to determine whether an employee is a casual. The permanent casual loophole has already been closed. This is nothing new. All casuals currently have the right to change to permanent after a 12-month period if they work regularly rostered hours. Those across the floor are patting themselves on the back for this when, in reality, casual workers already have the choice, and many of them would rather stay at the higher hourly rate in order to make ends meet, which, in the current cost-of-living crisis, is increasingly understandable. So why is it necessary to add a new right after six months and a three-page definition? Why does the six months conversion require a test with 11 factors and four proposed sections and seven proposed subsections of legislation? In fact, this bill is discouraging small businesses from hiring casuals at all. I can tell you with some certainty that there are hundreds, probably thousands, of casual workers in my electorate who would not be able to afford rent and food on the table if that occurred.

Small businesses will need to contend with the unfettered expansion of union powers, opening the door to union action that many are simply not equipped to contend with. The fact that to gain entry to any workplace a union only need to assert to the Fair Work Commission that they 'suspect' a case of underpayment is unfathomable. Even a police officer has to have 'reasonable suspicion'. There is no reasonable suspicion needed here for the unions to go to the Fair Work Commission. They just have to suspect. So these small-business owners will have to open their doors. They don't have a room full of lawyers. They don't have time to fight these union Goliaths and, rather than providing an easy-to-navigate road map to industrial relations law to help them to avoid inadvertent underpayment or misrepresentation, we are handing them reams and reams of documents and expecting them to go through that whilst running a business.

Everybody here would have heard of Akubra in Kempsey. I recently attended a leaders forum at Akubra. That was attended by business and industry leaders with the predominant purpose of discussing this very bill. I can tell you that they were terrified. They were terrified of the effect it is going to have on their businesses. One of the main issues that employers took up was same job, same pay.

Steve Keir, the owner of Akubra, fourth generation, simply said: 'Why am I paying somebody who has been with me for six months the same amount as somebody who has been a loyal, hardworking part of the family for 20 years? Why is the government making me do this?' I can tell you that he pays all his workers well. He treats his workers like family, as most Australian business owners do. But the last thing they want is for government to tell them how they should run their businesses and what they should do in terms of the treatment of their employees when they are treating them well in the first place.

In conclusion, I can't express strongly enough my disappointment in the government's underhanded tactics to push this legislation through. In addition, the way it was dealt with, with the political pointscoring on Monday, I think will be reflected on by the Australian people. They will see what's happening. They will understand what's happening. Rather than focusing on meaningful policies to address the cost-of-living crisis, this government continues to place priority on areas that appease their major donors—the unions—to the detriment of every Australian family's budget. They're out of touch, but, as it's genuinely hard to find a member on that side of the floor who has ever owned or run a business, it's not surprising.

6:24 pm

Photo of Helen HainesHelen Haines (Indi, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 is 284 pages long. It's explanatory memorandum is 521 pages long. I thank the minister for the briefings on what is complex and detailed legislation, but forming a view on this bill is far from straightforward or simple, despite what the minister may say, and ironically, in closing loopholes, one must be alive to new pitfalls.

Parts of the bill intend to close loopholes in working conditions that some businesses and employers exploit, to the detriment of workers. These can mean underpayment, unsafe working conditions and insecure work. I support the intent to close those loopholes. I unequivocally do not defend those loopholes. But the law to close them is so complex that, in my consultation with employers and employees alike—farmers, farm workers, small and medium-sized businesses—there is persistent uncertainty and confusion, therefore many reservations remain for me. This bill will impact a lot of people, and it's really important that we get it right.

I support strong protections and better conditions for workers. In Indi there are more than 11,000 workers in the healthcare and social assistance sectors, more than 7,000 workers in the construction industry and more than 5,000 workers in the accommodation and hospitality industries. In Indi more than 3,000 people work in the retail trade and more than 5,000 people work in the agricultural sector. All of these industries have very high proportions of casual workers and labour hires—employment arrangements targeted by this bill. It's with these workers and the local people who employ them in mind that I approach this bill. Both groups are my constituents. They all deserve to work in a safe, secure, fair and prosperous workplace.

Before I address the controversial parts of the bill, I want to address the sections that I wholeheartedly support and that I think should be passed without delay. Firstly, I back the provisions which implement presumptive liability for first responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. This means that a person who experiences PTSD and has worked as a police officer, a paramedic, a firefighter or an emergency services communicator can have their employment recognised as a contributing factor to this awful, debilitating mental illness, simplifying the process for receiving compensation and care. Our emergency services are critical to keeping us safe and helping us in our most desperate moments. Local and international evidence is clear that there is often a heavy personal toll for people in these professions, sometimes, sadly, in the form of PTSD, and the onus of linking PTSD to their work should not rest with emergency workers. These provisions of the bill should pass immediately, especially as we're already in bushfire season.

Secondly, I support the parts of the bill which expand the functions of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency to include matters relating to silica related diseases. Thirdly, I support the parts of the bill which will protect redundancy payments for workers who have been working for a large business that has technically become a small business due to insolvency.

Fourthly and very importantly, I support the domestic and family violence discrimination provisions of the bill. They amend the Fair Work Act to protect employees who have been or continue to be subjected to family and domestic violence from discrimination. This means an employer could not take adverse action against an employee on the basis of family or domestic violence and would prohibit modern awards and enterprise agreements from including any discriminatory terms.

These four important measures in the bill should pass immediately, and I back Senators Pocock and Lambie, my colleagues in the Senate who have introduced private senators' bills which carve these parts out. Last week, as we know, they passed unanimously in the Senate, and we must do this again in this place. I urge the government to support these bills. But I do say to the government: don't corner members of the crossbench on this bill. Don't force us to vote against workplace protections for those experiencing family or domestic violence or against better supports for emergency services workers just because we ask genuine questions and have legitimate concerns about other unrelated parts of this bill. Don't play these political games. The Australian public deserve much better than this from their parliament.

I now want to address the parts of the bill where I do have concerns. There are five main parts of the bill that I'll address that are controversial and are causing real anxiety in the communities across Indi, where I've been consulting with many, many people. First, the bill changes the definition of 'casual' to ensure that it looks at the real substance, practical reality and true nature of the working relationship, not just the contract. Second, the bill provides a new pathway for casual workers to convert to being permanent workers. The aim is help workers find secure, permanent work when they want to. Third, it provides that labour hire workers must be paid at least the minimum rates as per the host employer's enterprise agreement. These are the 'same job, same pay' provisions.

Fourth, the bill aims to improve the working standards for gig workers. It creates a new category of employment called 'employee-like', which means the Fair Work Commission can set minimum standards to do with things like pay, safety conditions and insurance for workers on digital platforms that provide services like rideshare and food delivery and for the road transport industry. It will also create a new process for dispute resolution for workers who have been deactivated from these platforms. Fifth, the bill changes the definition of 'employer' and 'employee' so that these terms are now defined by ascertaining the real substance, practical reality and true nature of the relationship. So it's not just the written words in a contract that will be looked at to determine if you are an employee or an independent contractor. What your actual work is like, how frequently and how regularly you work, how directed you are in your work—these factors are all looked at.

There are many other parts of the bill that deal with industrial manslaughter, wage theft, rights of union delegates to enter workplaces and much, much more. These parts of the bill need work too, Despite having 15 minutes to speak on this bill, it isn't nearly enough to address each and every part. This goes to the point that I made at the beginning about how complex this bill is and what close scrutiny it deserves. The act it is amending is even more complex. It is worthy of detailed and diligent scrutiny, and the job of a conscientious legislator is to do that scrutiny, to understand what questions need to be asked and to safeguard against unintended consequences. As an Independent, I review each bill on its merits. I seek to understand deeply the problem and the ways in which we're trying to solve it. I seek the evidence for the legislative remedy proposed, and I weigh up those factors as best I can with the interests of the people of Indi and the interests of Australia at the forefront of my mind—certainly not the politics of it.

This government has consulted on these measures for many months, and I acknowledge that this process is much improved compared to the 'secure jobs, better pay' bill that we tried to work through earlier this year. But, unfortunately, this bill still falls short of giving resolution to the many questions that remain. If I am to support this bill, I need to explain to my constituents how this bill will impact them and assure them that the bill is in their best interests. As it currently stands, I can't do this with certainty. In my own consultations with many local businesses and with employer groups, there is deep uncertainty about the impact of some aspects of this bill. I thank those groups, which do include the Business Council of Australia, the National Farmers Federation, the Master Builders Association, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, COSBOA and others, for meeting with me in my office to discuss the complexities. I also thank employee groups like the Australian Council of Trade Unions for meeting with me to explain this bill and what it could mean for workers.

In relation to the new definition of 'employee', I hear concerns from the construction and building industry that independent contractors may now be classified as an employee with the actual terms of the contract being overridden. The construction and building industry are worried that this new test will create a disincentive and barrier to those who want the control of being their own boss. They need certainty that this will not be the case. In relation to the changes relating to casual employment, I'm concerned that there may be unintended consequences of changing the definition of 'casuals' and the creation of a new pathway to convert from casual to permanent. Casuals are an important form of employment. Casual work provides flexibility to many cohorts—students, parents and carers who want to balance their working and non-working lives—and I don't want to see that option taken away.

I've heard from local businesses that they may employ fewer casuals to avoid perceived legal risks that come with new provisions, penalising employers that misrepresent contracts as casual contracts when in fact they're not. I've heard confusion at the creation of a new additional pathway to convert to permanent employment when one already exists in the legislation. I'm thinking about the small and medium-sized hospitality and manufacturing businesses in Wodonga, Wangaratta or Benalla, who may struggle to understand their legal obligations under these new provisions. This bill must be improved so that employers have certainty when they're hiring a casual and so that this doesn't come with risks or confusion later down the track.

To the government's credit, they have responded to some of these concerns by committing to amend the bill to address them, and this is an important step in the right direction. However, I'm yet to see these amendments, other than in media reports, and the government has not said if they'll be moved in this place or the other place. That leaves me in a difficult position and one where I simply can't support a bill based on media reports of potential amendments.

On changes to labour hire—the same job, same pay provisions—I'm concerned again that there may be unintended consequences for workers and employers alike that will impact labour hire. Like casuals, labour hire is a legitimate and important component of our employment landscape, especially for the building, agricultural and food-processing industries. Labour hire providers are confused as to whether, under the new provisions, they must ignore their enterprise agreements in favour of host employer agreements or whether they must apply the agreement with the higher standard. There's also uncertainty about whether 'same pay' means bonuses or other incentives or benefits. Importantly, I've heard that these new provisions will mean labour hire employers won't want to negotiate penalties and loadings in their enterprise agreements if they have to pay these same benefits to host employers.

If the government have clear responses to these uncertainties, I implore them to make this clear in the legislation. For example, if it only captures the rate of hourly pay under the enterprise agreement, make this clear. If it doesn't capture service contractors, make this clear. The government say these provisions are to target large corporations like Qantas, who have behaved totally unethically in undercutting workers, but they need to make sure it's not impacting on the much smaller businesses that won't attract the small-business exemption as they have more than 15 employees. Indeed, there are almost 1,500 businesses with between five and 19 employees in Indi. They are very much small businesses, with limited capacity to understand and manage these proposed law changes.

Going now to the provisions of the bill creating new rights for employee-like workers, also known as gig workers, as well as road transport workers, I recognise the need for reform, but builders in my electorate have written to me really worried about these new provisions. They're worried this bill will capture contractors and subcontractors who've worked hard to establish their businesses, build relationships and enjoy the freedom to choose how they operate—freedom which could be taken away with minimum-standards orders. It's really important that this bill does not stifle the work of service subcontractors, who are vitally important right now as we are building much-needed—desperately needed—homes to address the housing supply crisis.

I'm sorry to say that, at this time, I cannot support the government on this legislation. I genuinely hope it works constructively with the Senate on these issues, to make further amendments that address the many concerns that I and many, many others have raised. In that time, I will continue to engage, in good faith, with those most affected by this bill.

6:38 pm

Photo of Zoe McKenzieZoe McKenzie (Flinders, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Payday for the Australian union movement has finally come, and what a golden pot of power this bill, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023, bestows on them. This bill has been called radical, extreme, interventionist, heavy-handed, costly, complex and economically damaging, and rightly so. The recently departed CEO of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, said it:

… represents one of the most radical overhauls of Australia's system in decades and will impact every worker, contractor and business at a time of rising economic uncertainty and a cost of living crisis

The head of the Minerals Council of Australia, Tania Constable, described its context thus:

The nation's ongoing prosperity is under assault.

So why now would it be wise to place even greater restraints on the Australian economy? Why would it be prudent, at this very time, to increase the burden on Australia's productive workplaces and threaten investment and job creation?

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry calls it as they see it, as the greatest invasion of the place and progress of business by the union movement. Their CEO, Andrew McKellar, said:

The government is seeking to deputise union delegates, establishing them in proxy law enforcement roles

But more important to me than the views of ACCI, BCA and the Minerals Council are the views of my constituents in Flinders. Two weeks ago today, Senator Michaelia Cash, our shadow minister for industrial relations, came down to my electorate and met with around 30 local Flinders businesses, ranging from the local Bakers Delight franchise to the global-leading industrial enterprises located on the Mornington Peninsula. Over a couple of hours we talked through the proposed reforms contained in this bill, many of which those who gathered had heard absolutely nothing about. Others were already in the trenches, trying to navigate the vast damage that this bill will do to their business model and employment practices—mostly to meet their employees' needs and preferences but also to meet customers' demands, to stay globally competitive and to sustain Australia's manufacturing base.

Others had no idea of what was coming their way, so busy are they meeting the day-to-day demands of running their businesses. The Mornington Peninsula economy survives on seasonal, casual and contractor employment. The offer of casual rates is often the only way to get young people to work through the peak summer season. The use of contractors is how we sustain our services sector in aged care, retirement living, health, education and child care. Each and every day, hundreds of workers are being bussed from the northern suburbs to meet the demands of our local businesses.

If you ask any employer already, they will tell you that wages are already unaffordable, worker accommodation is impossible to find and there is next to no public transport so both travel and travel time must be funded by the boss. Business loan interest payments are soaring and their home mortgage, against which the business is often guaranteed, is also soaring. They are drowning in red tape and, now, this. At a tourism round table I held last week, I heard that many are just trying to get through the summer season to see if they can make it through to the end of the financial year. But at our IR round table two weeks ago, as we sat in the modest, but magnificent, Westernport Yacht Club looking out to a grey ocean, I watched as my constituents' faces turned similarly pale. Quietly, afterwards, someone said to me, as many others have said in other contexts, 'Has anyone in this Albanese government ever run a business?'

The head of the Master Builders Association came to see me yesterday; I always welcome them with open arms of course because Flinders, in any given year, is more likely than not to hold the enviable crown as the tradie capital of the nation. That means the highest number of people employed in the construction industry. We were pipped by Casey last year, and I'm sure the member for Casey will come in to remind me of that, but I'm sure we will resume that crown at the next count. Either way, some 15 per cent of total employment in my electorate relates to the construction industry, with some 10,000 people engaged and almost 2½ thousand small businesses in the building and construction industry across Flinders. You can see them every morning, lined up at the Tuck Shop in the Rosebud Industrial Estate or the Koonya General Store in Sorrento, the Lil Tuckshop in Dromana—an endless procession of youths grabbing the nation's best egg-and-bacon rolls at dawn. The lucky ones have already had a surf in the morning before a long day on the tools.

The Master Builders Association represents so much of the trading community in my electorate and they have been clear about the impact of this bill on them. Denita Wawn, the CEO, said:

The majority of the amendments will negatively impact the over 440,000 businesses that operate in building and construction and the 1.3 million people they employ.

In Wawn's words, it:

… represents a fundamental upheaval of many tried and tested components of Australian workplace laws … and is simply bad law and policy.

There's more:

It is complex, complicated, costly and unnecessary. It will hurt small business and undermines people's rights to be their own boss.

It will be a lawyers picnic and despite comments suggesting it won't impact building and construction, the Bill as introduced very clearly opens the door by taking a general approach of 'you are in, unless you can argue your way out.'

When I started my professional career I was an IR lawyer. In addition to private practice with Corrs as an articled clerk and then with Freehills as a senior associate, I spent a number of months seconded to the former Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business in the city, working on the second iteration of Howard-era workplace reform under the late, great Peter Reith as our minister. Today, just the explanatory memorandum of this bill is larger than the entire Workplace Relations Act 1996, which I worked on at the time.

This bill, if implemented, will cripple Australian businesses, small to large alike—smashed by heavy-handed red tape, backbreaking complexity and immeasurable cost. The bill offers no improvements in terms of productivity, and adds to the cost-of-living pressures already felt by Australian businesses, families and workers. It will unquestionably add billions to the wage bills of small to large businesses alike, while offering little in terms of uplift and flexibility for workers, who will find themselves stuffed into one-size-fits-all suiting with union overlords looking over their shoulder.

Modest estimates to the cost to business by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations suggest it will add $510 million a year if just 66,000 labour hire workers fall under the new Fair Work Commission orders. The additional cost for digital platform workers will be $4 billion over a decade. Conservative maths says this bill will cost employers more than $9 billion over a decade and lead to scores of job losses.

This bill is yet another, but perhaps the most egregious, aspect of this government's war on all Australian business. Even the government's favourite, Qantas, hates this bill, recently saying to the Senate inquiry on it that it would 'compromise the viability of services, particularly regional ones, undermine job security and create market distortions by way of an unlevel playing field in circumstances where competitors will not be captured by the proposed reforms', according to Nathan Safe, who gave evidence to the Senate.

Let us look at some of the most concerning provisions of this bill in closer detail. Let me start with union entry rights, because it's clear from those provisions alone who exactly the Albanese government is putting at the centre of the Australian workplace. In providing advice to business, my former firm of Freehills described it thus:

The Bill forms part of a specific policy framework which seeks to reinvigorate participation in both trade unions … and the enterprise bargaining regime …

Their colleagues at Ashurst were blunter, stating the bill:

builds on the already significant changes made in December 2022 to further entrench the role of unions in Australian workplaces …

Union organisers will get reasonable access to the workplace and paid union training. Going forward, all awards and agreements must enshrine these rights. Yet, 'reasonable access' is nowhere clearly defined, no doubt leading to endless disputation between workers and unions over exactly what is allowed. Moreover, unions are given extraordinary powers to enter workplaces without any notice whatsoever if it has a reasonable suspicion that a union member is being underpaid and to inspect employment records, including those of non-union members.

The provisions once known as 'same job, same pay' will act as a handbrake to productivity and flexibility in the workplace, and demonstrate just how out of touch Labor is. The AI Group has indicated that the ambit of this new provision potentially interferes with a raft of other commercial arrangements between businesses that haven't traditionally been considered labour hire. Again, my old firm, Freehills, warned that the new provisions are not necessarily confined to traditional labour hire. For example, they could 'potentially extend to service contractors and internal group entities' that supply labour within a corporate group. Furthermore, the scope of the regulated labour hire regime is also not limited to employers who are based in Australia and applies regardless whether or not the host employers are themselves currently subject to the Fair Work Act.

The exemption for three-month surge or seasonal workforces falls far short of the more realistic and flexible 12 months sought by business groups and certainly far short of any seasonal work done in my electorate. It also requires the employer to convince the Fair Work Commission that exceptional circumstances exist to justify the order.

I now turn to Labor's war on casual employment. The provisions of this bill are designed to complicate and disincentivise casual employment, even though we know that the vast majority of casuals choose casual employment to suit their life circumstances, especially for the 25 per cent uplift on their hourly rates. The bill sets out a conga line of criteria that is three pages long, with 15 factors, to work out whether a relationship is truly casual or not. It is largely characterised by an absence of a firm advanced commitment to continuing and indefinite work. Even then, when the test for casual is met, in a much more complicated way than is currently the case, the casual is a casual until a casual is not a casual when a specified event occurs. What does the lucky dip selection of special events look like? 'By election of the employee': that's straightforward enough and available now. Then there's 'converted by order of the Fair Work Commission' or 'converted by an industrial agreement' or, better still, especially for the union movement, both the employee and the employer throw their hands up in frustration and convert the employee to ongoing for lack of a better alternative.

My old former colleagues Chris Gardner and Henry Skene recently wrote in the AFR:

This bill proposes extensive changes to all casual employment from commencement. Changes unnecessary to address the "permanent casual" loophole the minister aims to close.

…   …   …

Unless what the government really wants is to stamp out casual employment more widely. And this is an old-school bait and switch: using the example of the "casual" truck driver with a 12-month roster … to substantially restrict something the government and unions dislike …

They conclude:

These measures, however well-intentioned, risk having precisely the opposite effect. Driving uncertainty and insecurity for those people who actually want, and feel well-served by, casual employment.

Finally, the bill's provisions will stifle the ever-growing and diversifying gig economy. With the changes this bill makes to gig economy work, you can say goodbye to an affordable Friday night. Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Menulog, DoorDash, Uber, Shebah and Ola will all be more expensive. Today, young people, students, part-time workers and, indeed, retirees in my electorate are making some extra money working the hours they want, when they want, through app enabled work. They're on multiple apps simultaneously. Labor hate them. A year ago, in August 2022, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations told the job summit:

Gig work drives down wages and has been spreading like a cancer through the economy …

Well, gig economy, here comes the chemotherapy for the cancer you supposedly caused.

Under the bill, the Fair Work Commission will be given new jurisdiction to set minimum standards via minimum standard orders and guidelines for those working on digital labour platforms with low bargaining power. A new digital labour platform deactivation code will be developed. I know it sounds like 'Ministry of Love' speak, but it will dictate the circumstances in which a gig worker can be exited from a digital platform, sort of like unfair dismissal from a workplace into which the gig worker never actually walks. The department has a document called Minimum standards and increased access to dispute resolution for independent contractors Annexure A—supplementary analysis to impact analysis equivalent process. I kid you not. That is actually a thing. It says:

If the Fair Work Commission determines that a 'deactivation' is unfair, it will be able to order reinstatement to a digital labour platform and where appropriate, make an order to restore lost pay.

To say there is massive uncertainty about the provisions and their impact is an even greater understatement. In a world in which technology and specifically generative AI will change every iota of every activity with which this place concerns itself, including nowhere more so than the world of work, this war on the future is just madness. The legislation is confounding, confusing, cumbersome and chaotic. How on earth are normal business operators like those who work in my electorate, run off their feet as it is trying to make ends meet, to understand what they are meant to do next? My old friends at Freehills were blunt: 'Make friends with a good IR lawyer; you will need them.' This is nothing but a Christmas stocking stuffed to the brim for the Australian union movement and a Christmas nightmare for all Australian businesses.

6:52 pm

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always a pleasure to rise in this place and speak on legislation that, on first blush, has many principles that you could, to a degree, agree with. We want to see workers get home safely. We want to see people paid properly. We want to see higher wages so that people can meet the cost-of-living crisis that we're seeing today. We want to see people have good wages so they can live a standard of living that we now expect in this country. I don't think anybody in this place has an issue with those principles. But, when I look at this Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023, I say, 'How is that going to be achieved?'

I spoke in the Federation Chamber earlier today about the value and importance of small business in our communities. Small businesses employ nearly 50 per cent of our workforce and represent some 97 per cent of businesses in this country. They are the engine room of innovation and dynamism and are creating the future for this country. I see nothing in this bill that is going to assist those businesses—nothing whatsoever.

As I look at this bill I see nothing but more regulation, more red tape and more uncertainty for our small-business owners and more distraction from their core job of running their businesses and employing people to having to focus on IR and industrial relations issues, to the extent that many do not even know what is coming down the track. I was speaking to several members of one of our chambers of commerce last week about these upcoming IR laws and to say that the level of knowledge was poor would be an understatement, and there is much in this bill that they should be seriously concerned about. There is much in this bill that the government has actually made no reasonable case for.

Business groups and employers have said that the proposed IR changes will smash productivity, investment and job creation. We're already seeing issues in the space of productivity and in the space of investment. Increasingly I'm hearing stories of businesses that are not employing more people but are starting to lay people off, particularly in the construction sector. In my electorate of Forde, that probably represents nearly 14 per cent of the workforce.

The government's own estimates state that over the next decade these changes will cost employers an additional $9 billion. How is that additional cost going to be offset by productivity improvements when those businesses are going to be weighed down by a bureaucratic IR system with red tape? It's going to be like an anchor holding them back, and that is not what we need at this time. We need an open, flexible, dynamic economy that can compete with the rest of the world. Should that ensure that people get paid properly for what they do? Absolutely. Should that ensure that people can go to work and come home to their families safe, well and healthy? Absolutely it should. But I believe there are existing mechanisms and processes in place in existing systems at both a state and a federal level that can achieve those things.

One of the things I do find in this space is that there are many, many rules and regulations already in place. It is not a lack of rules and regulations that is the problem; it is a lack of enforcement of those rules and regulations that is the problem. If we spent more time actually focusing on ensuring that our regulators, whether it be the Fair Work Commission or others at a state level—our various state industrial commissions—enforced the rules and regulations that are already in place, I suspect that many of the provisions in this bill would not be required.

Nearly 30 per cent of the employees in my electorate are engaged in part-time or casual work, and the current provision, which the coalition put in place when we were last in government, effectively has a test with three limbs to assess whether a person moves from casual to permanent employment. Yet we see that the bill before us proposes a roughly 15-step process. Is it really necessary to make that so complex? Many people I talk to wish to stay in a casual employment relationship because they enjoy that flexibility. More importantly, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, they enjoy the extra income. Whilst with that flexibility goes, in many cases, a reasonably stable work schedule, they also appreciate that. But that is, by individual discussion, an agreement with their employers. In the current employer environment, I do not know a single employer in my electorate that isn't seeking to ensure they retain their current workforce. They can't get additional employees to grow their business, so there is very little incentive for them to treat their existing employees poorly; they want to look after them very well. I know many businesses who are paying well over the award to their employees and providing them with additional conditions, such as maybe working from home one day a week or even, in some cases I'm aware of, a four-day working week. All of that is being done without this draconian legislation, because employers want to retain their workforces and get on with what they do, which is produce goods and services for the Australian economy.

As I look at this bill, all I see is the average Australian losing out from most of these measures, and the government has admitted as much. Businesses will be forced to pass on the extra costs through higher prices to consumers or other third-party businesses throughout the supply chain. We will see an increased cost for consumers for everyday services they have come to rely on. With so many of the concerns throughout those bills, who do these changes actually support? I thought the member for Flinders summed it up very well in her closing remarks, about this bill being a Christmas stocking full of gifts for the union movement. We know, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I know that you know, with your background in the trucking industry, there are many, many independent trucking operators that operate that way because that's the way they want to conduct their business and they have the flexibility to do so. But I also know, in the construction sector, having family members in the building industry who operate as independent contractors who work for a number of different builders, whether they're electricians, ceramic tilers, plumbers or brickies, and from my discussions with the Master Builders Association yesterday, that this bill puts that arrangement at risk. It means that those people now become employees.

One of the important attributes of the building sector, with it being so reliant on independent contractors, is that those people get to choose which builders they work for and what hours and days they work. Importantly, it also gives the building companies flexibility to meet the ebbs and flows of the building sector. As we all well know, the building sector operates up and down. It fluctuates with the economy and economic conditions. I know that many of the big building companies that I've spoken to recently and over the years have not employed tradespeople for that very reason—there was no consistency in the project flow for large projects that made it attractive for them to employ people on a full-time basis. I know that some have now changed that view, given that they have a long tail of projects to come down the track, and they feel that, in the current employment environment, it is actually better for them to start to employ tradespeople on their books. But that's a business decision that they have made for the best interests of their business. That shouldn't be forced on every building business in the country, irrespective of their size. These are large businesses that can carry that. But what about the small project builder that maybe only builds three or four homes a year? Does he want to have a sparky, a plumber, a brickie, a concreter, a painter and a roofer all employed on his books all year when he's doing homebuilding projects? I would say no. I would say equally those tradespeople don't want to be employed on his books either, because they want to be able to do work for other builders. This bill stops that dead in its tracks, and for what benefit to our economy? Zero; no benefit whatsoever.

All I can think is that this is about seeking to extend the tentacles of the union movement further into the construction sector. Now, we have seen the consequences of that at the big end of town. The cost of those big projects has now skyrocketed far beyond what was originally costed, and in part that is driven by state government and union policies in terms of wages and conditions which are far in excess of the award. For these and a range of other matters which have been well canvassed by other colleagues in this place, I cannot possibly support this bill.

Do we have a system that needs some tweaks and a bit of reform to streamline it and make it easier and clearer for business and employees to understand and make it function more effectively? I think that's a reasonable argument. But this bill doesn't do that. It doesn't even come close to doing that. What we need is an industrial relations system that is streamlined, effective and fair for all involved and focused on generating productivity in our community, focused on creating the incentive for business to employ people. It is true that business employing people generates wealth and generates economic activity. Not only does it generate wealth and economic activity; it generates wellbeing for those people who are employed and working in a job that they want to work in and be engaged in. It builds community relationships, friendships and relationship, and we all know that people who are in work have far better personal life outcomes than those that aren't. I am seriously worried that this bill fails on all of those fronts.

7:08 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023. I should say that the title is a little misleading. To say 'closing loopholes' ignores the broader range and scope of this legislation amendment. It is, in essence, the second omnibus industrial relations change legislation put forward by the government. It is concerning that in a time of stress on business and uncertainty in the industrial relations space the government is introducing a significant amount of change. We know that for small businesses, in particular, increased amounts of red tape, administrative processes and compliance is incredibly difficult. It really adds to operational costs and puts many small businesses at risk.

This legislation is an omnibus bill. It proposes a huge number of changes across the industrial relations sphere. The key changes include changes to the definition of 'casual worker' and changes to the definition of what constitutes a contractor. It makes intentional wage theft a criminal offence and further empowers the Fair Work Commission to set standards across parts of the gig economy. It introduces reforms to the test for claiming post-traumatic stress disorder so that Federal Police, ambulance officers, emergency services, communications officers and firefighters can claim entitlements for post-traumatic stress disorder without first having to prove that they have acquired the disorder from their job. This is a non-contentious inclusion that should be passed quite separately, and I will come to that. It proposes protection for victims of domestic violence from being discriminated against in the workplace by their employers. Again, that's very non-contentious and should be passed separately.

The bill proposes protection of redundancy payments for workers who might be working for a larger business where the business has technically become a small business due to insolvency. This is slightly more technical but, again, fairly straightforward and shouldn't be caught up in the omnibus aspect of this legislation. It proposes recognition of silicosis so that it is dealt with in the same way as asbestos under the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and includes coordination on silica safety and silica related diseases. Again, I believe this one would have the support of the House. It is incredibly needed and, again, it raises that question of why such important and fairly urgent pieces of amending legislation are being caught up and put in this omnibus style of legislation.

I am concerned that this is a bit of a trend by the Albanese government across a few sectors, and I anticipate that there is more proposed legislation of this nature, where quite disjointed and different issues are all pulled into one piece of legislation, to come. I believe it's in the hope of wedging those who have issues with certain areas of substance in the proposed legislation, because if you're unhappy with one part you're then caught up in whether you should be supporting another. It's really just playing politics instead of looking at the merits of the proposed legislation and particular elements of it.

I should say that it's been disappointing this week that the government had the opportunity to deal with those four more urgent aspects of the bill that have support across this place and were passed in the other place and came back here for consideration. But the government preferred, ultimately, to play games on those areas of the bill. So, where fairly urgent financial assistance could have gone to first responders and victims of domestic violence and payments could have been in effect from 1 January 2024, they instead will be held up by the remainder of this bill.

The government's stated aims in relation to this omnibus bill are clear enough—to close current loopholes in the Australian industrial relations landscape that can allow for exploitation or even harm of employees. There's no dispute that the system is far from perfect and that there are areas of concern that do need dealing with. But what can be seen in this bill is the taking up of a sledgehammer where taking a hammer to a nail probably would have been enough. It is the overreach in relation to some of the provisions that is causing the greatest concern. The stated purposes are noble aims, and many in this place can agree with them in principle. We absolutely want to see fair employment and pay conditions and we certainly should never see the stealing of wages from employees. These are provisions that are long overdue.

There's no doubt that reform of the gig economy is needed, but how it is done matters because we do need to make sure we maintain the flexibility and the ability to have a dynamic business and industrial relations environment so that our businesses are competitive. It is a global marketplace. We see that across many sectors for businesses of all sizes, and unless they can be competitive they will ultimately pay a price. I have urged during briefings, and I would urge the government, to tackle these issues one at a time, individually, so that they can stand, be debated and really be dealt with on their own merits.

Again, I do feel that this omnibus style of legislation is incredibly disappointing in relation to such an important area, especially when policy changes of such magnitude are stuffed into a large bill which just is not going to bring about the considered policy changes that we should be working on in this place. The bill doesn't pay respect to the stakeholders who want to make real and meaningful change in the industrial relations area, in particular those who do need help sooner.

I note the bill has been referred to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee. The committee's report is due in February 2024, so I do have a procedural complaint with the government—that is, it is requiring the bill to pass through this place when we know that it's not the final form this bill will take. So, essentially, following the inquiry, there will be amendments and there will be movement, but, rather than us having the opportunity to consider a bill in a more final stage, it is a process of pushing it through here. It will get amended, and we don't have the benefit of the findings or of any of the recommendations that will be made by that committee.

I do have concerns about the current drafting of the bill and the impacts it will have on many Australians, employers and employees alike. In particular, the definition of 'casual employee'. The definition of 'casual' and the related provisions introduce a degree of rigidity into the employment environment which may well have unintended consequences. Small- and medium-sized businesses, because of their size, are particularly vulnerable to market fluctuations, and they need to be nimble. As a result, they need a significant degree of flexibility in their staffing arrangements. So I'm concerned, and the feedback I have received is of grave concern, around the proposed amendments, that they don't contain a sufficient degree of flexibility for either of those, employers or employees, and, accordingly, some of those businesses may well suffer.

The rigidity also affects the question of whether workers are independent contractors or employees. The economy, particularly the building and construction industry that many in this place have talked about and is quite prevalent in many of our communities, already faces significant stresses relating to this issue and where the workers can legitimately set themselves up and operate freely and flexibly as independent contractors.

Another consequence of this reduction in flexibility may well be the risk of businesses knowingly shrinking their workforce in an attempt to ensure that they do not fall foul of these more rigid work arrangements. So what is proposed may well discourage the engagement of casual workers, and that, I think, would be a really disappointing consequence to industrial relations changes. Similarly, employees of such businesses are often attracted to working for them for the reasons of flexibility and responsiveness of those employers to their particular situations and needs. If that is lost, again, that is not good thing.

Warringah constituents are concerned that this change to the definition of 'casual worker' is likely to result in very negative consequences and not ones that I think add to the benefit of the sector. I would say Warringah is an electorate like many others in the country where there are a number of small businesses, and they boast an entrepreneurial spirit amongst many of its residents. All too often in small businesses it is the small-business owners that underpay themselves to ensure the viability of their businesses. Whilst we've dealt with other legislation to assist small businesses, recognising the challenge they are under, we then have this type of legislation that's likely to make their trading circumstances all the more difficult.

The feedback from small businesses is the uncertainty. The changes that continually occur, the increased requirements and the administrative aspect—it is incredibly difficult for them, as small workforces, to be able to cope with the constant changes in an environment where they're feeling immense stress from the aftermath of COVID, where they've often incurred increased borrowings to stay afloat, have delayed rents which are now due and have increased, have increased operating costs and reduced consumer confidence in too many situations and have staff and labour shortages. So small businesses in Warringah are constantly telling me they don't need a more complex business environment in which to operate, and this bill does do that on a number of fronts.

The gig economy—we hear a lot about the reasoning for the government in relation to the changes proposed. It is a key aspect and a key area of justification, and there's often the latching on to incredibly dramatic and sad events and accidents that have occurred. But there's a real difference between looking at safety when it's on road safety and the link that is claimed in relation to pay. The feedback that I've had from various stakeholders is that it's good in part and that they do welcome minimum standards for gig work; it's a good thing—from Uber to DoorDash, they've expressed such sentiments. But there are concerns within the industry, and those concerns include the scope of the terms and conditions that could potentially be included in minimum standards orders remaining way too broad, leading to significant uncertainty for platforms and to flow-on impacts for gig workers, consumers and businesses. The government could assist by providing much greater clarity and direction as to minimum standard orders and what would be expected of industry participants on this front.

There are complex questions that need addressing for parts of the gig economy that deal with care workers. Companies such as Mable, an online platform that connects Australians looking for disability and aged-care support with independent support workers, are on the record as saying that the proposed reforms would drive up costs for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and cause workers to quit the platform. So, at a time when we have staff shortages in these key areas—in particular, in regional sectors—it's hard to understand why the government would go down a course to make it more difficult.

I appreciate that, on the other side of the argument, recent research from the Australia Institute highlights that care and support gig workers treated as independent contractors are in highly insecure work and without minimum standards. So it's clear that a balance needs to be found, but many are concerned that the balance is not as it's currently found in this legislation, and I would urge the government to consider delay and further consultation to arrive at a better outcome. We do need to make sure that gig workers have safe environments where they are not exploited but are able to maintain the flexibility this sort of employment affords to them.

I believe that the Fair Work Commission's power to make orders is too wide. For example, it will be able to make orders for a minimum number of hours worked per shift, which might not align with how platforms such as Uber and others may well operate. The government should take the considered feedback on board and further look at how this bill proposes to change the role of the Fair Work Commission.

So I have a number of concerns about this omnibus bill as it stands, and I must say I am disappointed with the approach the government has taken in presenting this style of omnibus bill. We were promised better procedure and better conduct than the previous government. Whilst I acknowledge that, in some aspects, things are better, in others we're seeing much of the same, with really political games being played in relation to very important questions of policy. So I urge the government to take more time to consider complex aspects of policy change and not to overcomplicate the industrial relations sector, because we cannot afford to have small businesses, in particular, overburdened and a system that loses flexibility and dynamism, because it is an incredibly competitive market out there and our businesses need to remain competitive.

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for her contribution. The original question was that this bill now be read a second time, to which the honourable member for Bradfield moved as an amendment that words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. Subsequent amendments have been moved by honourable members. The question before the House now is that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Mayo be agreed to.

Question negatived.

We'll now go to the next amendment, because there are a number of them to rip through. The original question was that the bill now be read a second time, to which the honourable member for Fowler moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. Subsequent amendments have been moved by that honourable member, and the question now is that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Fowler be agreed to.

Question negatived.

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time, to which the honourable member for Kennedy moved as an amendment that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. Subsequent amendments have been moved by honourable members. The question is that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kennedy be agreed to.

Question negatived.

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time, to which the honourable member for Bradfield moved as an amendment that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. Subsequent amendments have been moved by honourable members. The question is now that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Bradfield be agreed to. A division having been called, in accordance with standing order 133 the division is deferred until the first opportunity of the next sitting day. The debate on this item is therefore adjourned until that time.